Jan. 11, 2018 Hillside Airport

Beech D18Boyoboyoboy – I thought I’d seen Dad mad when Hank Philcox and I floated the Orr Ditch under Ralston Street in our inner tubes, but that’s nothin’ like he was when he found out about my little ride to the airport west of town – wowee! He grounded me the day after Christmas and I haven’t been able to leave my room since ‘cept for meals. (At left, a Beechcraft D-18. All the planes and trucks in this letter I’m writing were tied down at the airport we rode our bikes to)

It all started when I heard that there was an airport west of town, off Seventh Street that was paved out to Peavine Row, which I guess would later be called Keystone Street. Then it was just a dirt road from there all the way to a little town called Verdi. I can see right now that I’m going to have to use that crystal ball and ouija board I wrote about in September that looks into the future to write about this screw-up that got my little six-year-old ass in a sling (my Uncle John said that once and Mom got real mad.)

Anyway, we rode our bikes out Seventh  Street to Peavine Row where there would be a Raley’sOldHangar Market one day, then kept riding and riding and riding, on the dirt road. And riding. We finally came over a little hill, the other side of the old graveyard by the Highland Ditch, and could see a windsock sticking up above an old hangar.

There was a whole little airport there, probably really just an airstrip. A tired hangar with some oil company’s name on it (Hancock Oil?) Dad said later when he was talking to me again that before WWII oil companies would build a hangar at an airport to get Windsockthem to sell their aviation gasoline. And this is not the old hangar that’s on the street above the old highway 40; that one came from Reno airport when they widened Terminal Way. There was an air strip, paved but pretty rough-looking with a lot of cracks in it and a faded white line down the middle. Landing toward the west it would probably be designated as runway two-six or –seven. All the buildings and stuff were at the east end which heading would be runway eight, or nine.

A building sat at the east end of the runway, looked like a GI building and I learned later that it was brought in from Reno Army Airbase north of Reno. And from my SproulBarrackscrystal ball, I can tell that it’s still there (at right), now turned into a house along with a whole bunch of other houses, doesn’t look like the Sproul houses around it. It’s at the northwest corner of two streets, Apollo and Accacia. Dad says that Accacia only has one “c” but the sign has two, so who knows? It’s just west of a school that would be called Clayton Middle School, but this is before 1950 so I don’t know about that yet.

This was really cool! There were a whole bunch of airplanes on the tarmac next to the runway, many with engines or parts missing. As we rode our bikes up and put the kickstands down to get off, a plane was landing toward the east. It stopped by where we were and a guy got out. He was wearing a set of green coveralls, which I learned later was a flight suit. He waved at us.

BT13We went over and he started talking to us. He was a pilot from back east somewhere that had been sent to Reno Airbase to practice flying. (At the left is the picture of a BT-1 “Boston,” similar to the T-6s and SNJ trainers.) He said that a lot of guys would take a plane like this and practice landings at this airport, at one up by Pyramid Lake called Sky Ranch, and one further away up at Beckworth towards Portola. It was called Nirvino Field or something like that. He said there was a field in Sparks called GreenBrae, and another south of the SP railyard called Vista, but the Army pilots couldn’t practice on those because they were pretty busy. (The Nugget’s Dick Graves in later years kept his Navion at Vista Airport.)

Our new pilot-friend’s airplane was also a “Navion.” It was built by North American Navionas an Army trainer. It had one engine and a “clamshell” canopy over the four seats (pictured right). He pointed at another older plane across the field that was built by Ryan as a trainer, a PT-19. Pretty-well shot; it didn’t RanPT19look like it could fly.(pictured left).

He asked us if we wanted to sit in the plane, and showed us how to climb up onto the wing and into the cockpit. I sat in the front, right seat and my friend sat behind the pilot’s seat on the left side. Our pilot friend climbed into the front seat next to me.

OldGasTruck“Wanna see how it starts?” he asked, and turned some switches. The prop at the front of the plane started turning, and after a couple turns the plane shook, smoke blew over the windshield and the engine was running. He closed the bubble over us and it got a little quieter. “Wanna take a ride?” We thought about it for about a tenth of a second and answered, “Yeah!” He showed us how to buckle up, then firewalled the throttle on the dashboard in front of me, and we taxied onto the runway. There was no wind raising the windsock, so we headed west on the runway and pretty quick we were airborne and he tucked the gear in.

Wowee!

“Where do you live?” he asked. I told him the street, Ralston. “How can I find it?” I told him at the top of my lungs that it was almost at the west edge of Reno, across from a square-block park. He cranked the plane around and we headed for Reno. “There’s the park!” I told him, that I lived one house down from the street at the north side of the park (University Terrace). He went down to treetop level, over the tennis courts at Whitaker Park so low I could see cars and people looking up half-terrified. We went over 740 Ralston Street and I could see my dad’s Chevy in the driveway, must have been lunchtime. We turned left over the University and headed back toward the airport. The pilot pointed at the gas gauge, said he was low.

AirportTugJust what I needed to hear. I can read it now: “Six years old, found in the wreckage of the plane not far from where Bill Blanchfield crashed his U. S. Air Mail deHavilland biplane in 1924 into 901 Ralston Street. Both of them cut down in the prime of life.”  I could see the airstrip coming up in front of us. He lowered the landing gear, flew beyond the field, 180’ed and landed to the east. He braked to a stop and raised the canopy. I was still grinning.

We climbed out of the plane, down the steps and onto the ground. He waved a “thumbs-up,” gunned the engine and turned a 180 to head down the runway. In a few hundred feet, he lifted it off the ground, turned back and made a low pass over us, wagging his wings.

We waved back. We had taken our first plane ride! Problem was, we couldn’t ever tell anyone, especially Dad.

Fathers are scary people. We pedaled home; I was relieved to see the Chevy gone from our driveway. But, when Dad (“Senior,” as many called him, as I was “Junior”) came home that night he asked me if I did anything interesting today. “Oh, we rode out to that airport west of town; did you know there was a airport west of town?” I asked. He knew.

Senior went to his grave in 1971. I will never know how he knew about that purloined plane ride, nor what he knew; all I know is that my ass has been grass for the past two weeks.

(Yet, I’d do it all over again!!!)Thumbs up

Baffert

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Walking East Fourth Street

Slim“You’ve walked all over town in past columns, why don’t the Gazoo readers walk East Fourth Street?”  Or so a few readers wrote.

(This is a re-run of an old column….)

            It’s mostly because the RG-J recently carried an excellent three-issue overview of East Fourth with more ink and graphics than I could ever hope to squeeze out of the real estate editor.  This piece started as a commentary on old signs, but while riding around with a notepad some quirky thoughts of East Fourth in Reno and B Street – Victorian Way – in Sparks still beckoned to be heard, so we’ll mix up the two themes this morning.

            To the ongoing horror of friends, the two neon signs that most interest me while I’m enjoying an ale or three at the Great Basin Brewpub in Sparks are first, the Pony Express Motel sign at the Prater/Victorian “Y”, a late-1940s product of Pappy Smith’s (Harolds Club) and Young Electric Sign’s imaginations.  I started to write that it was the first “motion” neon sign in town – (the arrows being shot over Prater Way from the car wash, from the Indians’ bows) – but I now spell-check out any superlatives, like first, oldest, highest, etc.  And “railroad” or “architect” for that matter.

            It’s much too big to steal, but the second sign I lust after is more portable, in front of the old Park Motel on Prater Way; the Phillip Morris-type bellboy with the once-waving arm that used to beckon travelers into the “motor lodge.” It’s a creation that would blow the CC&Rs of the God-forsaken desert to smithereens if I lit it up in my backyard, waving at the architectural committee.  No chance.  Note the other remaining motor hotel signs on East Fourth – the Sandman, with the tires on the prewar sedan that once appeared to revolve.  And the classic neon art style, with no name that I know of attributed to it, on Everybody’s Inn and Alejo’s motels’ signs, and a few others – hopefully they will all be saved, rehabilitated and displayed somewhere as signs of a bygone era, no pun intended.      

            Check out the architecture on East Fourth – the brick patterns in the Alturas Hotel, J.R. Bradley Company, the buildings that flourished in the early postwar period like Siri’s Restaurant, Reno Mattress and some of the retail stores.  Replicating the rococo brickwork style in some of those buildings today would cost a fortune.  And Ernie’s Flying “A” truck stop, we called it then, now signed as RSC Something-or-other: The fluted column-tower signature of Flying “A” stations has long since been all but removed from this garage, but look close and you can easily detect a close resemblance to Landrum’s Café architecture on South Virginia – a very prevalent commercial style of a prewar period.  (Ernie’s was, with McKinnon & Hubbard on West Fourth Street, the forerunner of Boomtown, the Alamo and Sierra Sid’s to old U.S. Highway 40 truckers.)  And, if I’m permitted to editorialize, hats off to my old buddy Steve Scolari, whose family business Ray Heating – now RHP – has been on East Fourth for 70-plus years.  Faced with the need to expand, he turned the main office building facing East Fourth Street into a great-looking little office, yet retained its post-war nuance, then upgraded a half-dozen industrial buildings on the street and railroad land to the south into very serviceable first-class modern shops, preserving the workforce and tax base in the East Fourth corridor.  A gutty move, but a lead that more property owners in areas like East Fourth and South Wells Avenue should follow.  And progressive city management, not hell-bent on plowing two or three hundred million dollars into a hole in the ground [the railroad trench!], should offer tax incentives for this “infill” redevelopment like other cities do.  End of tirade.

Evidence of a bygone retail presence on East Fourth is Windy Moon Quilts on NicholsSchoolMorrill Avenue, the only quilt shop in town with a drive-up window.  Why?  ‘Cuz it once was a busy and highly profitable branch of First National Bank, that’s why. [In a later column I alluded to the Windy Moon moving to the former Mary Ann Nichols School on Pyramid Way in Sparks (pictured at the right), and some dude wrote the paper deriding my “poor research.” In reality, he was right; it’s still in the Morrill Avenue location as well as the former school. But to hell with thanking me for the plug…}

            We couldn’t tour East Fourth without stopping at the architecturally Inezresplendent Tap ‘n Tavern, where that’s not sawdust on the floor, but last night’s furniture, and then mosey on down Highway 40 to Casale’s Half-way Club for world-class pizza, and if Mama Stempeck ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.  What a great lady… (pictured at left, photo courtesy Guy Clifton)

            Many notes remain and readers will kick in a few more, so we’ll probably go back and finish this tour soon.  I detected a slight deterrent to development on East Fourth while driving, starting, stopping, backing up, making notes and taking pictures, stopping again: on several occasions local ladies practicing the world’s oldest profession invited themselves into my pickup for a good time, some of whom were probably undercover police.  “Honest, officer, I’m researching a column for the RGJ.”  (Good story, buddy, tell it to Judge Salcedo.)

There’s a second part to this 2001 newspaper clip (© RGJ). Possibly it will be posted and linked to this in the near future, probably on a TBT 

 

Hear ye, hear ye – this site is going dark for a week or two and will not be changed – see y’all later in January!

SlimWere we all to tune the ol’ Philco tabletop radio to KOH AM-630 sixty years ago this Christmas morning, we’d probably hear the mellifluous voice of Cactus Tom, who ruled the early morning airwaves in early postwar Reno.  Tom Cafferty worked as a Reno casino card dealer in the mid-1930s, but broke into broadcasting a few years later at WGN in Chicago. After World War II, he managed an advertising agency in Los Angeles and played bit parts in Western movies and worked as a disc jockey. He became the morning disc jockey at Reno’s KOH in the 1950s, and began appearing also on KOLO-TV in 1961.

 Cactus Tom, while at KOH in their magnificent old Queen Anne house-turned-studio on the site of the present Greyhound station by the Truckee, recited the following poem annually, thereby giving birth to a local Christmas tradition. To the best of my research, it’s not copyright-protected other than by its appearance in this RGJ edition. But if we save it or pass it around to our friends let’s give a little attribution, to Tom, and to Nicholas D. Jackson, a popular, enduring and nocturnal habitué of Reno’s late-night downtown watering holes, where, legend has it, he wrote the verse on a cocktail napkin and offered it to Tom:

“Twas the night before Christmas, an’ ol’ Smokey Joe lay a’shiverin’ deep in his sack.     

While a coyote wailed, kinda mournful and low, an’ the wind drifted snow ‘round his shack,

An’ the moon played Roulette with the cold starry sky; til the clouds piled like chips on the black.

An’ Ol’ Smokey Joe kept a wonderin’ why Fate had placed him alone in this shack.

 

“Then Ol’ Smokey Joe, with a questioning look felt around for his boots on the floor,      

And from one took a sock which he hung on a hook attached to the worn cabin door.

Then shiverin’ a bit he walked back to his bed, and he slipped to his knees for a prayer,

An’ the kerosene lamp that hung overhead etched a silvery halo there.

 

“Then Ol’ Smokey Joe reached up for the light that hung on a nail overhead,

An’ he glanced to see if this stocking hung right, and then nestled deep in his bed.

And just before he fell sound asleep, he heard the noise of hooves on the flat,

An’ he knew that the cattle would soon bed down in the sheltered lee of his shack.

 

“The night wore on and a little grey mouse sneaked down from the eaves for a look,

A timid l’il soul without a home – ‘til he spotted the sock on the hook.

A tiny ol’ hole he chewed in the heel, a window where he could watch Joe;

Then he spent the whole night a‘packin’ in straw, and at dawn fell asleep in the toe.

 

“And a cow gave birth to a calf that night between the shack and a drift;

And it nuzzled the calf to the cabin door, Ol’ Smokey Joe’s Christmas gift.

Next mornin’ the sun came a’streamin’ through, lit the cabin’s every nook,

Smokey Joe waked up, kinda cautious-like, and’ gave that ol’ sock a look.

 

“Then a smile lit up his worn, kind face, he gave out with a mirthful squeal,

Threw a crust of bread to the little grey mouse, who peeked through the hole in the heel.

With the mouse tucked away in the crook of his arm, he opened the cabin door;

His heart started dancing and he felt a warmth like he’d never quite felt before.

 

“For there starin’ at him on his wobbly ol’ legs stood a calf, kinda shakey and worn;

Just waitin’ for Joe and a pail of hot milk, an’ a spot by the stove to keep warm.

And that night with the mouse sound asleep in the sock, and the calf cuddled up in the grate,

Ol’ Joe knew the answer of why he lived there, with the grey mouse, the calf, and Fate.”

  • • •

 Robert Service, in his epic Cremation of Sam McGee, couldn’t have written that yarn any better. Reno history is silent on the fate of poet and raconteur Nicholas D. Jackson; Tom Cafferty passed away on Dec. 11, 1993 in Reno.

This will be our last chance to visit before the prancing and pawing of each little hoof on our rooftop – I wish you all my best, and send thanks for your wonderful letters and calls over the year – those cherished presents that arrive weekly and won’t fit under my tree. And, we’ll amend our usual closing slightly and defer to Tiny Tim Cratchett, who said it best: “God bless us, everyone!”

 e-mail naughty or nice to kfbreckenridge@live.com

this © column last appeared in the RGJ in December 2015

ADDED AFTER ORIGINAL PUBLICATION: CACTUS TOM’S OBIT © RGJ 1993

 CactusTomI

CactusTomII

 

Christmas at Keystone Square and Shoppers Square, c. 1970

SlimFollowing a couple of “Walking” columns, I received an interesting email: “I’ve lived here for thirty years and I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about.”   I have a flash for this writer: There are people who’ve lived here twice as long who don’t know what I’m talking about either, and I occasionally include myself.

            So to appease him (her?); we’ll only go back thirty years this morning to 1970 – there’s only ten shopping days until Christmas, the Pinto’s warmed up in the driveway so we’ll drive to a couple of shopping areas.  Park Lane Center, the granddaddy of local shopping has been open for four years now but we’ll start elsewhere and wind up there next week.

            We like the Keystone area, as do so many people who moved into that booming area when Sproul Contractors started building homes in the first one-third of the 1960s.  A mini-town sprang up with its own banks, cleaners, service stations, even its own disk jockey on KOLO radio – live from the El Cortez Hotel – Pete Carrothers, who romanced the so-called “Sproul” (northwest Reno) trade on the air, asserting that he woke up next to every woman in northwest Reno (leaving out the “if she had her radio tuned to 920 AM.  Lucky them.)  The hot spot became the Keystone Center, built by Al Caton, the owner of Keystone Fuel/Reno Press Brick, committing land formerly occupied by the brickyard’s quarry.  It had a movie theater, and the hot spot we’ll hit this morning, Uncle Happy’s Toy Store, the best in the West.  Sir Loin’s Steak House was a favorite, operated by a couple of young guys named Nat Caraseli and Bill Paganetti, who later opened a little coffee shop called the Peppermill in 1971.  We might go back there for lunch, there or the Chocolate Pit, later to become the Coffee Grinder that fed a generation of local folks.

            Across Keystone was the greatest drug store in Reno, the big Keystone Owl Rexall Drug, Jim Henderson and Frank Desmond, your genial pill-pushers.  Jim has passed away; Frank is an occasional contributor to this column, both good friends to many.  Many remember Jim doing TV commercials occasionally with two guys he met playing golf at Hidden Valley, whose names were Dan Rowan and Dick Martin.  While it was occasionally difficult to ascertain what product they were selling on TV, if any, they were having fun, and we at home enjoyed their own localized Laugh-In. We’ll stop in there this morning on our shopping spree and pick up some gift wrap and stocking stuffers. 

            Traveling down Keystone Avenue, we can go over the fairly-new Keystone Bridge, through an intersection that pits motorists from Booth Street, Keystone and California Avenues together to the amazement of all when it opened.  In the venerable Village Shopping Center by Reno High School were a number of old friends, like Safeway, Sprouse Reitz sundries, the Village Drug — a great complement to the Keystone Owl Rexall.  The Mirabelli family had a record store there, later to move to Park Lane.  A fabric shop that was there seemingly forever finally closed; the present shoe repair shop was probably an original tenant.  P&S Hardware had a branch at the Village; [the late gentlemen] Gene Parvin and Bill Spiersch making it easy for the burst of homeowner/fixit guys springing up in southwest Reno’s new homes.  A Pioneer Citizens Bank branch.  We can’t forget the Chinese Village restaurant, which had a number of names in years to follow, notably a Dick Graves chicken store, and would finally become the original Truckee River Bar & Grill.  A lot of good grub has gone through that corner in fifty-plus years. 

            The Village is a Reno fixture.

  • • •

We’re still stumped with a few gifts so let’s keep moving; as I said, next weekend we’ll poke around Park Lane a little in a column that’s kind of an encore.  Many people enjoyed that Park Lane column that’s run several times in the past seven years, but we Gazoo columnists don’t get the big bucks for resubmitting old retreaded columns.  (Plus, I can’t find it on my computer’s disk.)  [I still can’t.] 

            But now, it’s approaching noon on a December 1970 Saturday so we’ll park at Shoppers Square on Plumb Lane (I wish that Security Bank on the corner had an ATM – I could use a little cash.)  Like Park Lane across the street, Shoppers Square was open then between the stores; the roof came later.  (What’s with shopping center owners covering their malls?  We Nevadans are a hardy lot.)

            Silver State Camera held forth in the Square, probably the largest camera store in Reno at the time.  I got an Instamatic there; still have it.  But nowhere to buy film for it anymore.  Hobby Towne was head-to-head in competition with Park Lane’s hobby store, both good places to shop.  There was a Spudnut shop, nothing like the original on West Fourth Street, not quite as crowded as Krispy Kreme would be thirty years later.

            You can call it Savon, you can call it Osco, but you doesn’t has ta call it Skagg’s, the Square’s big anchor’s earliest incarnation [now CVS].  And my favorite store, two great merchants Hal Codding and Jerry Wetzel, who moved their ski-oriented sporting goods store Codding & Wetzel from Pine Street downtown (I wrote about it in conjunction with the Olympic A-Frame.)  Both owners were fixtures in local skiing and the 1960 Squaw Olympics; Jerry would die a few years later in a skiing accident, while Hal brightened our town for many years to follow.     The hour draws late.  Nod at Santa in the plaza, but don’t call him “George” and confuse the kid on his lap who thinks he’s really Santa.  Maybe he is. (George Randolph, the Square’s perennial elf and Hartford Insurance retiree)   Let’s walk across Virginia to the Central Park lounge in the Continental Lodge for a hot-buttered-rum. 

            Cheers to five shopping days, and God Bless America!

I was asked when I used the picture seen above six_singersof the six-year-old-kid+70 last week, in the top hat, Dr. Seuss scarf and Underwood Standard typewriter, who that individual might be. His name is Slim Dickens; he’s the ninth and illegitimate son of Charles Dickens. He’s been on my staff for many years, researching and lecturing, and during Christmas traditionally leads the Reno Chamber Orchestra in Bach’s enduring “Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist.”

 

© RGJ Dec. 2002

 

Dec. 10 – still hoppin’ down the Santa trail…

SlimIt’s cold on Ralston Street up by the park this morning, but no snow in sight (kind of like to see the street with enough snow to bring the town’s kids and sleds and toboggans, but not today…)

I need to make a confession to those watching me write this on binder paper with a Ticonderoga #2 pencil, that I possess an ability to look into the future, assemble tea leaves, and own a Ouija board and a crystal ball. If I didn’t have this secret power, I could never be just a six-year-old kid who just moved to town from Richmond after the war, and tear apart the veil that covers the future to see and view the supernal beauty that lies beyond. (I wish I’d have said that first; actually I stole it from a guy who wrote it a hundred years ago!) But if I couldn’t see into the future for a few years, there wouldn’t be a Christmas story today.

I’ve a whole lot of notes still in my jeans. One’s about the rabbi of the Synagogue across West Street from old Reno High School. He was a pretty cool guy, and for FordPoliceCarmany years he would, on Christmas Day, show up at the new police station on Second Street and tell Reno’s police chief to go home and enjoy his family on Christmas Day. Then he’d wear a chief’s shirt and hat and badge and stuff around the police station and bring candy canes and doughnuts to the other cops who were working their holiday. And he’d get in one of Reno’s old Ford police cars and ride around with the cops, stopping every once in a while to cheer up a downtown guy. This was a tradition in Reno for many years, practiced by a number of rabbis and chiefs. One year a guy actually died of natural causes on Christmas day and the rabbi said, “Oy Vey, now what the hell do I do?” (I don’t know if he said ‘Oy Vey’ but my little friend David Ginsberg told me that.

There was a guy named Red Nibert who was a sign painter, out at the end of Mill Street east of Kietzke Lane (Dad said they were going to pave Kietzke someday and make it four lane!). Red worked hard all year painting signs and trucks and stuff but one day he went to a new restaurant out by what was going to become “Plumb Lane” and cross South Virginia, and he painted a bright red and green sleigh and reindeer and a Santa on the restaurant’s window – I think the restaurant was the one at the end of Wells Avenue. The work caught on, and Red painted a couple more windows that year, I think also the big window on the Coca-cola bottling plant where Center Street came out onto South Virginia. Pretty soon they’d make Center one-way so people would quit killing each other at that intersection with Virginia, Mary and Center. Within a few years Red would paint Christmas scenes on over 40 local windows – he could do the whole restaurant in about 10 minutes and move on.

I should tell you about a new friend of mine named Luther, who came to town withLuther his family from Hawthorne when we were little kids. We worked together at the Reno High cafeteria, but he didn’t do too well there. I was supposed to make the cinnamon rolls with him, but all he ever wanted to make were “hamburgers,” he called them. I don’t know what ever became of him. “Ham”burger. Hell, there was no ham in them! (Mom will be made because I wrote “hell.” Sorry, readers…) A drive-by writer used a photo of him in a Santa hat 50 years later and scared the h…, er, the pants off every kid in Reno who saw the Gazoo that morning.

OrnamentA big deal in town came in 1964, which is really long after I started writing this. A big bank put up a building taller than the Mapes Hotel, and that Christmas to everyone’s surprise, a giant Christmas tree that you could see from all over town, was turned on. It was made with a bunch of lights and wires with light sockets by the bank’s maintenance guys, who put up the “tree” on their own. The flagpole, I read in a drive-by writer’s column a few years later, was 42 feet tall above the building, and placed onto the building with a helicopter. That’s a pretty good story, someday I tell it.

Not to be outdone, Harrah’s new hotel tower, which was taller than the bank building, one Christmas put up a “necklace” of golden lights around the top rail of their building, and a tree on their flagpole like the bank’s. So there were TWO Christmas trees downtown!

Downtown Reno was a pretty scene in the winters; the City put up holiday lights above the Truckee, and played Christmas music on the speakers on downtown telephone poles. The best scene in town was from the Holiday Hotel’s Shore Room when the hotel opened in 1957, looking west up the River with all the lights. The City’s Christmas tree was in Wingfield Park, and every year there would be a lighting celebration with over 2,000 people coming downtown to watch. “Tink” SantaFrostyTinkham, and later my classmate Glenn Little, conducted the local musicians and singers from the University, the high schools (Reno and Manogue!) and the casinos in Christmas carols. A guy named Rocco Youse gave the City his huge statues of Frosty and Santa that used to be in front of his house on Fireside Circle. He was moving to a gated community and wouldn’t need them anymore. My friend John Trent reminded me of that…

Store windows were fun to view, with the storekeepers putting their best into Christmas displays. I’ve written of this before, and always forget, and am then reminded that the little mechanical cobbler in the window of Spina’s shoe repair shop on Sierra Street, always got dressed in Christmas clothes and a Santa hat at Christmas time! (There. I wrote it.)

BudweiserI’m getting pretty tired and Dad says I have to do some work for him around our house. (Mom doesn’t know it, but he bought two tennis rackets from Sears Roebuck’s catalogue store and they’ll be here by Christmas, so we can go play tennis in the courts across the street in Whitaker Park.) So – I promised I’d write about some local Santas in the stores around the town, and I see some stores opening south of town we’d better write about. C’mon back one of these days!!!!

Read the earlier companion post to this

 

 

My Term Paper “WHAT I LIKE ABOUT RENO HIGH SCHOOL” – with a comment added from Dee Garrett following its publication…

CarmineGhiaby Carmine Ghia  Sept. 1957

I am writing this under diress pressure for Mrs. Lehners’ English class so I’m supposed to use good gramar and spelling but I’d rather just write down a bunch of stuff I like about Reno High School without all the fal-de-ral and let her correct it if it’s that big a deal to her.

    Miss Stern let me borrow this typewriter. Mr. Marean told us in his Physics class that someday there would be a typewriter that puts letters up on a “screen” like a television’s with a typewriter hooked to it that you didn’t even have to touch. That’s pretty hard to believe! In Mr. Daniels’ journalism class we’re learning to use a “Speed Graphic” camera, a great big thing with film on slides that slip into the back of the camera. We go across the hall to a darkroom and develop the film for the Red & Blue school paper. If it weren’t for one cute girl in my Journalism class I’d Marideeprobably cut it more often and go skiing. Then we take it down to a printer on West Fourth Street by Central Jr. High who re-types what we write on some kind of machine called a Mergenthaler then prints the newspaper. An older guy in our class named Cal Pettingil Petengill Pettengill said that someday we’d all be “alumni” of Reno High and the alumni would put out a newsletter on a “computer,” whatever that is, in about 20 minutes without the typesetter, print it and mail it out for 44¢ a copy which is about eight times what a stamp costs now. I’d like to work on the newspaper if I could learn how to type and spel and use that camera. 

    They’re adding a new building for auto shop and stuff along Foster Drive so theyNewUnderwood can move all the shops out of the basement under the cafeteria. Mr. Morgan and Mr. Cline are in charge of that. The cafeteria is a nice place to eat and has good cinnamon rolls. It’s a good thing we have one because there’s nothing for blocks around the school, maybe Tony’s Dellickatesen Delikatsesenn Delicatessen downtown on First Street, Ramos Drug on California Avenue or Hale’s at Fourth and Vine. Or the Penguin on South Virginia but that’s a pretty tough walk during a lunch hour/ That’s about it. We hear that someday they’re putting up a bridge over the Truckee from Keystone Avenue but no one can figure out how to connect it to California and Booth Streets. So they’ll probably never build it and we’ll walk over the old Booth Street bridge to Hale’s Drugs or that new place they’re building on Vine, the Silver ‘n Gold, or something like that.

I like the music teacher at Reno High, Mr. Tellaisha and his wife Ruby. They built a great pep band for basketball games and assemblies/ Our buddy Rob Johnson is the best drummer in Reno and Paul Smith plays a cool cornet. Assemblies are fun, each class gets to put on one a year and this year we’re doing “South Pacific.” One of our teachers said that there was a lot of language and meaning in that play that Rogers & Hammerstein wouldn’t be able to write fifty years later. But we had fun and sang “Nothing like a Dame” in spite of Mr. Finch telling us to sing “…like a girl.” What does he know? There’s a play opening on Broadway called “The Music Man” that the school will get to put on in a few years with a lot of “Barbershop” singing, whatever that is. Lauren House would probably like it, he’s a pretty good base baretonne altow tenor. We had an assembly the other day with a man named Pete Echevarria, who was the first guy in charge of the new Gaming Control Board and he was really funny. The Huskiettes marched in one assembly; they won’t date dumb guys like me but go for the jocks. We’ll see what they look like in 50 years. Ha!

    The school has a club called “Huskie Haven,” once an old fire station downtown on Center Street with pool and ping pong tables and stuff to read and movies, but StateBuilding2they closed it a few years ago. Now the Huskie Haven, which we all pay a couple dollars for on our Student Activity cards each year, has dances at the California Building and the State Building downtown, and skating nights at Idlewild Park with music and a weenie roast (the fire department floods the ice during the day so it’ll be smooth by dark). They’ve held a few ski days. They get a lot of good records for music at the dances, last Friday night the new Chordettes and Buddy Holly songs. Buddy Holly flies in a little airplane called American Pie to a lot of shows, which sounds pretty dangerous to me.

    Mrs. Lehners probably won’t like my sentences chopped up like this but I’ve got to get this turned in by second period next Friday. I don’t understand the “Sessions” baloney; at Mary S. Doten we just stayed in one room and at Central we had “Home Rooms,” now we have “Sessions” with numbers and the only people I get to meet are the people with names close to mine, Ghia, so all I know are people with last names beginning in F, G, or H. To make it sillier, we have Sessions officers, so we have a president of a group that meets 12 minutes a day.

    We’re decorating the gym tomorrow for the Sophomore Dance tomorrow night, and after the Senior Ball decorating fiasco last year, the girls were told to bring their dungarees and their father’s Oxferd Oxford shirts if they wanted to change after school to work in the gym. The Senior girls came to school in their dungarees and ratty shirts and were sent home before school to get into skirts or dresses. Mr. Finch said this is a school, and no student from Reno High is going to be seen in dungarees with torn-out knees, belly buttons and straps showing under sleeveless blouses, short tight skirts, red-and-blue hair, nose rings, tattoos, and boys with “Bite Me” on their t-shirts. When we walk across to the new Village Shopping Center being built across Foster Drive, we’re going to look GOOD!

    That’s some of what I like about Reno High, and the ribbon in Miss Stern’s typewriter has almost run out. If this were 50 years later I could write, “send me an ‘e-mail’ with your favorite things about Reno High, and if we have an “alumni” newsletter going by then – maybe we’ll call it the Huskies Trails – something like that, kind of catchy, you could put your favorite memories in the newsletter along with mine.

But heck, who knows now what an “e-mail” is in 1957?

© Karl Breckenridge website  2001  – Carmine mentioned a Reno High newsletter coming someday; here’s a link to the Reno High School Alumni Association

This missive arrived by that mysterious “email” later Thursday morning – thanks, Dee Garrett…

“Good Morning Karl:

 Just finished reading your latest  “ O’l Reno Guy” & What I like about Reno High School”., Great stories and being in the class of 1953 I can relate to all of the names your mentioned.

 With coffee cup in hand I pondered about  what I liked about Reno High and here is what I came up with.

1.    Dr. Effie Mona Mack & her Nevada History class. It gave me the bug to learn more and visit as much of the state as possible. She was amazing.

2.    David Finch..Human Relations Class. I am sure he taught us more in that class than we ever learned at home or from older friends.

3.    Ms. Anderson, World History.. This retired Army Captain knew her stuff. Made me want to travel and see many sights & places and I have.

4.    Mr. Finch, as Principal for standing up for the guys that painted the Carson City “ C” in red & blue.

5.    Jerry Fenwick for selling the guys the paint to do the dirty deed.

      That is about it.. I did work a few hours every day during my Reno High days for Thomas Wilson Advertising and that kept me from chasing girls.”

 Merry Christmas to you

 Dee C. Garrett

Reno High Class of 1953

 

 

 

Dec 3 – Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus

SlimDec. 3 – Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus … by editor Francis P. Church, first published in The New York Sun in 1897.

We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun:

Dear Editor—I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?  Virginia O’Hanlon

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except that that they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.”

34thStreetOK, back to reality now, from 1897 to 1948 – I’m hangin’ out around town, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, whatever a sugar plum is. We’re already planning Christmas dinner with the Salas from next door on Ralston Street, with that cute little red-headed daughter, her baby brother Mike and my sister Marilynn who’s now hell-on-wheels all over the house.

SleighRideDad got us a Christmas tree from the Lions Club downtown, brought it home on the roof of the Dodge and got pitch all over the car. We’re putting it up this afternoon later. He got six boxes of lights from Nevada Machinery & Electric downtown; he said that it’s taken a few Christmases after WWII to get any Christmas decorations and lights and stuff. We’re putting up a tree in our classroom at Mary S. Doten School – I hear tell that a day is coming when we can’t even say the word “Christmas” at school but this is 1948.

lightboxThere are only three weeks left until Christmas; we get out of school for a couple of weeks before and after the day, through New Year’s Day. We’re all making Christmas cards for our classmates. I’m lucky because my neighbor Margaret Eddleman is a pretty cool artist and she’s helping me. A bunch of guys from a “fraternity” up the street got in trouble for putting a red nose they made out of a tennis ball on one of the buffalo out at Idlewild Park and took it downtown saying it was “Rudolph,” or some such name, and the thing got loose in a bar on Sierra Street and nobody could catch it! (Who was “Rudolph,” anyway…?)

We like to go to the downtown library in the State Building downtown, and next PeterWolfweekend some musicians are coming and a man named Darrell Cain is going to read a poem called “Peter and the Wolf” by some guy named Sirgay Prokophife or something like that he wrote before the war, and the musicians are going to play their weird horns – trumpets, piccolos, oboes, saxophones and such – each instrument representing a character in the story. It’s supposed to be pretty cool. They did it last year also kind of a Christmas tradition that I hope hangs around. A friend of mine named Gene Aimone who lives around the corner from us on Nevada Street is reading the part of Peter. My friend named Lauren House gets to play his French horn, which I think is the duck in the story but I’m not sure. It’s a neat morning; no grownups allowed!

CookingI wrote a letter to Santa Claus, but I haven’t heard LionelTrainback yet. Mom said he isn’t very good at answering his mail. I asked him for an electric train but I’m still pretty little for that. The little red-haired Sala girl next door wants an oven and some cooking stuff so she can cook like her mother Chetty does. Girls – yeecch – never understand them….

Dad brought home a couple boxes of records from his friend Mr. Saviers’ store on Second Street. There are about eight records in each box; each one has one song on it. The neatest one is by a guy named “Bing” Crosby – that’s a funny name – how would you like to go BingChristmasthrough life with a name like Bing. But he’s a pretty good singer. Dad got a record player when we moved up to Reno. It’s pretty big and noisy but you can put about 12 records on it and it will play for two or three hours. He got one of some group from a “Tabernacle” that’s pretty heavy singing. The “Men of Renown” singing group goes downtown every night from now to Christmas and sings carols while people shop on Virginia Street and at Gray WhiteChristmasReid’s. Dad’s friend Mr. Battaglia organized that group. My friend Billy Crouch’s mother organized a group of four ladies who also sing around town. I heard that a famous group came to the New Gym at the KingstonTrioUniversity of Nevada, and a local drive-by newspaper columnist called them “Fred Waring and the Blenders” and not one soul, including the genius editor, knew that  their actual name was the “Pennsylvanians.” But that was 50 years after today so I can’t really write about it yet. But they were good singers.

The evening newspaper the “Reno Evening Gazette” is running a contest for outdoor decorating for Christmas, with categories (pretty big word for a six-year-old, huh!?) for businesses downtown, for private homes and one for kids-only decorating. Last year Reno people weren’t happy because a kid from Sparks named SantaFrostyBobby Warren won it for decorating his parents’ home on B Street at 4th Street. (I want to learn to write someday, but stuff like “4th Street” in Sparks, but “Fourth Street” in Reno is already making me crazy.) Nobody is using any light bulbs yet. The first outdoor lighting anybody in Reno remembers was done in the mid-1950s by the president of the power company, Mr. Fletcher, on a home on Skyline Drive just before the street ended at Moana Lane. It was just a simple five-pointed star. My playmates Jon and Linda Madsen live there now. But that comes much later.

MormonChristmasI’ve got a lot more notes for stuff to write about – Santas at the 20th Century Club and the YMCA downtown and the Elks Club on Sierra, and a lot of other stuff, but this is getting pretty long so I’m going to “post” it, whatever that means. Come back in about a week or so and I’ll write more about early Christmases in Reno and Sparks. See ya, KB

 

 This yarn is continued here

 

November 16 – a walk downtown with Dad

karlatwhitakerI’m off with Dad this Saturday morning to run some errands downtown. It’s a nice fall day, and since every store in Reno is within walking distance we drove the Dodge down Ralston hill to the Lincoln Highway, hung a left to Sierra Street, and found a parking place in front of the fish market in the Travelers Hotel building just south of Commercial Row. We got stopped for a couple minutes when a train was heading up the hill to Truckee and its smoke is still swirling around the street when we park. Dad says that the steam locomotives are only going to be around for a couple more years, and we’re already starting to see some of the newfangled “Diesel electric” locomotives on the shorter trains.

It’s easy to park on most of the streets downtown, because they “diagonal park,” SP_locoDad calls it, and just drive right up to the curb. Across Sierra Street the cars are going north toward the tracks, but there’s the same parking deal. The Traveler is one of the six or eight hotels that cater to the Basque sheepherders that moved to Reno before WWII. The hotels let them stay part of the year when they’re not out with the sheep, and take care of their mail and money. A lot of them don’t speak English yet so the hotelkeepers do some business for them. Our next-door neighbor Mr. Sala, the cute little red-head’s dad, is Basque. He works across the street at Brown-Milbery, a company that makes big motors for the mines.

Dad and I walk south on Sierra toward Second Street. He says we’ve got to go into the Pizorno family’s Dainty Cake Shop on the way back to get a cake Mom wants for her “bridge” party. Dad called it a “Hen” party and she got real mad. But I don’t think Dad cared. The Pizorno’s son Larry is my buddy. He lives down on Winter Street by the river and is nuttier than hell. Whoops. I can’t write that word. We stop at the light on Second Street, by J. C. Penney’s. It’s got a neat system for handling money – if somebody buys a pair of shoes or a sport coat, the clerk puts their $20 bill into a little can and drops it into a chute where compressed air takes it to the only cash register in the building. A few minutes later the can pops out of the tube with the change in it. Saves having cash all over the store!

Some of the sidewalks we’re on have a nifty feature: There’s a pattern of little round circles, each about two inches around, that reach in rows for quite a ways, like little round checkerboards. The circles are actually heavy glass, and let light into the basements of the buildings. And we’ve seen a couple sidewalk freight elevators open up – two big plates in the sidewalk that rise to let an elevator come to street level from the basement to load merchandise onto and take back down to the basements. Dad said to take a good look at them, because they wouldn’t be around much longer – the sidewalk lights or the elevators. And Mrs. Conrad, my teacher, would make me rewrite that last sentence: “the sidewalk lights NOR the elevators.” Grownups can be really picky about the way kids talk…

We cross Second Street and look into the windows of Sears Roebuck. Dad doesn’t know I know it, but down in their basement is a toy store that carries Red Ryder BB guns. One of these days I’m going to get one of those. Across the street Is the Emporium of Music, about the only musical instrument store in town. A BB gun from one side of the street, a kid-size banjo on the other – can life get any better? (Unless I can swing a J. C. Higgins bicycle with a speedometer from Monkey Wards, but that’s a reach – they’re almost $25!)

BoolsButlerWe walk past Bools & Butler, where all the real cowboys – “buckaroos” in northern Nevada – buy their tack. Then past the Sierra Bar, where Dad pokes his head in to see if any of his buddies are there. It’s got a real neat big ‘ol shelf behind the bar, with all the bottles in it and mirrors and stuff. I don’t know yet, BelleBackbarit’s only 1948 but I think that “back bar,” Dad called it, would wind up ‘way out on South Virginia Street at a bar called the Liberty Belle, when the State of Nevada turned 100 years old. But I don’t know anything about that now….

Past Montgomery Ward we walk – it’s got a cool sporting goods store in the basement with “J. C. Higgins” bikes and baseball mitts and stuff. And the “Five and dime” – National Dollar Store, a loft in the rear, huge stairwell, and squeaky floors like all good sundry stores should have. Someday it will be filled with western wear by Parker’s, but this is still pre-1950. Then to the corner, and Dad’s friends the Ginsburg family’s Home Furniture.

We’re on the corner now, Sierra and First Street, the Federal Outfitters across First Street on the corner. Dad’s buddy Jim Slingerland is building his insurance office to the west. Neither Dad nor I knew it this fine November Saturday morning in 1948, but nine years later a gas explosion would take out most of what we’re looking at right now, and Mr. Slingerland would be, er, sitting on the commode in that building and be blown clear off of it! Pretty funny, huh?

Actually, that gas explosion would burn every building between us and the Truckee River, and months later it would be determined that the gas came from a joint in Sierra Street when gas was hooked up to be taken south of the Truckee, with that BIAjoint being bum and slowly leaking for almost ten years. Across the intersection kitty-corner is Gray Reid Wright, which Dad calls the best department store in Reno. The Elks Home is next to it to the south to the Truckee; when that building was built it had a half-block courtyard with walkways and shade trees, a little park that went all the way to First Street. The Elks sold that half-block to Gray Reids so they could build a new store and move off the northwest corner of First and Virginia Street. But that was before WWII.

We’re going to cross Sierra Street now. I just read that Sierra Street, beyond the Truckee River Bridge to the south, is called Granite Street, but would soon be changed to South Sierra Street. But still have traffic going in both directions, north and south. And the Riverside Hotel, across the river, was going to tear down a bunch of old crappy buildings along Island Avenue and build a new section with a swimming pool on the Truckee! Prett neat. And I’ll catch hell the dickens for writing “crappy” but can’t think of a better word. We walk past the Sierra Bar, where Dad pokes his head in to see if any of his buddies are there. It’s got a real neat big ‘ol shelf behind the bar, with all the bottles in it and mirrors and stuff. I don’t know yet, it’s only 1948 but I think that “back bar,” Dad called it, would wind up ‘way out on South Virginia Street at a bar called the Liberty Belle, when the State of Nevada turned 100 years old. But I don’t know anything about that now….

Looking up Sierra Street on the east side I can see the Moulin Rouge dinner house, which Mr. Vasserot owned and just joined Mr. Patrucco, who was the bartender in the Riverside Corner Bar, and the two of them bought a restaurant a ways south of town called “Eugene’s.” Gilbert and Joe, their names were. Dad was going to the Riverside quite a bit, and to the Mapes Hotel after it opened a year ago, to start a new club for businessmen in Reno called the “Prospectors” – he took a lot of time on that project.

Y’know what? I’ve spent more time than I thought I would writing all this down, and I don’t even have any pictures back (I dropped the film from my Brownie Hawkeye off at Nevada Photo Service when we got back to the car) so I’m going to leave this project for another day to finish, as Mom’s calling us for dinner and then I want to listen to The Shadow on KOH radio before bed, so please come back in a few days. I’ve still got a lot of notes so we’ll finish our walk on Sierra Street!

photo credit: who knows??

SOME NIFTY BUILDINGS…

linotype

Thomas Edison called the linotype the “eighth wonder of the world.”

The days grow shorter, the crisp of late autumn hangs over our early mornings; HAN, RTO, Artown and the rodeo are in the past, and the kids are back in school – (do modern schools have the permeating, almost pleasant odor of fresh wax and polish on the hardwood floors we returned to after summer vacations?)  I’ve learned that no one reads this column anyway on Labor Day or the Fourth of July weekends, so right now I’m having a little fun with my solitude, kidding on the keys, just the RG-J’s linotype operator and I. At the left is a linotype, for the younger readers. That’s how we set type and  printed stuff ‘til the 1960s…

            Many notes collected over the summer went into an “unsung treasures” file, most subtitled “bricks and stones” – buildings we’d pay an arm and leg to replicate today for our new office or home.  Reading this column any further creates the implied promise that you’ll go out and visit them on your own.   Study the workmanship on,

            …The Belmont Apartments at California and Arlington (once “Belmont BelmontApartmentsStreet”).  The old industrial buildings and hotels on East Fourth Street.  Incredibly complex masonry on so many homes in the Academy Heights area by the University – hobbit doors, columns, variegated colors of brick – Imperial Way, Codel, The Strand, Citadel, Seminary, College – park on any of those old streets and just take a fall walk.  And if you’re that far north, go a block or two west to “little Italy,” generally Washington, Ralston and Bell Streets north of Whitaker Park and check out the rococo interlocking of multicolored bricks and wood, the arches and fenestration (OK, OK: windows, sills, and lintels.) 

            Downtown now, and remember you made a promise to go: The Triune Building at Pine and Center, named by attorney Clel Georgetta for the Triune Ranch he grew up on in eastern Nevada – great brickwork – across from the Pioneer DimondDodgeTheater (can you implode a round building…?)  Check out the former Skaggs-Safeway market at Fifth and North Virginia, SE corner, and the old National Dollar Store/Parker’s downtown.  Under a half-century of bad paint jobs lies a wonderfully designed classic auto dealership at 500 South Virginia Street (left), reminiscent of many on San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue auto row.  It was for many years the Dick Dimond Dodge and the Cyrillic or Hebrew letters on some of the blocks continue to elude me, and others I’ve asked.  Were it to be sandblasted back to its postwar red brick it could be one of the prettiest buildings in downtown Reno, and here you never even noticed it.

            In the Saturday morning treasures, rock division, are the old guardrails along the University Terrace curve by the Lambda Chi house, and the big stone mansion at the southwest corner of Keystone Avenue and Kings Row, built a hundred years ago by Chinese laborers – note the vents to free evil spirits on the roof crown – great rockwork, no spirits.  Right house, wrong lot: The Steinheimer, Hill, later Redfield house on Mt. Rose Street.  Picture that baby removed to the long-vacant bluff in the 800 block of Marsh Avenue overlooking Reno High and the Village Center, with extensive landscaping and a big matching rock-and-wrought iron fence along the Stremmel Homestreet.  [2017: it didn’t happen – a spaceship landed there…] Now that would be a showplace.  But – the granddaddy of rock, the sovereign of stone, is on Hillcrest, a block south of West Plumb Lane and a half-block west of South Virginia.  A drum roll please: the Alamo Lodge.  And remember, you’re on your honor to go there, and tell me if you’ve ever seen finer stone masonry in the world, including the lighthouse with its stained-glass lens and the little wishing well in the front yard.  And it’s unbelievable how few residents ever see it, and, sadly, that it can’t be relocated.  In the same architectural vein, check out the El Borracho lounge a few blocks to the north on South Virginia Street.  [And since much of that block has been cleaned up, one can actually see the Alamo looking past the Mark Twain Motel from South Virginia Street]

            While they’re not ornate masonry, we must be happy as connoisseurs of old structures that the ornate original entrances of sprawling Washoe Med and ditto St. Mary’s hospitals have both been mercifully preserved in spite of a dozen expansions of each facility.  Well done, trustees.  And we just have to include the former Mary Ann Nichols School on Pyramid Way’s 400-block, and the Robert Mitchell School on Prater, for their cool brickwork.

            Now – while you’re committed to a mandatory, self-guided tour of neat stuff to see, we’ll depart brick and stone for Lincoln logs – piles of them, we call it the Silver State Motel on West Fourth Street, built when the Lincoln Highway (40) ran in front of it [2017 – new gonzo].  Fifty years from now some drive-by-columnist will play the game I played five [17!] years ago with the El Reno Apartments (left) – how many were there? – When were they built? – Where are they now?  So, my counsel to some seven-year old who likes to write would be, go out and count them so you’ll be prepared when I retire [past perfect tense. At least for now..].  Soon they’ll likely be dismantled and rebuilt, maybe all over town like the El Reno apartments have been.  There was lots of history in that little “auto court,” as it was called.  And I can’t omit that my classmate, Pat Reynolds Ferraro Klos, the grand diva of the Historical Reno Preservation Association, grew up with her family in the Silver State Motel; her late parents, Rod and Peg owned them for many years.  [Sorry, young writers – they were demolished – no salvage – in 2004]

            A few more treasures, seldom visited: Oxbow Park and the Dickerson mansion, on Dickerson Road, where else; another is the University Farm, one of the last places around to take the little ones to see herds of sheep and cattle.  They’ve a great butcher shop there, known only to a few, and your child could take a little lamb to school (between two slices of bread)  [Several readers complained about “herds” of sheep. When writing a column, one economizes on words.  How ‘bout a “flock”, or a “band”?  Better?]

            Final unsung treasure for the weekend: train whistles (never horns.)  In a LawtonsToweryear or two we’ll miss them.  Does anyone else wish that they’d just left Lawton’s Resort alone?  A great swimmin’ hole, far better than what’s there west of town on the river now.  And while speaking of the river, one squawk: Kayakers must have better lobbyists that the Virginia Lake joggers and walkers – the Truckee is being turned to a rehearsal stage for World War III to accommodate kayaks, yet we can’t get more than one working drinking fountain at Virginia Lake

Go forth in safety and good cheer for the next three days; watch out for self-expressionists rejoining society from Burning Man, have your hat blocked at Peerless Cleaners, sign up for the Historic Preservation fall tours, floss, know where your children are, buy a home through a Realtor, and God bless America!

text © RGJ Labor Day, 2002

photo credit Dick Dimond Dodge, Jerry Fenwick; linotype machine, web; Lawton’s diving tower UNR Special Collections, others by author

 

 

You’re doing WHAT to the Liberty Belle?

Liberty BelleI’ve a fond recollection of a ’52 Chevy full of Reno High hotshots returning from an afternoon of skiing at Sky Tavern.  Far south of where U.S. 395 became South Virginia Street on the east side of the two-lane road was, well, a little red barn.  We needed nourishment…

            “Let’s stop here,” said one.  “Wasn’t this the Li’l Red Barn?” another asked.  “Yup,” said yet another.  (That watering hole had become the “Liberty Belle” a month or so earlier, on Nov. 20, 1958.)  We entered, ordered, and met Frank and Marshall Fey, whose grandfather had invented the Liberty Bell slot machine, that Bell with no “e”, and they had just moved from San Mateo, Cal. to open their new saloon.  We formed a friendship that has lasted for 48 years [2017 note: Let’s make that 59 years; sadly, Frank passed away a couple years ago].

BelleBackbar            I scribe this on a Tuesday [2006]for you to read on a Saturday, not knowing for sure whether or when we will satiate ourselves at the Belle again.  I do know that there will follow scores of other patrons’ pleasant recollections and a ton of ink about it in the next few months, and thus I’m moved to offer a few thoughts to the assembled Gazoo readers.

            By some measure I write of many old Reno establishments that have all converged over time under one roof – that roof itself supporting some of the eight horse-drawn wagons that the Feys acquired from Roy Stagg’s Roaring Camp, a downtown 1940s tourist draw in the now-vacant triangle bounded by Lake, East First and Second Streets.  Two heavy ore wagons near the building later arrived, one from Death Valley and the other from Mina.

          One hundred years minus 30 days ago, the city of San Francisco was ravaged by an earthquake and fire – from that maelstrom to Reno came the heavy bronze doors from Market Street’s Palace Hotel.  Marshall once quipped that it cost them $250 for the doors and two grand to adapt the Belle’s front entrance to utilize them.  We’ve all opened them a few times.  Underfoot, wooden planks form the decking of the entrance, not just any planks but wood taken from the entrance to the Federated Church on Virginia Street at Fifth when the church was razed to make room for parking at the new Sewell’s market in 1948.

            Inside the Belle and over the bar hang two chandeliers and three round glassSMFey globes – those hung for 80 years downtown at the Wine House until that venerable saloon was razed to make room for Harolds Club’s addition in 1960.  Dust them carefully; they’re pushing 125 years old.  From the Golden Hotel, following the 1962 fire came the life-size cocktail waitress-slot machines in the south dining room. 

            The back bar’s been around for a while also.  The rosewood and birch classic started life in the Owl Club downtown at the turn of the last century – some speculate that it came ‘round the horn from Europe but I can’t prove that – and following the repeal of prohibition was relocated to the Pastime Club on Sierra Street at Douglas Alley.  The Feys got it in 1964 and my recollection is that it was unveiled during Nevada’s Centennial celebration, after the ceiling was raised two feet to accommodate it.  Somewhat noteworthy was Walt Tripp’s early frustration in locating a letter font in mirror image to make engraved signs with, enabling a patron at the bar to read in the mirror “Winchester Model 94” or whatever above the rifles displayed over the bar.  Walt’s son Warren, now the honcho of Tripp Plastics, reports that the Liberty Belle’s signs were the only use that mirror image font ever saw.

            The list goes on – ephemera from Becker’s Bar on North Virginia, later the site of Southworth’s Cigar Store, antique street lamps from downtown Reno in the parking lot, and a gas lamp brought down from Virginia City.  Here’s a note to fit somewhere in this yarn: Behind the original bar in the years before that back bar was installed, were hooks to hang beer mugs from.  Frequent customers had their own time card on a rack by the front door, and after they “clocked in” on an antique time clock 16 times they were accorded their own personalized steins to display behind the bar.

            In 1967 the south dining room of the building was added and served for a couple of years – at least during the summers – as the Bella Union Theater.  Some of my own greatest memories of Liberty Belle visits were to the Bella Union.  There was little in Reno in the late 1960s to compare with a warm summer night at that theater – a production of “The Drunkard” with local talent, using that term judiciously.  “He tied her to the railroad tracks” the narrator would announce as the villain twirled his moustache, the audience gasped and Barney Barnard of Hatton’s Mens Wear rumbled an ominous chord on the piano (Hal Goodwin of Kentile Floors played the banjo).  The show ended in an “olio” – a grainy black and white movie with song lyrics, follow the bouncing ball as Barney and Hal played and all sang.  Two nights a week at the Liberty Belle, repeated on another two later in the week at the Bucket of Blood in Virginia City, all summer long, and life was good.

            I’ve got more notes but no space, so I’m probably not done as yet.  I thank Geno Oliver, who spent three decades behind the Liberty Belle’s plank, for passing on this morning’s column hed which was uttered by an anonymous customer last week. [And made its way onto the covers of thousands of my books!]

 

 

            We’ll end this visit to the Belle as we always do, with a chocolate sundae in aAlice shiny bowl served up by a pretty lady named Alice in a black skirt, a crisp black blouse and a perpetual smile [and in 2017, we still see Alice at Simon’s on Lakeside Drive! She’s pictured to the right…>>>>]  Thanks Marshall, Frank and Jeff Fey, Jeff Courson, Alice, Geno and all hands for what seems like a lifetime of pleasant memories, ale and prime rib – collectively you’re still a municipal treasure.

            Have a good week, and God bless America.

Text © RGJ March 2006

[Note: The Belle closed forever the Friday before this column ran, on St. Patrick’s Day, 2006. We were there for lunch…]

Liberty Belle artwork by Roy Powers, used here courtesy of Jackie Powers – Ad featuring Fey brothers ©  from Sierra Magazine          1961- photo of Alice, from KB file