One just can’t make prose like this up: “[redacted] on Pine Street, praised for slices and pies that unite Northeast-inspired fundamentals like scratch sauce and thin, eminently foldable crust with a West Coast openness to new ingredients and combinations.”
“…a West Coast openness to new ingredients and combinations…” the copy reads. About pizza, this is? “thin, eminently foldable crust…” Still about pizza, I s’pose. The bloviating continues, “…that unite Northeast-inspired fundamentals…”
This local writer was obviously intent on turning fun into hard work. Or, he fancied himself a food writer akin to Paolo Luchessi or Michael Bauer of San Francisco’s Chronicle or Sam Sifton of the New York Times but fate dealt a cruel blow and in Reno one writes about pizza parlors, endless restaurant openings in an area one can’t get to nor park near, and of food trucks on Friday nights.
But – I’m not a newcomer to the lordly advance of pizza from its plebian roots – last summer in Napa, or Sonoma, I know not which, but lean toward the latter because there was a modicum of parking. Sufficiently hungry to eat the ass out of a grizzly bear following my journey from Reno to Sonoma while threading my way through a couple of wrecks on Sonoma County Highway 12 involving otherwise extremely bright, trendy and interesting people who were over served as are many other motorists on 12 at afternoon wine tastings at the many vineyards along the way, my sister and I sat in a pizza parlor with a tablecloth as a well-coifed server asked if we wanted to hear the dinner specials. In a pizza parlor. With a cloth table cover.
“Dinner specials!?” I exclaimed to the joy of my sister and patrons proximate to our table. “I thought this was a goddam pizza parlor. How ’bout pepperoni and sausage for a dinner special? And a bottle of some beer that I’ve heard of before?”
I chuckled as I thought of my introduction to pizza, which was probably in the summer of 1959. I was pumping Flying A gas for Walker & Melarkey on the southwest corner of Liberty and South Virginia Streets. One of my buddies was a guy in town at the University of Nevada from Tonopah, his name was Peter Breen and he pumped gas for Buddy Traynor on the corner across Virginia Street. I’d help him clean his station between customers then he’d help me clean mine. I don’t think Buddy Traynor nor Myneer Walker or Jimmy Melarkey knew that, but that said, three finer men you’ll never meet. Then Pete and I would catch some dinner and watch our buddies cruise main. With the Wolfman on the AM radio, natch.
One night Pete said, “Gimme a buck and I’ll go get us some dinner.” I flipped him a cartwheel. He came back in a few minutes with this round thing, about the size of the steering wheel on Jon Key’s mother’s 1957 Chevy (robin’s egg blue). It was smeared with something that might have once been – or smelled like – tomato sauce, and had pieces of sausage and little chips of something in the sauce.
“What the hell is this?” I asked Pete. “It’s called pizza. Try it; you’ll like it.” And I tried it. And liked it. By the way, Key pumped gas also, but on Fourth Street.
So we had pizza more often. What had happened was, was that an Italian cook named Ralph Festina, who worked at the restaurant at the Colombo Hotel on the northeast corner of East Second and Lake Streets, in the shadow of the Mizpah Hotel to the east and the Toscano Hotel to the north, took unused food home – leftovers – which his bosses were glad to be rid of.
Someday I’ll write about the Toscano’s Sunday night dinners with their huge bowls of great minestrone soup. But not tonight.
Mr. Festina, you see was not only a great cook but an enterprising sort, and in short order was successful in establishing “Festina’s Pizza,” best in the west, with the fixins he’d purloined from Columbo’s. A new tradition was born; young swains would no longer take their ga-ga-eyed dates to the Mapes coffee shop for hot chocolate and apple pie, but around the corner to Festina’s Pizza. All together: On KOH radio, all knew “Oh, boy, what a joy, Ralph Festina’s Pizza” – he even had his own radio jingle, recorded in a studio downtown with some singers from Dr. Post’s music class on the Hill of the University.
He started downtown, but soon was able to build his own, stand-alone parlor – Festina’s – then across Virginia from Eugene’s and the drive-in theater, north of the Zanzibar; now housing a title loan office south of Clary’s across from the Peppermill. If those walls could talk…
Pizza was king, with few other suitors chasing it – the Pizza Baron over on West Fourth Street just west of the Standard Station on the busiest corner in the state of Nevada. And a “parlor” in Sparks whose name escapes me, and it wasn’t Bojo’s (yet!) nor at the bowling alley. But, pizza was coming, across America.
Pizza is a fun article to write about because the more I research the more I learn that no matter what I write it’s probably supported in fact on some web source or library. It came from Italy, the Bronx, Iran, China, Minsk or Copenhagen (bet on Italy). And it was invented during the time Christ walked the earth (Joseph and Mary were really looking for pizza, not a place to pay their taxes and the Wise Men brought not frankincense and myrrh but pepperoni and sausage), or it was invented by ancient sailors, or travelers by oxcart, by the Gypsies or the missionaries or in the late 1800s in Italy and brought to America by returning soldiers after WWII (bet on that, but all the other times cited are supported by thin research).
Well, maybe not the Bethlehem thing, but who knows?
Pizza chains were springing up – the one putting our little burg on the map was on a new street extension (of West Fifth Street westward from Vine Street and the Santa Claus Market.) Its name was Shakey’s – formed in 1954 and coming to Reno in 1959 – truly an instant legend in Reno, the precursor of so many others. With some screwy marketing notions, but they worked. Now we have TV, and see some even screwier marketing techniques – insurance on your pizza should you pick it up then get in a wreck, they’ll buy you a whole new pizza. Or, should you hit a pothole, unlikely in Reno but certainly a threat in some cities, you can call their 800- number and they’ll come out and fix the pothole.
But – I have to admit that when Pete Breen brought that messy, smelly round dinner back to our service station that night, I knew not that in 60 years a slight young dude would offer to recite the specials at a “pizza parlor” nor that a scribe would rave on about “…a West Coast openness to new ingredients and combinations…” with a “thin, eminently foldable crust…”
- • •
Come back next week; we’ll put up some photos of the stranded SP streamliner from Jan. 15, 1952
Photo © SF Chronicle
Our editorial staff last evening, New Years Eve, played hooky from our bounden duty to readers of updating this site, and instead streamed a classic: “Smokey and the Bandit” – the Bandit, Snowman, Fred the Basset, the Frog, Beaufort P. Justus, still ranking up there with Butch and Sundance and with Igor and Frawnkensteen for the three greatest shit-kickin’, no-brainer, New Years Eve flicks ever made!
Thanks for coming back and viewing – as in the past 12 years, the site in 2019 will be no different – poorly-written and -edited notes about God-knows-what, arriving on your screen with little or no forethought nor schedule – this year with hopefully a bit more reader participation, wherein I’m downplaying the “comments” feature of the site in favor of including my email address below and inviting everything from a short squib about a past column to your submission of a complete new column, that I can post for all to see. Don’ worry about the gramer or speling – I’ll fix that for you. Photos are welcome and encouraged with releases and accreditation, and no downer stuff – this remains an upbeat, non-political place to visit and relax.
On that score, I encourage newer readers to utilize the WordPress “search” function in the box below. Type in a keyword and then click the box and scroll down. You may just find what you’re seeking. If not, email me and I’ll try to help. There are over 420 posts on the site and I don’t know myself what’s posted here! But if it’s somewhere we’ll find it, or maybe just write a new one for all to enjoy.
Now – it’s the kickoff day to a great year, the sun’s out – let’s make a dandy!
KarlBreckenridge490@gmail.com (a new address for column/website traffic; don’t panic, the old live.com address still works. Usually.)
This eve following Christmas I’m pleased to welcome old friend Debbie Hinman to the website, demonstrating one of her many skills, e.g. writing a column. Debbie is the editor of the Historical Reno Preservation Society’s Footprints newsletter, and one of the better researchers and writers in our valley – some can write, others can research but a person that can do both is rare indeed.
The column, rich in the history of Reno and Idlewild Park, belongs in Footprints but she elected to let me have it for the Ol’ Reno Guy. I asked her for her photograph but she declined, so I dug up an old one I had of her addressing a joint meeting of the Nevada Historical Society and the State of Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. While there are several other people in the photo, I’ll just say that it was a warm, sultry afternoon and Debbie came dressed for the occasion so I needn’t ID her in the shot.
Debbie writes now, the first of what I hope will be the first column of many in the future!
While historical research is for the most part very intriguing and well, just plain fun, there is always that chance that you will discover something you never wanted to know. This happened to me recently at the Nevada Historical Society library.
I was scrolling through microfilm, engrossed in a story about testing amphibious jeeps at Virginia Lake, when my eye caught a fuzzy photo of a couple of jocular-looking fellows armed with rifles hamming for the camera. And what was that in the background? I zoomed in to try and get a better look. There appeared to be two buffalo standing behind them, in some sort of enclosure. Then I noted a reference to Reno’s Idlewild Park. Now several years ago, I did a bit of research on Idlewild for a Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation project. I had heard there was a zoo at the park in the early days and fascinated, I began collecting articles on the various animals contained there.
As background, the zoo began in the very early days of Idlewild Park, circa 1924. The first residents were birds and the initial plan was to include only “non-meat eaters.” By December of that year, the bird population included four large bald eagles and a desert raven. But the donation of a wildcat kitten and a fox by a local trapper began to change the face of the zoo. By September of 1925, there were also elk, antelope, deer and—buffalo. In 1927 there were enough buffalo at the park that Mayor Roberts negotiated a trade with the Sacramento Zoo: one buffalo calf for two monkeys, two swans, three raccoons (raccoons, really? All they had to do was check the storm drains in the Old Southwest) and an assortment of other birds. At any rate, by early 1931, the zoo population had soared to 167 assorted creatures.
The denizens of the zoo were always fodder for appealing newspaper stories and the buffalo were no exception. A very heartfelt obituary for Chief Shaggy Buffalo was printed in 1925. “Chief Shaggy,” whose real name was Bos Bison, was apparently a children’s favorite. Park officials believed he was poisoned but had yet to identify the assassin. The obituary stated that Chief Shaggy, who left a widow and two sons, Nickel, 5, and Jitney, 6 months, would be sorely missed. Saddened, I continued following the buffalo throughout the years, finding a second obituary for “Old King,” who at fifteen and fifteen hundred pounds, passed on to the Great Beyond in 1936. I was more philosophical about this passing; King after all had a long, cushy life being fed and watered in attractive surroundings, adored by his local fans.
Reverting to the 1945 photo of the armed men and buffalo that caught my attention, I read the caption and was properly horrified. True, these men were not actually shooting at the buffalo (which in a penned area in a park would be a true fish-in-a-barrel situation), but the buffalo were slated to be slaughtered for — a barbecue hosted by the Lions Club, likely attended by the very same children who visited them regularly at the zoo! They didn’t go peacefully, however. Reported the Reno Evening Gazette: “Vigorously displaying his resentment at losing two of his herd, the 1800-pound bull at the park felled one of the ‘hunters,’ Paul Mathews, and the park employee escaped only by crawling to a water hole in the corral. Pitchforks, lassoes and considerable footwork on the part of the wranglers were required before two 800-pound heifer calves were finally loaded in a truck for their last ride to the Nevada Packing Company.” A suggestion was made to include the troublemaking herd leader in the barbecue but it was argued that his meat would be too tough.
True, the barbecue was for a good cause, to thank locals for buying war bonds and perhaps the buffalo herd needed to be thinned for space considerations, but barbecuing and feasting on zoo animals just outside their former sanctuary still sticks in my craw. I’m just glad Chief Shaggy and King didn’t live to see that day.
Thanks, Debbie – send reader comments or recollections to firstname.lastname@example.org , and include your permission to publish them!
Meeting photograph Jerry Felesina family photo
- Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice,
an opera in one unnatural act
- Fanfare for the Common Cold in Ab Minor*
- Birthday Ode to “Big Daddy” Bach
- The Abduction of Figaro, a simply grand opera
- 1712 Overture (often mistaken for a later work)
- Toot Suite for calliope, five hands
- Suite No. 2 for Cello, All by Its Lonesome
- Perviertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons
- Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist
- Oedipus Tex, and Other Choral Calamities
- Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion
An element of the concert will be a brief discussion of two musical events, moderated by Reno’s own Van Vinikow, Supreme Being of the String Beings, [pictured left] whose string-based ensembles have been enjoyed by many local people for many years. Also on hand will be Wenxiu Wlodarzyk [at right], the director of music history at Manhattan’s prestigious Julliard School, discussing another element of contemporary music.
Mr. Vinikow will speak of the creation of a musical key, cited above in the popular “Fanfare” and its origin in our own nearby Comstock Lode. The backstory is that Mssrs. Mackay, Fair, Flood and O’Brien were hosting a fête on the lower stopes of a mine in their lode for which they were lowering a Steinway concert grand piano, purchased only recently at Sherman Clay in San Francisco and brought up Geiger Grade by a team of Clydesdales, into the mine shaft. The cable supporting the piano broke and the piano landed on an unfortunate employee of the mine. Thus the key of Ab Minor came to be known, the key of A flat miner.
Mr. Wlodarzyk will reveal that a recent contest was adjudicated at Julliard, whose rules were that contestants, working in groups, were to write, record and publish the most annoying, repetitive song ever written; a tune which would make people wince in pain when its first few bars were heard, and moreover, a song that would emulate a song three- to five-hundred years old.
The names of the student contestants who triumphed were wisely withheld, but the winner, using the term loosely, was held out unanimously to be a groaner titled “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” about which one of its lyricists was heard to exclaim, “Let’s submit this bullshit and see if anyone will ever believe it!”
Regrettably, some took the song seriously and it has achieved a certain amount of notice.
This concert, of course, is also pure B.S. and should not be placed in your “things to do” folder…just funnin’ around
photo credit six singers Richard Termine for The New York Times. some text from The Music Man, other stuff from Peter Shickele
From a couple of ancient columns we post another offering of a bygone Christmas in our little hamlet:
Following a couple of “Walking” columns, I received an interesting email: “I’ve lived here for thirty years and I don’t know what you’re talking about.” I have a flash for this reader: 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 almost fifty years this morning to 1970 – there’s only 15 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; 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 forty-plus years.
The Village is a Reno fixture…
We’re still stumped with a few gifts so let’s keep moving; 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 45 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. I’d be derelict if I didn’t point out that Hal’s daughter Cindi married a good friend to many of my contemporaries and a Sigma Nu alum – Joe Murin – who recently was named by the RSCVA as Sterling the Butler, and if he can be half as dashing as his late [and ex-] father-in-law was, he’ll be a dynamite rep for our town. We’re betting he will be.
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. ( [the late] 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 15 shopping days, 342 safe-days at Ralston Foods, and God Bless America!
• • •
DEC. 7 2018 FOUND THIS SQUIB IN MY TRAVELS AROUND MY LAPTOP; MIGHT AS WELL APPEND THIS TO THE POST (nothing goes to waste aroung here!):
This item hurts: The RG-J last week bore the news that Mirabelli’s Music City in Park Lane Center is closing.
The article noted that the store moved to Park Lane as an original tenant in 1967 from the Village Shopping Center, where it opened in 1956. The Village was Reno High turf, and we sent two of our finest, Gary Bullis, now a local attorney and RSCVA board member, and Gary Machabee, local office furniture mogul, to be DJs at Mirabelli’s live from the Village. They weren’t bad; Gary’s even keeping it as a fallback career. What the article didn’t say was that the store actually had tenuous roots even prior to that in Savier’s Appliances on West Second and West Streets, where it was the “Record Room.”
Good luck to Betty Mirabelli and to Buddy and Lori Lehman and their families, and our thanks for six decades of good tunes.
Epilogue: When Park Lane was opened by a bunch of local guys in the mid-‘60s, the detractors wagged “How could a doctor and a car dealer [among others] possibly run a shopping center?” Who knows, but they did, and it was a great, successful center. Now it sits dying, even while standing on the confluence of two well-traveled Reno streets, with acres of parking and easy access, thanks to some out-of-town experts who came to show us local yokels how it’s done. “Reno’s demographics changed,” they say.
Shows ya what “they” know … welcome to a couple thousand apartments … just what Reno needs. Merry Christmas to all and Happy Holidays to Dave G.
photo credits to damn near everybody; the RGJ, Pinterest, The Union for the great shot of I-80 at Truckee under snowfall, some are my own; others, who knows?
I’m often too embarrassed to let a dated column stay alive, for example the preceding Thanksgiving dinner column. But, I’m also too lazy to write a new one, as I am this morning. Thus, I go into the laptop’s disc and find one that hasn’t run lately, like this piece that was mostly updated from a 1997 column and hasn’t been seen since 2002 about some folks, the University’s missing ceremonial mace, a mother’s shamrocks from the Emerald Isle, old theaters and some darn good trivia. Here it is, unedited, and copyrighted by the RGJ under the hed Flicks & Quickies:
How in the world would I know that Walter Baring worked at McMahan’s Furniture as a salesman in the very early 1950s if one of someone didn’t call me? [This following a “why did you leave Walter Baring’s name out?” of McMahan’s on Commercial Row during a downtown text “walk”]. Baring was a dandy, went to Washington in 1956 as our Representative in Congress, our only one in those days as Nevada had only one seat. “No one likes Baring except for the voters,” was the accepted mantra in Nevada politics – he served us in a long series of two-year Congressional terms until 1972, when he had a cardiac problem only days before the primary election. And true to form, Baring didn’t hush it up. He got beat by a relative nobody in the primary by playing off his formidable incumbent’s health problem; the nobody in turn got beat by another nobody in the general election. Baring could have covered it up, won both elections and remained Representative until today, (notwithstanding the fact that he died in 1976, but as we see in the CNN sound bytes of several dinosaurs every evening – presence of pulse, respiration and temperature are not necessarily requisites of congressional delegates.) The one-time furniture salesman got a major street named after him in Sparks, and in retrospect, he was a hell of a Nevadan.
A reader a recent column about downtown Reno took umbrage that I didn’t mention Fenwick’s (art supplies) on Sierra Street just south of the tracks – I pointed that store out in a column last summer but I don’t mind saying it again: Fenwick’s was a wonderful store, and Jerry Fenwick remains today a northern Nevada history buff and the keeper of an extensive bygone day-photograph collection, and who, like historian Neal Cobb, is happy to let the community enjoy the old photos and has arrived in the 21st Century ahead of most of us – computer-wise – and is hard at work digitizing old local photos.
Or, you might like this one – this firsthand from Clayton Phillips during our many “Tuesdays with Clayton” before he passed away: Two popular Reno couples, Virginia and Clayton Phillips, and Nevada and Sessions (Buck) Wheeler, were sitting around a campfire in northern Washoe County many years ago – four late Nevadans who knew our state like the backs of their weathered hands, and loved every acre of it. They dreamed up an icon that night: a baton, embodying all the elements of our state. Over time, they found a suitable piece of native mountain mahogany. Onto it they bonded some Carson City-minted cartwheels, some gold, silver, copper and other ores that Nevada produces; they affixed sprigs of sage and pine and fauna indigenous to our state and a host of other souvenirs embodying Nevada, like chips from some old casinos.
They presented the mace to the University of Nevada, where annually University Provost Alessandro Dandini, a legend in his own mind, raised it with great aplomb just as Professor Post cued the orchestra to begin Pomp and Circumstance and start the graduates in their processional. Count Dandini then carried the mace on high as he led the graduating classes onto the Quad for Commencement, as did Rollie Melton in the years to follow. At Clayton’s memorial service a few years ago, where the featured music was Home Means Nevada, natch, the question was asked several times: Where is the mace now…?
Next time you’re stop-and-going along Kietzke or Longley Lane, remember that either the guy behind you or the one in front of you, or both, aren’t trying to go north nor south, but in reality to the east or west, but have to get around that great big long airport runway that a young Realtor named Karl Breckenridge (the Elder) wanted to tunnel under when the costs were still minimal. Ol’ Dad about got a net thrown over him for irresponsible babble like that – how ridiculous! A tunnel or trench?
And the moral is that some ideas are wonderful, but become less so as the infrastructure grows and costs skyrocket. End of trench commentary, no position taken. [For now]
On the Saturday nearest St. Paddy’s Day each year we usually run the story of a shamrock – this year we’ll abridge it a bit to give it a rest. The shamrock in question arrived yearly from Ireland just before March 17th, to be placed on the grave of a young Irish U.S. Air Mail pilot who crashed in 1924, while trying to drop a wreath at Air Mail mechanic Samuel Gerrit’s funeral service in the cemetery behind the present ATΩ fraternity house. The leaf was mailed until the war years from the Emerald Isle by the pilot’s mother. After a number of years the shamrock quit arriving, but the tradition was resurrected a score of years ago by northwest Reno resident Barbara Rabenstine, who will journey tomorrow [written March 16, 1998 ] to Mountain View Cemetery to place a shamrock on the grave of William Blanchfield [pictured left]. Barbara, a friend and fine lady, has the dubious distinction of being a resident – three years old at the time – in the home that Blanchfield’s DeHavilland mail plane crashed into. By the luck of the Irish, Barbara, her sister Betty and her family were away from the home at the moment of the crash on that hot August afternoon.
Next time you’re riding about up by Whitaker Park, check out that home at 901 Bell Street, the only residence in America built by the U.S. Government, appropriated following a debate that took place on the floor of Congress. The solons concluded that since a federal airplane wrecked the home, the feds should rebuild it, and so they did. If you’re in that neighborhood, we’ll point out another home with a story, at 752 West Street, a home designed by Death Valley Scotty’s architect and later the residence of a University of Nevada president.
[Yes, the U.S. Air Mail airport by the present Washoe Golf Course was named Blanchfield Field in his honor, to be officially shortened in years to follow to the more obvious Blanch Field.]
A recent column “killed” the YMCA too early, in the words of Neill (two-ells) West. The boiler blew and the 1911 Delongchamps building was razed by the ensuing fire three years after our 1950 walk, which I meant but wasn’t what the text conveyed. Neill was an Alpha Tau Omega fraternity pledge in 1952 and was working in the building, where he probably met Les Conklin the Younger, while Les was lifting weights when the building exploded. (No doubt buffing up for a career selling heavy fur coats a block to the west for 40 years.) Les questioned the date too, and I thank them both. (Too many notes – I was researching our walk downtown and the fatal Greyhound building fire at the same time, a fire that did in fact predate 1950 by two years. And I’m too old for multitasking.)
We’ll throw this out to get the pot boiling a little: Realtor Paul Crooks supplied a 1958 photo of Crooks Bros. Tractor Co. on two-lane Glendale Road, which he reported to be the first building ever built by real estate magnate John Dermody (and I suspect was actually constructed by McKenzie Construction.) It’s still visible as the core building of mighty Cashman Equipment, your local Cat dealer.
• • •
And now, to the flicks:
To hear from three favorite correspondents in one week is a thrill, and this week Pauline Carpenter, Neill West [text preceding] and Nevada history heavy-hitter Richard C. Datin all checked in.
Richard is a gentleman. A historian and prolific writer, and a nationally regarded authority on Nevada’s railroads, he’s more entitled than most to derail me for an error, but only pleasantly nudges me that “…the Reno Theater you mentioned last week as being next to the Wigwam cafe, was actually just south of the Overland Hotel on the east side of Center Street.” He’s right, of course; an old photo at the Nevada Historical Society shows the “Nevada” theater, not the “Reno”, next to the Wigwam Café, from 1942 to 1948, when it became the “Crest”. Mea culpa.
About 22 of you all claimed to have the neat clock, the one that we all remember over the fire exit of the Crest with the white hands and blue-neon rim, hanging in your dens. Several people recalled never, ever sitting under the massive chandelier in the Majestic Theater. (That chandelier’s featured in 1920s brochure about the Delongchamp’s rejuvenation of the Majestic.) Several readers mentioned the wide seats – about a seat-and-a-half/three buns) – on the ends of alternating rows in the Tower theater, so that no seat was directly behind another. Those who would neck in public places, the Pagans, generally grabbed those wide seats first.
I mentioned that the Granada had no loges in 1950, prompting Pauline Carpenter to scold me for forgetting that the Granada had loges and balcony seating until a 1953 fire trashed the inside of the theater, when it was refurbished with no upper deck. And I never argue with any lady who was a head Granada usherette during her senior year at Sparks High School (maiden name Pauline Keema). Nothing escapes you readers…
And then I wrote: Sarah Bernhardt would be hopping mad: The tiny 3,800 square-foot office building in Sparks that Joe Mayer and I eke a living out of has four handicapped parking spaces, with two or three usually in use. The new art museum on Liberty at Hill Street? Four handicapped parking spaces. Go figure…
And that’s the way it was, Spring of 1998. “God bless America” didn’t appear at the end of my columns until the Saturday following 9/11.
Oh boyoboyoboy – we’re having our first Thanksgiving dinner in Reno since we moved here after the war at our house at 740 Ralston Street. And the best news is that the little red-haired girl is coming, with her parents and grandparents. And her baby brother Mike who like my sister Marilynn is still in a bassinet, unless they get loose somehow. A little birdie tells me that someday Mike will be a dentist and Meri will teach school in Napa for 32 years. But I don’t know that now. Rug-rats, Dad calls them.
Dad’s been working hard on the house. He’s got his friend Mr. Maffi helping him to convert the coal furnace over to oil. They put an oil tank on a stand that feeds the oil to the furnace by gravity, and while it hasn’t been too cold yet it really helps to get the heat up in a hurry. Dad found a tag on the old furnace that says “1905” so it’s pretty old. But we knew that anyway because the carriage house behind the house had a couple old gigs and axles and wheels in it.
All the neighbors are getting rid of the leaves that are falling off the trees everywhere. Last year, our first in Reno, Dad burned them in the curbside but this year they’re still green and won’t burn too well. Anyway, Mary S. Doten School is closed for Thanksgiving Day and the day after, so I’m going to write about it for my teacher Mrs. Angus to get extra credit against my deportment demerits so I won’t have to stay after school. For a while.
The Thanksgiving dinner is turning in to quite an affair, and a lot of work. Mom is peeling potatoes like crazy and will start soon on the sweet potatoes. The little red-haired girl’s mom is working on the stuffing for the turkey and her grandmother is baking some pies – apple and pumpkin. I got to help clean out a couple pumpkins for that pie. Mr. Thomas, who owns a little ranch south of town on a lane called “Huffaker” brought the turkey over. He’d already cut its head off so it’s in a burlap sack.
The little red-head’s dad made a temporary icebox out of his old Navy footlocker and went to Union Ice Company on the Lincoln Highway just west of Vine Street and got ten pounds of dry ice to keep everything in the footlocker, like the turkey and his mother-in-law’s pies, cold. Dad also went to his friend Mr. Chism’s dairy and got a carton of ice cream – he’s going to start marketing it year-round and would have already but no one has a way to keep it cold.
That seems to be the largest problem in putting together this dinner – all the people in Reno have little tiny boxes in their refrigerators for freezing stuff. If they even have a refrigerator at all – there are a lot of homes that just have iceboxes. So the grocery stores don’t carry much frozen food and there aren’t too many grocery stores anyway. Dad’s friends the Sewell brothers – Harvey and Abner [whoops – might be Herb. But what does a six-ear old know? (All three were founders of Nevada Bank of Commerce)] – are building a big store – biggest in Reno – on Fifth Street between Fifth Street and the Lincoln Highway. And a father-and-son, John and Bob Games already have a store downtown [pictured left] but are building a big market on the spot on South Virginia Street where the Shrine Circus used to be held [the antique store in the 1200 block!]. They will go a long way to improving shopping for big dinners like this one. The Gastanaga family already has Eagle Drug and is thinking of offering groceries as Eagle Thrifty. And we have the Twentieth Century Market out South Virginia at the south edge of town by the drive-in. Now all we need are more people with bigger refrigerators, which the American industrial factories can now work on since the war effort is over.
Within about four blocks of 740 Ralston Street, and most other homes in Reno, are maybe four grocery stores – Ralston Market at the bottom of the hill, the Quality Market at Seventh and Washington, the Hilltop Market on 11th Street and the University Market on 10th [Pub ‘n Sub!]. Oh, and the Cottage Grocery on Fifth Street also has a butcher shop which most grocery stores don’t, and the Santa Claus Market on Vine and Sixth is open on Christmas Day.
That’s how it got its name………
Anyhow, there’s no shortage of markets, but all are limited in their selection.
Mom says that a lot of groceries could be frozen for a dinner like this. Like the pies they’re making for dinner, the ice cream from Chism’s dairy, even the turkey. She says that someday turkeys will be for sale frozen, and people will have refrigerators big enough to store them. And Dad says he won’t have to go to Union Ice or Brickie Hansen’s market anymore to get ice cubes for the cocktails. Even the whipped cream will come in a can with some kind of pressure, like hair spray and room deodorant will also. Dad says she’s nuts – why would anybody put whipping cream in a can for topping? I just stay out of it. She is a little batty…
Dad’s friend Mr. Conrad is in the grocery business so he’s helping with some of the dinner. His wife Jean will be my third-grade teacher next year. They have a cute little daughter named Carolyn; she’s a couple years older than I but I’ll bet she’ll still be my friend 70 years from now. Getting dinner rolls is kind of tough this time of year; Rauhut’s Bakery carries them but we’re getting ours from Nikki Pistone, who lives close by on Sierra Street and cooks and people go and pick up what they order – rolls, sometimes other stuff and ravioli – she’s known by all as the best ravioli cook in town next to some lady in a house Halfway between Reno and Sparks. She’s good too.
The little red-headed girl’s dad is getting the wine – he’s a basko, whatever that is, but he has a lot of friends in Little Italy, walking distance from our houses! His friend Mr. Nieri [Aldo] has saved a couple nice bottles of red wine for us. Actually, they’re jugs – everybody who gets wine from Little Italy has to bring their own jugs and they get refilled from the wine the Italian people crush themselves. Dad says the druggist Mr. Ramos is going to start selling wine in real bottles with labels on them, in red, white and blush, which are the three types of wine now being bottled. Mom grew up in Petaluma, a hoot-and-a-holler from a little town called Napa which is the Portuguese capital of America. The Portuguese know wine and how to bottle it and age it and make barrels for it, but the Irish mothers wouldn’t let their daughters date the Portuguese boys. If I heard that once, I heard it a thousand times.
We’re having some guests – Dad is going to walk to St. Mary’s Hospital down the street and bring a couple of the Dominican sisters up the hill to join us for dinner. Mom knows one of them from Petaluma, which is close to San Rafael, which is the head-shed of the Dominican Order, that started St. Mary’s Hospital. Actually they started St. Mary’s School for Girls which was converted to a hospital in 1918 when Reno needed a hospital more than it needed a girls’ school. I’ll have to hear that story all night one more time. But it will be nice to see them. Last year, when we like many Reno people had ham for Thanksgiving because Dad couldn’t find a turkey, my mother’s Aunt Lola, an Irish Catholic nun loose in the Maryknoll Order came on the train from that order’s HQ in Dubuque, Iowa and she and Dad had too much of Mr. Nieri’s red wine, but we won’t write about that dinner.
Anyhoo, it’s going to be a fine night indeed on Ralston Street. Dad’s getting out a bunch of his records to put on the changer and I asked him to include Peter and the Wolf. The takeaway for the whole article is of the way things are today in 1948, as compared to the way they might be 70 years later, in terms of putting a dinner together without what I guess will be called a big refrigerator with a huge freezer section, big markets with every grocery item known to man prepackaged or frozen or available somehow, and also some of the cooking tools available – microwave ovens, and range/ovens with such great capacity and alternate cooking temperatures. Think about that as you enjoy your dinner this week!
(Of course, this is only 1948 as I write this, so I know nothing about it….)
Happy Thanksgiving to all…
A note about the graphic: In 1941, FDR addressed congress with a goal to revolve around the so-called Four Freedoms —”Freedom of Speech,” ‘Freedom of Worship,” “Freedom from Want,” and “Freedom From Fear.”
Illustrator Norman Rockwell embodied those freedoms in a series of four covers for the Saturday Evening Post; the “Freedom from Want” was published five years ago just prior to Thanksgiving 1943 and immediately became the iconic representation of the holiday.
It is my understanding that Rockwell and the Post released the copyright on the four covers. The original covers are currently on display in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan
Photo of Inez Stempeck holding award, courtesy Guy Clifton
The backstory: In 1987 – I, as a Reno member of a San Francisco writing group and in an effort to get the membership off their butts and give up their Dick-and-Jane level of prose, challenged them to write a piece about what would happen should the Golden Gate Bridge fall into the Bay. As part of the challenge I wrote the first chapter, trying to inveigle some of them to get aboard and write a second, third, final chapter, each independent of the preceding author’s work. I threw down the gauntlet, but none came forth with any subsequent chapters. I said to hell with it and forgot about it until I was recently invited to write a SF-based piece on the Ol’ Reno Guy thing. I dragged the following out – it was typewritten, so I just recast it on my laptop exactly as I wrote it originally. Anybody want to add a chapter? Go for it; I’ll gladly make some space available here!
It was created on a tide-swept body of water a hundred feet more than a mile across, with currents ravaged by the influx of fresh water from nine major California rivers.
Eleven-hundred feet south of the San Francisco Presidio Joseph Strauss, generally credited as the designer of the project, began work on an Art Deco tower which, in the ensuing two years would rise 746 feet above the high-water line of the Bay. The tower would be built of steel boxes, three-and-a-half feet square, welded together in multiples and form the massive base, to then taper off as the tower rose above the water. It was topped with a flat plate, upon which would rest ten round steel pipes and a saddle to support a cable. The pipes and saddle were to roll freely during construction.
On the dry land of the Marin shore 4,200 feet to the north, another like tower was built, a duplicate of the one rising out of the water. When completed, skeptics swore that the two towers, viewed from a distance, had a noticeable lean away from each other toward their respective shores. In fact, each tower was 12’-6” off plumb; the cagey engineer knew that the massive load each tower would bear would tug the tops of the structures together to form straight lines. What the critics missed in the years to come was that the towers remain slightly off-plumb inward, to compensate for the curvature of the earth and thus appear parallel from a distance.
One morning a slim galvanized wire, about the diameter of a pencil lead, was stretched across the water, lifted to the top of the north tower, then allowed to sag across the span and rise back up to the top of the south tower. The wire, by then over 7,000 feet long, was connected to a steel eye in a 60,000-ton concrete block on the Marin shore. The spinning machine then pulled a like wire back along the same route, and it was connected to another anchor block adjoining Fort Point in San Francisco’s Presidio. When the spinning machine had made 432 trips across the bay, it had completed a 2-7/8-inch cable. It would make 60 more like cables on each side of the towers. With the completion of each cable, the saddle resting on the pipes atop each tower would be moved hydraulically slightly toward the center of the span, so that when all 61 cables were complete, the resulting two 37” main cables for the bridge would be exactly centered on the top of both of the towers. Both of the sets of 61 cables were spread from the main cables and anchored at the Fort Point and Marin (Lime Point) anchorages.
The two main cables, originally hexagonal, were compressed to round with hydraulic presses and wrapped with light wire. The pipes at the top of each tower, placed to enable moving the saddles, were grouted into place permanently.
Lighter galvanized cables, woven on shore in a plant on the Marin side, were suspended down from the main cables every 72 feet in groups of two, holding a steel structure which would soon support a roadbed six car-lanes wide and a sidewalk on either side. Consideration was give to the fact that most of the weight would be borne on one side of the bridge during the morning commute and transferred across the span in the evening as automobiles returned to Marin County.
The pavers followed, and the electricians placed the revolutionary sodium-vapor lights in the bridge’s Art Deco theme [pictured left]. While this work proceeded, the untold story remained the construction of roads leading through the Presidio and Waldo Grade, where a tunnel had to be bored. The access roads accounted for a major part of the expenditure for the bridge, but lacked the flair and excitement of high-steel work over a body of water!
The two slim towers, out of plumb three years before but now bearing the weight of 96,000 tons of steel plus 24,000 cubic yards of asphalt paving, pulled together to appear truly vertical. The massive concrete anchors for the main cables at either end of the span yielded, according to the best surveying techniques available in 1936 – and later confirmed by more modern techniques – not a fraction of an inch [the north anchorage is evident just to the north/right of the Lime Point landing in the photo below].
On May 27, 1937 the bridge opened to foot traffic, followed a day later by the first cars to cross the span. The pedestrians, on this wind-calm day absent of any vehicles, could scarcely sense that the roadway beneath their feet, at the midpoint of the span, could rise or fall 15 feet, or swing toward the blue Pacific or Alcatraz Island a distance of 27 feet.
Fifty years passed, and on a bright day in late May of 1987, the noise of cars clicking across the steel expansion joins in the roadway abated, and a pedestrian crowd returned to relive the opening of the span. It was a day of celebration; a day when the bridge reached its 50th birthday. The red-oxide paint on the structure, chosen as much for its rust-resistant properties as its Golden link to the Bay’s early heritage, appeared a little brighter than the day prior. The water below was bluer; the sun picked up the silver in the Goodyear blimp Columbia, slowly orbiting overhead, and the mufti of the ship’s company assembled on the flight deck of the carrier Enterprise, laying on the hook bayward of the Gate. The skies were clear, and the revelers could see the Farallones twelve miles to the west and the verdant hills of Mt. Diablo to the east. Indeed, not a day to be without extra film for the camera.
A two-inch valve opened in the air pipe supplying the foghorn at midspan, just as it had opened every twenty seconds during foggy days for the last 50 years. The rush of air powered the typhon to a throaty toot that could be heard to Alameda, temporarily drowning out San Francisco’s own Huey Lewis & the News, performing on a barge 220 feet below the bridge. The horn signaled that the bridge, for the first time in 50 years, was open exclusively to foot traffic.
People, eventually 800,000 of them, give or take a couple thousand, came in all shapes and sizes; in jogging shorts and late-1930s costumes. They came alone and in groups, some as snakes and serpentines, the old and the young, and those in-between, to walk the Gate. The crowd amazed even those who had years before become accustomed to the sea of humanity convening annually a few miles away during the Bay-to-Breakers footrace.
A Golden Gate District shuttle bus stopped at the Sausalito Vista Point, and deposited another 40 celebrants. Among that group was a family with Bay Area roots. Indeed one of the group – the matriarch from nearby Petaluma – had walked the bridge when it opened in 1937. Some came from near – Napa – others came over the Sierra from Reno, and one journeyed from faraway Tucson. They had come, as so many others did, to walk the bridge as a family. Some might have the opportunity to do it again 50 years hence at the bridge’s centennial. For others it was a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. They walked down the slight grade, directed by the matriarch: the large, the small, the old, young, middle-aged; the good, the bad and the ugly.
Five-hundred-ten feet above the group, far from the noise of the crowd, unseen by any living thing save for possibly a seagull resting on a cable clamp, and only a few hundred feet south of the Marin tower, a suspension cable, 2-7/8 inches in diameter plus the thickness of the galvanizing and some 25 coats of red-oxide paint; a cable, scheduled to be replaced in a dozen years pair-by-pair; a cable which, with its miles of neighbors had supported the span under which passed the soldiers and sailors who waged then returned from three world-wide military conflicts.
A cable which had tacitly overseen Marin County grow from a bedroom community to a major force in the Bay Area economy, twisted, unwitnessed. A few bright strands of wire appeared through the dull coating of paint. The family below, intent on the music of Huey Lewis and the messages being scrolled across the flank of the blimp Columbia, didn’t feel any movement under their feet, nor did they see the few falling flakes of red oxide paint, dislodged by the cable’s splaying. They couldn’t see, five-hundred feet above in the bright morning sun that a side of the cable, which had hung in shadow for five decades, had twisted slightly and was now illuminated by that sunlight.
The massive weight borne so diligently by that cable had been slightly cast onto the strands of the adjacent cable systems, and the Petaluma family far below had no way of feeling that the neighboring cables’ load had been invisibly increased, and that their strands too, had rotated, ever so slightly.
The geometry of the German engineer reliant upon every component doing its job was literally beginning to unravel. As the matriarch led her brood under the Marin tower toward the throng now approaching them from the Presidio, they missed the real drama, slowly but inexorably taking place five-hundred feet above them, that would reshape not only their lives, but the fate and future of the entire Bay Area…