The Sharon mansion

SharonMansion

Enter now, stage left, Barbara (Beesley) Goss, with an e-mail query, and here I quote: “Was there a tennis court standing all by itself at the corner of Westfield Avenue and Booth Street, or am I losing my mind?

I can’t speak as to your sanity, my old Reno High classmate; we’re all at that certain tenuous age. The opening line of a book I wrote a few years ago takes the words of Gordon Chism, another RHS classmate, to heart:  “I am remembering now in ever-increasing detail, events which I’m not sure ever happened…” 

But yes indeed, Barbara; in our misspent and long-bygone youth there was a lonely tennis court just about where the 7-Eleven sits at the foot of the California Avenue hill. It was a last vestige of other stuff that inured to the house at the crest of the hill, including a couple of ponds and a carriage house. The parcel that that home is built upon actually once stretched from the California Avenue west to an area near the present Booth Street, and south to the 7-Eleven (and in the larger view, eastward all the way to the Nixon mansion.)

            I’ve seen it designated as the “Sharon Mansion,” which has caused some confusion over time. We learned in school that William Sharon was a fine man, a benefactor to the downtrodden, a Nevadan to the core, a major financier of the Comstock and a buddy of railroad builders Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford. He became a Nevada senator in 1875 and died in 1885, posing the compelling question as to why or how he had a mansion built in 1930. In later life we learned that he was rumored to have been disposed to actually visit the Silver State once (from his home in San Francisco) and even visited Washington once or twice during his six-year term. He conducted his life and affairs less than altruistically, an assessment of the man which is probably being charitable. The fact is, the chateau was built for Sharon’s granddaughter, who happened also to be Sen. Francis Newlands’ daughter, (to help you comprehend that, Francis Newlands married Senator Sharon’s daughter.) Of course…

            And if you want to appear cool, pronounce the Comstock millionaire’s name “Sha-Roan,” unless you’re struggling to call an ambulance pronto to an address on Sharon Way, in which case you’d better pronounce Sharon as we’ve come to know it. Several old Reno maps show a “Sharon Street” in the approximate location of Booth Street, and the address of the Reno Water & Light Co.’s 1893 powerhouse at the present Booth and Idlewild corner showed it on Sharon Street. (It’s still there.)

            The house on the hill, a replica of a French chateau, is a dandy, inspired by a San Francisco architect who specialized in castles, and built from native stone hewn from the rock-bound locations in northern Nevada. It might be one of the most-sketched edifices in Reno; in days long past, before the Chinese elms and cottonwood trees surrounding it matured, before the Federal Building was built, and before the Keystone/Booth/California nightmare was dreamed up, it was easily visible from the art classroom in Reno High School’s north wing, and drawing or painting the home was de rigueur for art students. I’ve seen some great versions of that student artwork, a few framed and displayed in local offices and homes.

            Anyway, the home’s a part of our local scene, although the tennis court and carriage house on Booth Street are long-gone…

The travesty? The mansion, a beauty, is going to hell in a handbasket through the actions of a bunch of hippies in residence surrounding the home with clever junk while doing nothing to take care of the vegetation that’s totally overgrown the premises. (Pay no attention to the rear-view mirror in the photograph; there’s so damn much growth around the place that it’s impossible to picture, from Booth Street or California Avenue where the photo was shot from.)

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