Work progresses in site work on Foster Drive across from Reno High School on what was once the home of the Reno YMCA. The new building will be the William N. Pennington facility for the Boys & Girls Club of Truckee Meadows. This is a wonderful thing and has been appropriately ballyhooed wherever applicable, as it should be. Pennington did a fine thing endowing this building, and was generally a good guy (we were neighbors in the 1960s before our lives took separate courses.)
But it’s mildly annoying to some, in this case, to me, that with all the fol-de-rol over the new facility, little, as in zilch, has been said about how that little piece of dirt was transformed from a dairy farm adjoining Westfield Village, to a grand new building. A few steps have been left out of that site’s journey.
The journey started back in 1952 when the original Reno YMCA, pictured, blew up, actually a boiler in the basement blew up and took the building down to ground level in one quick hurry. I watched it. That YMCA, by the by, was the next building east of the Mapes Hotel and if you don’t know where that was you probably want to leave this site and go read the Mommy Files or the Sudoku page. Reno was without its Y.
So, a group of businessmen got together once, becoming weekly, if memory serves (I was 10 years old and don’t accurately recall; I have a faint recollection of them meeting at the Trocadero Room of the El Cortez but wouldn’t swear to it.) Some names I remember were Al Solari, Del Machabee, Buddy Traynor, Conrad Preiss, Jim Morrison, Gene Gastanaga, Ed Pine, Sr., and hell of a lot of others. Oh, and a young Realtor named Karl Breckenridge. (My dad, not me.) If anybody can think of some more, lemme know; there’s a plaque around somewhere with some names but I can’t find the plaque.
Those local men got on the bandwagon to beg, borrow, and steal, well almost, the funding to acquire a piece of property for a brand-new Y building. And my dad, being a real estate man, found the property, as I recall, with Del Machabee. And they all had fundraisers, barbecues at the California Building, virtual house-to-house solicitations, tail-twisting of the school districts (there were eight in Washoe County back then.) The city government, Stead Air Force Base, the power company, Nevada Bell employees, just an incredible, damn aggressive but all-in-fun fundraiser.
And they raised the funds, and bought the land, I think from the Vhay Ranch but don’t know at this writing. I traveled with my dad for 10 days in his 1952 Buick to a dozen YMCA buildings in northern and southern California, spent nights in them, swam in their pools, while he gathered ideas for the Reno building. And, the building was indeed built, Orville Wahrenbrock was hired to run it with Dick Taylor second in command, and Tom Hardester and Steve Rucker in the P.E. department. Reno had a Y.
What the hell happened to it I can’t say; some of the Ys in California that we toured preparatory to building it still stand (it was a well-built building.) My personal opinion, which I’ve learned is shared by many guys in Reno, is that something or somebody screwed up. It doesn’t matter – it’s been torn down. And we have no Y. And a new building is going up on its former site, a new building with a flagship name.
But, ya know what? There’s a long list of once-prominent people who did a great deal of work, and personal commitment, and personal expense, to get that site. But I don’t look to see their names being bandied about when the new youth club opens a year from now.
If they are, they’ll probably be right alongside Anna Frandsen Loomis’ name on the Lear Theater – my friend Anna who endowed the Christian Science Church in 1938, later the Lear, getting the same credit that Machabee, Solari, Pine, Breckenridge the Elder, and all the others will be getting on Foster Drive – none.
(Photo credit to “CardCow.com” on the web, it’s an old postcard that half of Reno has in their collections but I couldn’t find mine.)