We’re forgetting a few guys…


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.)

The Harolds Club mural

mural4During this rodeo week in Reno, a few references have been made to the Harolds Club mural (and I should note here that Pappy Smith, who owned Harolds Club, named for his son, didn’t like apostrophes and that’s good enough for us!) Therefore, it’s probably appropriate to scribe a few words about that mural.

It was commissioned by the club in the mid-1950s, and a picture painted by Theodore McFall of Pacific Grove, Calif., was chosen. McFall knew that the mural that was to be created from his picture would be huge – 38 feet high and 78 feet wide – pioneers at a campsite that could be Crystal Peak to the west or the shore of the Truckee to the east – a campfire burning, azure-blue water falling in the background. He also knew that the farthest away a viewer could get from the mural was about a hundred feet – from Harolds Club across Virginia Street to Southworth’s Cigar Store on the west sidewalk – so he created the picture to look proportionate from any view, absent a parallax from looking up, or crosswise at it.

Deal was made and deed was done for the newish casino to buy the rights to the photo, and the process of taking an oil photo to a mural capable of withstanding weather and beating sun then began. It was decreed that it would be of steel, with color porcelainized onto the steel and fired (the mural consisted of many small squares of artwork.) But who could do such a process?

A man was located, an interesting artist named Sargent Claude Johnson, a New Englander by birth who later spread his time between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. He was a sculptor, and a mosaic artist (his works can be seen as a mural on George Washington High School in SF, in some sculpture still in place on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, where it was placed for the 1939 World Exposition, and mosaics in the veranda of the Aquatic Park Museum in SF, and in that same building’s entrance in the form of intaglio. Most other works are on private property, and one is in storage, a scene similar to the Harolds Club mural created for a Las Vegas casino, acquired by the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, and now in storage.)

Curiously, I first wrote of Johnson and the mural in a February, which is Black History Month, because Johnson was half black, and elected to live his life in the black communities of LA and Oakland. He was a member of the Communist party during his adult life.

He undertook to create and fire the mural in 1948, and it was ready for presentation to the City of Reno by Harolds Club in 1949. It was trucked to Reno in many pieces, and suspended on a steel frame affixed to the Harolds Club building.

In its original form, the waterfall “fell,” sort of like the lights in a Wurlitzer jukebox, and the campfire “burned.” The waterfall’s cascade and the fire’s flickering flame were allowed to fall into disarray at the advent of the Hughes acquisition of Harolds Club. And some of the artwork on the lower part of the mural, primarily the snake that appeared poised to bite the lady pioneer’s butt, were covered by some signs spelling out the casino’s name. The legend atop the mural was attributed to Harolds Club’s genius adman Thomas C. Wilson, Dedicated In All Humility to Those Who Blazed the Trail.

Sadly, a home for the mural could not be located in downtown Reno when the club’s structure was demolished in 2001, and was in storage for a decade until the Reno Rodeo Association, with some help from other local people and entities, made it possible for it to be re-erected on a building at the Reno Events Center on Wells Avenue.
Well done, Smith Family, artist Theodore McFall, sculptor Sargent Claude Johnson, and the Reno Rodeo Association!

Seen at Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street


On April 18, 2006 we journeyed to San Francisco to be part of the 100th commemoration of the Great San Francisco earthquake, and in the early hours of that morning, commensurate with the earthquake a hundred years before, this image was taken at Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street which was about the only thing that wasn’t demolished in the ‘quake, and remains the meeting spot for the earthquake survivors, who now number, two. Two people still alive, that were alive that fateful day in 2006.

The real reason for posting this is to see if the site is working better than it was the last time I posted, at which time it wasn’t working for shit, er, worth a damn. If the photo posts and the text reads right, I may go back into business with a website.

This is a test. That’s all…