Harrah’s bygone gateway to the stars

Harrah's hanger

In the halcyon, bygone days of our little town on the Truckee, the swells of the entertainment community came to Reno and Sparks in droves, or more often in Lears, Falcons and Grummans. They came to sing and be seen, to amuse us with their words, or amaze us with their Terpsichore, or their command of strings, brass, or their reeds. And some, like Sammy, did all of the above.

Contemporaneously, those with demonstrable disposable and discretionary income and assets arrived in our town, and it was seldom in a Pontiac station wagon or the City of San Francisco choo-choo. These sorts traveled well, either in their own Lears and Falcons, or in one provided by, well, in this case, Harrah’s Club, for some of these travelers, accompanied by their wives or girlfriends or both, liked the green felt tables and the rewards there available so much, and felt so good about Lady Luck, that Harrah’s was more than eager to send a jet to their home town, haul them here, house them in the new downtown hotel tower or the companion at the South Shore, to get them standing before the green felt tables.

Experience had shown that these of the disposable wealth would in a few days Keep Nevada Green, and buy a lot of jet fuel with the wealth that the casino retained, the “drop,” I believe they call it. But hey, they had fun, stayed in the VIP suite, got a ride in the Falcon, a limo, saw Sammy in the showroom and probably rubbed elbows with him, and left on Runway one-six for home with a great weekend under his belt. Or, her belt.

But where to disembark in Reno? Sammy, and Dean and the Coz and Debbie and Gomer and Red and Olivia and Willie and Waylon and the rest weren’t too nutty about climbing out of Harrah’s planes, or often their own planes, with the unwashed at Reno Flying Service or Silver State. Nor were the high-rollers – “whales,” as they were often called – anxious to start their Reno stay with a bunch of strangers.

Thus, the only obvious thing for Harrah’s to do was to build a terminal of their own, on land leased from the airport, just north of the present air cargo facility on Terminal Way. And it was a beauty, with landscaping, and the impeccable Harrah touch in design and maintenance, and hospitality within for the arriving dignitaries. A place where they could be with their own kind, with ample help standing by to handle their luggage and a Rolls-Royce Phantom V at-the-ready just outside.

Weather? No problem, a hangar was built to the east, and later a larger one for the corporate Grumman.

The Harrah airport facility went night-and-day during the busy times of the year, handling Harrah’s aircraft operations and guests, and the planes operated by the entertainers. Which were not infrequent – some entertainers would put on a cocktail show in Reno, blast off for an appearance in LA, and return to town in time for the next night’s dinner show. Being famous isn’t easy.

Now, Sammy and the Coz and Debbie and the rest don’ come ‘roun’ no more, and I don’t know if Harrah’s even operates an airplane (at one time there were maybe five of varying sizes and capacities). And the high-rollers? Maybe. But they don’t come to the Harrah facility, which I understand went back to Airport Authority control.

I looked at it a couple days ago from Terminal Way and went back to shoot the picture above. And I thought, if that little now-dilapidated building could talk, the stories of the rich, famous and legendary it could speak of – few places in Reno have been a confluence of so much of Reno’s entertainment heritage