BundoxThe River House, and the Bundox

from an old column…

Word reached me last weekend that yet another Reno landmark will bite the dust – the once-intimate Bundox restaurant and the adjoining River House motel on Lake Street at the river will soon feel the wrecker’s ball.

We’ll turn back the clock to about 1910 when a photographer of national renown named Loomis*, who with his wife, the former Anna Frandsen, was working in Argentina for a number of American newspapers. Anna was the daughter of Andrew Frandsen, a pioneer Reno sheep man who had emigrated from Denmark. In Buenos Aires, the Loomis’ only son would be born and named Eugene Frandsen Loomis. One day he would become known simply as “Bud.” (Bud’s older sister, Inez, would marry Scoop Johnson in later years; his younger sister, MaryAlice, would marry Bill Blakely.) [All, and Cebe below, have passed away.]

Bud grew up and went to law school, then journeyed to mysterious pre-war China, where he acted as an envoy for American people and companies doing business in that inscrutable land. He acquired – legally – many artifacts, shipping them home periodically to Reno, where his mother was by then teaching Spanish at Reno High School. When the Chinese closed their borders and excluded foreign nationals in the 1930s, Bud returned to America and Reno. He met and wed his wife Cebe – say “Seeb”. He opened a law practice, and maintained an interest in his father’s vocation – photography. Bud and Cebe moved into a home on the Frandsen family property at the west end of Wingfield Park, that originally served as a carriage house for the Gray mansion above it on the Court Street bluff, that burned in 1939. Across the river was the Christian Science Church, on a site donated to the church by Anna Frandsen Loomis – as kids, we called her “Dosh.” Anna commissioned architect Paul Revere Williams to design the church and the Loomis Manor Apartments to the west of the church on Riverside Drive. The Frandsen Apartments on West Fourth Street bounded the family’s property holdings to the north.

• • •

But the Loomis’s’ home was not large enough to display their art collection. Bud at that time was serving as an advocate to the Chinese community in Reno, and the Chinese owned a piece of property on the north bank of the Truckee River – there was still a joss house operating on it even into the 1950s.

Loomis negotiated with whatever entity owned the site, and eventually acquired it. He and Cebe built, on its eastern end, the headquarters for Ben Dasher’s Universe Life Insurance Company. On the East First Street corner they built a smallish restaurant, cocktail lounge, and the River House motel, all with a Chinese motif. Into this restaurant and bar, and with the hearty approval of the local Chinese community, who were grateful to have their story told, went the Loomises’ collection of artifacts. Cebe told me years ago that there was at least one artifact from China in every room of the motel.

The name? Bundox. It was frequently mispronounced bun, as in “cheek”, but always by the cognoscenti as boondocks. Bud told me years ago that the origin of the name was the Tagalog – (Filipino) – word bundoc anglicized by pre-World War II American soldiers to connote a remote, forgotten, and somewhat romantic place, somewhat like Xanadu.

At least I think that’s what he said – better than 20 [40 as I write this in 2014!] years ago. Or then again, maybe it’s taken from Kipling or Coleridge – who knows?

But it was never remote to many movers and shakers in Reno, and the little bar was a favorite watering hole for the rich and the famous for several decades, or at least for civic leaders in the days when civic leaders actually got something done from start to finish. (I remember my own father laboring there into the wee hours in the nascent days of acquiring land south of town for a big building to be called the Centennial Coliseum in 1962.) [the present Reno/Sparks Convention Center.]

At least, that’s what he told my mother…

Maybe the civic leaders should have acquired a little restaurant called the Liberty Belle back then, which had already been open for three years, but that’ for another column – the Belle lives. [No, it doesn’t}

Straying back now to the Bundox story: Bud died about 35 years ago; Cebe kept the place hopping for another ten years, and then sold the property. (Cebe too passed away, in June [2003] in southern California.)

The corner’s buildings are now abandoned and boarded up, an ongoing insult to the by-gone revelry and that certain je nè cais quà that the Bundox and the Loomises once brought to our fair city and the Truckee’s shore. [And now they’re gone altogether. The question on everyone’s mind: Who got the brass door handles…?]

• • •

Two footnotes form an epilogue to this yarn: The wrecker’s ball is not Earl Games Construction’s Christmas party, and “je nè cais quà” is dedicated to the lady who questioned “ethos” last week. We’re introducing a new feature: the Homefinder word of the week – use it correctly and the duck’ll drop down and bring you 25 bucks. [And as you read that, I hope you watched the old Groucho Marx You Bet Your Life on KZTV, or you won’t know what I’m writing about.]

Have a good week, and God bless America.

• • •

*[The rest of that story, that might have been inappropriate for the Gazoo column: I am close enough to the Blakely family that some use me as a tax deduction, and one night I asked “What was Dosh’s husband’s given name?” (The photographer of “national renown” in my column.) No one knew – he was always “Mr. Loomis” when they were growing up. Dosh and Mr. parted after their youngest child (Mary Alice) was born, and Dosh came back to Reno and taught Spanish for many years at Reno High School.]


Dania Hall/the Reno Little Theater


On August 24th of 1894 the Afdeling Waldemar Lodge #12 of the Dania Society held their summer ball at Laughton’s Resort west of Reno, all 120 or so of the members and their attendant brides, and the gala was considered by most accounts as a success, save for Hans Block and Peter Rasmussen winding up with a broken wrist and an amputated thumb, respectively, during a vigorous old-country Danish dance.  But notwithstanding those inconveniences, according to the Reno Evening Gazette a day later, all were looking forward to next year’s party.

            This has little to do with this morning’s column.

            Time marched on, and the Waldemar Lodge #12, through the beneficence of several local Danes, one recorded as an Andrew Frandsen, were able to  acquire property on North Sierra Street at Seventh Street, and build a handsome brick home for the Dania Society.   In August of 1925 they christened that building, with no further bodily injuries reported in the Gazette.

            This has peripheral interest to the column that follows; the name Frandsen being of some interest.

            A decade later, a young thespian named Edwin Semenza would fire up a group called the Reno Little Theater, reportedly kicking in bucks a few of his own to make the thing work and offer a play.  On April 15th of 1935, “The Three-Cornered Moon” opened with an all-star cast in the Frandsen Education Building at the University of Nevada (that building named for Peter Frandsen, nephew to Andrew and another icon in the early local Danish community.)  The play was an instant hit with the local townsfolk, and the new little theater’s offerings continued on a regular basis – three or four first-rate, straight-from-Broadway offerings a year – for six decades to follow.

            The little theater’s productions soon moved to the State Building downtown – on a personal note I watched “42nd Street” last Sunday and judge it the best show I’ve ever seen in Reno, and I’ve seen a bunch – at the Pioneer Theater, or Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts or whatever the cognoscenti call it now.  The Pioneer Whatever now occupies the site of the wonderful old StateBuilding.  The RLT – Reno Little Theater – held their plays in that venue for many a year.  And through Semenza’s guidance, their consistency and quality of production was remarkable, and I can’t go too much further into this column without mentioning a name: Blythe Bulmer – actress, director, mentor – Semenza and Bulmer, what a team for so many years, and how lucky our little city was to have them.  How we could use their dedication today…

            The Danish community in Reno waned, (their predominant occupation was as dairy cattlemen), and their need for a building of their own ground to a halt.  In October of 1941 they sold their little brick building on North Sierra at Seventh Street to a Dr. S. K. Morrison, who immediately resold it without profit to the Reno Little Theater and carried back a mortgage at an attractive rate while the theater, now with a venue all its own got the momentum growing.  Through Semenza’s stewardship, the theater became a successful business, as well as artistic, success, and the mortgage was retired ahead of schedule.

            That early prewar year was frenetic, with much work being done on the former Dania meeting hall to convert it from a hall to a first-class theater facility.  The plays continued through the war years, and the casts of characters in the Nevada Historical Society’s clips – where I got invaluable assistance in putting this together – contain the names of some well-known Reno folks.  Some work was undertaken on the building in the mid-1950s, necessitating closing of the theater, and Semenza negotiated the use of a church on West Seventh Street just off Virginia, and the theater operated as a theater-in-the-round with great success – he called it the “Circlet Theater” – little more than a stage in the middle of the church akin to a boxing ring with no ropes.  In 1954, hometown writer Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s “Track of the Cat” was a hot draw into the Circlet Theater, which was so successful that it operated for a while even after remodeling was completed in the main theater.  I was in one matinee audience to enjoy it.

            The thrust of downtown Reno changed; while the popularity of the Reno Little Theater never waned the business side of the endeavor dictated a sale of the old Dania Society/theater building and in July of 1999 the property was sold to Circus Circus, for that casino’s new parking lot parking lot.  I miss it.

            Curiously and probably apropos of nothing, one name has surfaced in this column and last week’s which some readers will recall concerned the Christian Science Church: the name is Frandsen.  Sheepman Andrew Frandsen basically endowed the Dania Society’s building, later to become the Reno Little Theater.  His daughter, Anna Frandsen Loomis endowed the Christian Science Church, later to become the Lear Theater.   And Anna Frandsen Loomis’ son, E. Frandsen (Bud) Loomis, was chairman of the Reno Little Theater’s building committee when the theater acquired the theater from the Dania Society.

            There’s probably a column in there somewhere, all these Frandsens and Loomises and theaters.  Stay tuned.

            Have a good week, and God bless America.