Remembering President Reagan


We turn the clock back to 1982, in the early days of July, with a trip planned to travel to Palmdale, California. The high point of a normal Palmdale weekend would usually be the bookmobile arriving from Los Angeles, or tickets to the matinee performance at Western Auto, but on that weekend the space shuttle, the fourth mission STS-4, was arriving on Sunday, July 4th, astronauts Mattingly and Hartsfeld at the conn.

That in mind, I went to Senator Howard Cannon’s office on Booth Street and wrangled a VIP invitation to Edwards Air Force Base, where the shuttle was landing. No problem, I was a good Nevadan. We journeyed to Palmdale on July the second, and on the third, a Saturday, we went to the large NASA hospitality building in Lancaster – adjoining Palmdale as Sparks adjoins Reno. To give credit where due, the name “Cannon” rocked the staff, and the kids were treated like kings – tours of past Gemini capsules, “rides” on moon landers, and other courtesies – and we left with four human passes, one for my Suburban’s windshield and some cool NASA baseball caps like the big guys wear. We were warned the landing had been delayed until 9:02 AM that Sunday (tomorrow) morning from 8:53 AM so we changed our plans accordingly.

The view of the Mojave Valley foothills that Saturday night was breathtaking – the firelight of Coleman lanterns and campfires ringing the valley – Caltrans estimated that a million people had come to the hills to watch what was planned to be the last west coast space shuttle landing, ever. At oh-dark thirty on Sunday the Fourth of July we left for Edwards AFB, and upon entering the base, the Suburban was checked from cellar to attic, and beneath with mirrors – for at 9 o’clock the night before it was announced that President Ronald Reagan was coming to witness the shuttle landing. We walked interminably across a parking lot, and I have a photo to this day of a large – make that huge – Rosey Grier look-alike Secret Service agent, who met all at the gate with “Take my picture!” then smiled a display of Ipana-ad white teeth – the purpose to make sure all cameras were indeed cameras and not guns or bombs or whatever. Nice guy.

At thirty minutes before 9 AM three tall young pilots, ramrod-stiff, flat-bellied in their powder blue NASA flight suits, arrived at their parked blue-and-white T-38 jet chase planes; the assembled ladies en mass all went ga-ga, the pilots kicked the tires and lit the fires, taxied out, rolled, and climbed out like a trio of homesick angels to points unknown. A moment later, the baseball-stadium-sized Diamondvision TV screens came to life, and the PA system carried the voice from NASA Houston, who was controlling the shuttle’s landing. The shuttle was over the Santa Barbara Channel Islands, the chase planes transmitting images of it. “You are four miles downcourse, altitude one-oh-two thousand feet” – basically straight up from Edwards. “Valve off your hydrazine,” and the shuttle complied with a vapor trail; the chase planes laid day smoke – all four aircraft now in full view from Southern California.

“We’re coming down,” announced Hartsfeld, and did they ever – straight down, 40,000 people on the Edwards tarmac puckered, expecting the craft to bury itself in the desert. At the last moment, it leveled, the gear fell and the tail split into a brake, and the three T-38s strained to stay above it, using their dive boards, landing gear and full flaps. The shuttle stopped. 9:02 AM. How did they know that a whole day earlier?

Ronald Reagan, in the same western-cut informal duds he’d wear on his ranch on a Sunday morning, and his Nancy approached the podium and made a few remarks. He then cleared the NASA transporter for takeoff, a modified 747 with the shuttle Challenger recently completed at Palmdale’s Plant 41 mounted atop it – both aircraft in a paint scheme similar to Air Force One’s – to fly the new shuttle to Florida. The 747 rolled, and I watched it – it never climbed out – just flew across the desert. Interesting…

A few minutes later, joined by the crew of the Columbia that had just landed, Reagan made a few more remarks. Then, turning to the audience, he concluded his speech with that great Reagan smile and “Nancy and I want to thank you all for coming out in this hot sun, and we want you to go home now and have one Hell of a Fourth of Jul….”

The 40,000 people, and millions at home watching TV, never heard the “y” in “July,” only the deafening whine of the transporter’s four engines and the roar of the three T-38s, all four in a tight formation, coming up from behind the audience treetop high over 250 knots and pulling. They dropped their right wings in unison to the American flag behind the podium, just as the Marine band from NAS Miramar cued the Stars and Stripes Forever – John Phillip Sousa never heard it played any better. The planes leveled their wings then climbed rapidly over Reagan’s shoulder as we viewed him, holding their formation in a left departure into the haze.

Our Fourth of July weekend had begun, the Challenger was away on its first trip to Cape Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan, in his western White House Levis and a goat-roper shirt on that hot Sunday morning, had shown us the nexus of presidency and showmanship in its highest form. Dry eyes among 40,000 people: zero. Photos of the flyover by the surprised crowd: zero. Offers to re-enlist into the services: 14,307. Pride in the US of A: Priceless.

• • •

Have a good week; thanks for that morning, Dutch, and God bless America.

© Reno Gazette Journal 2002

Ruffling Finch’s Feathers

Finch copy

In a Gazoo column I wrote one time, the text turned toward the Frandsen Apartments. That saga leads to David Finch, a fixture in the legacy of Reno High School when it was Reno’s only public secondary school (through 1961.) Finch was an English teacher, and later the principal of enormous tenure at RHS, and many callers reminded me that he lived – using the term loosely – at the Frandsen Apartments, alone, for many decades. Very few residents of Reno in the mid-1900s were not touched by his influence – either themselves, or their children or parents. I’ll let my friend and frequent correspondent Lenore Jordan, who lives [lived] in Santa Rosa, Calif., write the next segment of the column (Lenore left Reno in 1947.)   Lenore speaks of her childhood in a small mining camp called Rochester in the Humboldt Range east of Lovelock. Her father was a millwright for the silver mine, her mother the postmistress, teacher, seamstress and president of the school board. The family journeyed to Reno when Lenore was to be born in 1919 (sorry, Lenore! I needed that year for the story…). She writes: ”When I was about 5 years old a new teacher came to Rochester. He was fairly tall, carried himself straight as could be, had beautiful hair with a perfect wave in it and was, of all things, a Stanford graduate! He was looking for a place to live in and my folks owned a little cabin, which was vacant at the time, with its own outhouse. This new fellow was Mister Finch! ”I wanted to go to school but I was too young, however Mr. Finch would now and then let me sit in the schoolroom and look at books. By the time I was old enough to enroll he was off to some place else – maybe Reno – I don’t know. ”Fast forward to about 1934 when I was going to Reno High School and guess who turned out to be my English teacher! He was truly a good teacher and seemed fond of kids, and I learned a great deal from him. He had dinner with us from time to time but never showed me any favoritism at school. ”By the way, Miss Singleton was my home room teacher! Great memories all.” What a great letter, one of many Lenore has sent me. (Two notes beg to be scribed: Mentioning David Finch and outhouse in the same paragraph defies responsible journalism, and Beulah Singleton was still around in the late 1950s as well. In an old column I misidentified her as the co-author of our Nevada history book with Effie Mona Mack. Mack’s co-author was Byrd Sawyer, former Nevada Gov. Grant Sawyer’s mother. Singleton later did a revision.

Lenore’s description of Finch hit the nail on the head two decades later: tall, impeccable hair with a wave, ramrod-straight carriage, aloof, austere. He ran Reno High with an iron hand, teaching by the mid-1950s only one class a year – Human Relations – an honors, by-invitation-only course that was the only safe harbor on the then-new Booth Street campus where one could utter a horrid word like “intercour…” well, you know, without being bounced off the baseball or debate team, in the stringent world of David Finch. He was an automaton that would stride home each night to the Frandsen Apartments – to reappear, wraithlike, the next morning. We did South Pacific as a senior class play (1959), and as one might imagine, Oscar Hammerstein’s lyrics became by necessity “…There is nothing like a girl!” in the Finch libretto. No dames in our gym, no sirree. (That’s during the final dress rehearsal, of course – at the Big Show, there was nothing like a dame…) People I knew as teachers, administrators and coaches then, who in the last 40 years have become adult friends, agree that he retired without fanfare. He since passed away on the San Francisco Peninsula, in almost-embarrassing obscurity. Only in recent years have a few of us begun to realize that maybe he did one hell of a job as a principal, in his own Victorian way – the proof was in the pudding: Reno High enjoyed national recognition in many areas. Lenore’s letter infused a miniscule spark of affection in me for the man – the respect was always there – and who knows, if a new high school ever needs a name (it would have to be a high school), then “David Finch High” doesn’t have a bad ring to it after all. We’ve named schools after a few a lot less deserving. And the team-name mascot’s a snap: the Finch Finchies. That suggestion ought to get the ol’ phone a-ringing. …

• • •

[Footnote: this column brought a lot of response from all corners of the nation, from Reno High alums who came to respect the iconoclastic David Finch in the years following our graduation into later life].



Leave the driving to us

Bishop Manogue Bus copy

This column © 2001 Reno Gazette-Journal

A fortnight ago in a treatise about Stead AFB I noted that “…there was only one high school in Reno until 1961” and proceeded to recall that all the high school students in town could fit into two 66-passenger school buses.

            The remark endeared me to many a Manogue High School graduate, who called en masse to remind me that there was indeed a second high school in Reno in 1961 – their alma mater, then as now on a site just east of the University of Nevada campus. The thrust of what I was writing was that Reno High was the only school in Reno with a bus program. But, when life hands you a lemonade, a writer makes lemonade: In talking with one of the Manogue alums who was kidding me about my gaffe, Nancy Howell Spina, the topic of school buses inadvertently arose.

            Starting closer to the beginning, a word about Manogue, formally Bishop Manogue High School. The school’s name came from Bishop Patrick Manogue, who contributed to the education of miners’ children during the Comstock gold rush and was later the first bishop of the Sacramento Catholic diocese.   The school opened in 1947, in a couple of old barracks in a beautiful meadow at the old Flick ranch by the Truckee River near the present southeast McCarran Boulevard (it’s now utilized by Sage Winds school). Within a decade it had grown and was relocated to a campus near the University of Nevada in 1957. Manogue’s new campus is south of town by Zolezzi Lane. (Arrowcreek Drive, to the newcomers.)

            Nancy told me that a bus made the loop around Reno picking up Manogue students to transport to the school’s original location, which back then you had to pack a lantern and a lunch to drive to. “A bus, you say?” I asked. “A bus,” she replied. There I was prepared to get myself off a hook by saying that Manogue never had a school bus system and get myself into yet-another jam. But you read it here first: Bishop Manogue High School indeed had a school bus system, in the 1940s. There were two high schools in Reno in 1960. Finally, we wish Manogue’s leadership well in completing their new campus.

• • •

On the topic of schools, Reno High School Alumni Club honcho Joe Granata tells of a bit of school apparatus that has been around longer that it might appear. There’s a strong probability that the flagpole at Wooster High, which spoiled Reno High’s place as the only PUBLIC! High school in Reno when it opened in 1961, was the same pole that was originally installed in the front courtyard of the Reno High School on Fifth and West Streets in 1913. (I almost wrote “the original high school”, which it wasn’t.) Take a look at the flagpole next time you’re traveling down East Plumb Lane past Wooster – that baby’s been around for a long time.

            Now, I’ll solicit some reader help, maybe from Dale Sanderson, Washoe County School District’s great facilities manager: I think, but have never been able to prove, that the scoreboard that originally clocked basketball games in the old Reno High (later serving as Central Junior High) gymnasium, was later relocated to Vaughn Middle School on Vassar Street near Kietzke. It’s a classic scoreboard/timer with a revolving hand, not the contemporary 00:00 electric numerals – the words I’m groping for might be analog and digital. Last I saw it it was hanging unused in the Vaughn gym, alongside a modern digital scoreboard. It might be nice – if it is indeed the old Reno High gym clock – to relocate it to the Reno High Alum Center on Booth Street someday, or at the least be aware of its heritage and not trash it as pre-WWII junk.

• • •


The Golden Hotel Fire


I sat in my school bus at a red light on the corner of East Second and Center Streets, a hair past seven o’clock on a Tuesday morning. It was 40 years ago this week. [The column appeared March 30, 2002]

Smoke – or maybe steam? – was coming out of a sidewalk freight elevator door in front of the Golden Hotel, on the west side of Center between Second and Commercial Row. It was smoke. I turned onto Center Street, parked and pulled the handle on the fire alarm pedestal in front of Parker’s Mens Store. I had no option than to leave for Stead airbase and collect my high school kids, and fearing the bus getting caught behind the fire lines they’d surely lay I drove north on Center Street. I saw one fire truck come around the corner off West Second Street from the old main station on Commercial Row at West Street, then another. A plume of smoke steadily grew in my mirrors by the time I reached the hill above the U of N, where I would normally be in class by 9 a.m.

But not on April 3rd, 1962…

• • •

Frank Golden – a Tonopah miner and banker – built the opulent four-story Golden Hotel in 1906. Golden died shortly after it was completed, and the hotel was operated by the Wingfield clan for two decades, then finally the Tomerlin brothers, who bought it in 1956. They remodeled it, including long rows of aluminum louvers on each row of windows facing the street; louvers that City Building Inspector Ronald Coleman would later say were in compliance with city code. The “New Golden” was a Reno icon of excellence.

• • •

On that fateful morning, a welder’s acetylene tank had exploded in the basement, while most of the 142 hotel guests were still asleep. The fire spread quickly, and ignited a Nash Metro – a little tiny car, for the younger readers – that was displayed as a prize and positioned on the ground floor above the acetylene tank in the basement. The heat from the tank and the car was intense, and traveled straight up in a matter of a very few minutes, filling all the hallways with dense smoke and exploding through the roof hard enough to blow roofing material all over the block.

Guests and hotel employees did a commendable job of running throughout the building spreading the word to evacuate, which many were able to do through stairwells. Others, however, were trapped in their rooms and the fire department was having one hell of a time trying to evacuate them through the aluminum trim that had been placed over the windows in the 1956 effort to modernize the hotel.

Fire Chief Wagner Sorensen recognized early on that this was a fire of major proportion and pulled out all the stops, mustering help from Sparks, who sent a pumper and fifteen men, Stead Air Force Base, another pumper; Washoe County Fire – later Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, now incorporated into Reno – an engine, and Warren Engine Company from Carson City, who sent their brand new “Snorkel” unit. Reno even put their little 1926 American LaFrance, which had long been in reserve, into service and it performed Yeoman duty as a pumper. Bell Telephone and Sierra Pacific Power sent high-lift equipment, as did several contracting firms, and Reno Iron Works sent a crane that lifted a bucket carrying several firemen with hoses. Newspaper photos clearly show hoses playing water off the fire escapes of Harolds Club’s seven-story tower to cool them down.

Some horror stories of trapped hotel guests were beginning to hit the street – one of a dancer named Carol Maye, line captain of the Barry Ashton “Playmates of Paris Review” that was playing at the Golden. Carol was last seen overcome in a smoky corridor. Jimmy Nuzzo, one of Sam Butera’s Witnesses playing at the Mapes with Louis Prima and Keely Smith, was nowhere to be found. Reno police Lieutenant Ray Cavallo was credited with one of the brightest deeds of the day – entering the hotel at the outset of the fire and grabbing the hotel’s guest register, enabling rescue crews to account for guests, one-by-one, room-by-room. The register was already singed when Ray brought it out of the building.

But the smoke continued to billow relentlessly hours later, even with the incredible amount of water being dumped into the fire. (Sierra Pacific Power boosted their Idlewild Park and High Street pumps up to summer output.) In Carson City, State Forester George Zappettini offered the services of the state on behalf of Governor Grant Sawyer, who was enroute to Japan. State pilot Chuck Destree, a native Hawthorne boy, hopped the State’s Beechcraft C-45 – a D18 with two big radial engines to you civilians – from Carson City to the Reno airport and took on plain ol’ Truckee River H20, not Borate, as many people thought. Chuck made two passes over the carcass of the Golden, still churning out black smoke, and on each pass dumped half his cargo on the fire.

Playing hooky from class* – as was the rest of the campus and everyone else in Reno – I watched from the roof of Harolds Club’s tower as Chuck came in from the south and made the first dump, smack-into the cavity of the fire, and voila, the smoke abated considerably. He climbed and circled to the west and flew over again, dumping the second chamber, and the smoke turned white and let up even more. The will of the fire was broken and the firemen were then able to see where to best play their streams of water. Soon it was under control, if far from out. [*I got the word in my school bus that Reno schools were called off so I skipped that run all the way north to Bordertown.]

And I got pictures for the University’s Sagebrush newspaper of the top of a Twin Beech airplane – about 75 feet above the parapets of the Golden. I asked Chuck last week what he remembered the most about the mission, and he said it was looking back at the fire after the second drop, then turning forward again and seeing Morrill Hall at the University of Nevada looming up in front of him.

One victim was taken from the Golden that day, the only known fatality that day. It would be a full month before the sixth victim was found.

Next Saturday, the saga continues…

• • •

Mopping Up the Golden Hotel Fire

In the last column we gawked as the four-story downtown Golden Hotel burned to the ground in a spectacular inferno on April 3, 1962, a Tuesday. This Saturday morning, we have a few facts, reader questions, and anecdotes about the 40-year old fire, which defy being put into any particular order:

How many people died? Good question. While most assumed the count to be seven, I’m able to verify only six, that last one a hotel employee found in the basement debris a full month after the fire. Hospitalized? Forty people, give or take a few, mostly from smoke, a few with burns. Five firefighters hospitalized briefly were Leonard Howard, 27 at the time and William (OB) O’Brien, both still with us, and three late firemen, Bob Kerns, then 31, John Henderson, 39, and Garvel (Ace) Acres. Heroes? Hotel employee Paul Gallo and fireman Smokey (Lloyd) Davison, who carried, down two flights of stairs and out the front door, a woman – Margaret McCollum – self-described in an April 4th Nevada State Journal interview as weighing 200 pounds, by a Gazette reporter as “stout” and by fireman Davison as 300 pounds. No ballerina, by anybody’s account, but she sent them thank-you cards for many years to follow.

How much water did the airplane drop? Twelve hundred gallons, according to the Reno Evening Gazette, 200 gallons according to State Forestry pilot Chuck Destree (1,200 gallons – five tons – might slightly overgross a Twin Beech!) Did it help? The firefighters said not much, the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau (whose records I had access to in researching this piece) in their final report said yes. Either way it was cool to watch. From several readers: Didn’t the hotel burn once before? No, the Grand Hotel, to the south of the Golden (on the corner), burned on March 4th of 1959 and two floors had to be removed. And the Golden Eagle hotel, a block away, burned on May 6, 1929 (NSJ). How many people worked at the Golden? 513 on April 3, 1962. (And 143 guests on that day.)

Were there other alarms? According to the Reno Fire guys and the later PFRB after-action account the initial notice was a frantic phone call FIRE! From a person too excited to leave a location; right on top of that the Gamewell code from the box I pulled and almost immediately after another code from the pull box on Commercial Row and Center. The phone call got everybody awake; the box codes told them to head east and the smoke was apparent. There is no truth to the rumor that when the dispatcher said to the phone caller, “Wait, how do we get there?” that he answered, “Don’t you still have the big red trucks?”

OK, back to work: What did surrounding businesses do? Officials of First National Bank – now the Planet Hollywood [and now struggling] – doused their roof with a garden hose. Harrah’s and Harolds did finally close, briefly. Harold Smith Sr. walked around Harolds casino floor playing his violin, and no, I don’t know if he was fiddling Nearer My God to Thee.

From a reader: “What was the name of the malt shop in the basement?” The Malt Shop. And a dandy it was, right off of a Hot August Nights poster – white wrought-iron furniture, a checkerboard floor, candy-striped awnings and real malts. No one asked, but many will remember Art Conde and Joe De Rosa, who owned the hotel barbershop. They relocated to the Ryland Barber Shop on South Virginia and were clippin’ again by the next Saturday. Didn’t (Justice of the Peace) Bill Beemer pull one body out of the debris? That story’s another only-Bill Beemer local legend, but one best left unchronicled. I’ll leave it at “yes.”

What happened to the money and chips on the gaming tables when the fire broke out? My personal guess would be that at that midweek early hour (7 a.m.) in the off-season there probably weren’t too many tables open. The April 4th REG details Golden exec Phil Downey running around trying to salvage what he could until the heat of the fire drove him out onto the street. Grifall Construction ultimately took the Golden Hotel’s carcass to the Isbell pit – near the bluff by the Hilton Hotel’s [Grand Sierra Hotel] south main floor entrance – where the debris was rechecked for bodies. And, according to Don Stockwell, he of the photographic memory, guards finally had to be posted to keep treasure hunters from scavenging for souvenir chips and the silver melted into the slot machines.

Former Golden employee Susan Marler tells a couple of stories. First, a Thornton Wilder-like tale of a sixty-ish Golden Hotel resident, whose name was Lucia Pedlar according to both papers if it’s the same person Susan spoke of. Lucia was confined to a wheelchair following a surgery, and able, more each passing day, to leave her room for meals and remain on the ground floor for an ever-lengthening period of time. The whole Golden staff was pulling for her and sustaining her courage to pump up her rehabilitation. Lucia was doing well.

She died in the fire.

The second Susan Marler story is happier, of Marilyn Monroe, who resided in the Mapes, natch, during the filming of The Misfits a couple years before the fire. Following the completion of the movie, Marilyn moved into the Golden for a time, by one account. Susan recalls seeing her shopping for a magazine at the gift store one day, and watched to see what the starlet liked to read.

Marilyn left for the elevator and her room with the latest copy of Sunshine and Health – an aù naturel sunbathing magazine. OK, OK – a nudie mag. [The report that Marilyn ever stayed at the Golden was questioned by several readers.]

And off track from our fire topic, I’m compelled to report that the April 5th Gazette included a sports piece about pro rassler Don Manoukian’s State Building bout with twin midgets, named Lord Littlebrook and Little Beaver. Ask ‘Nouk about that night. I’d rather not.

I’m grateful to Janyce Bentley and Mary Florentz for offering me some old Reno Evening Gazettes and Nevada State Journals – coincidentally just as I was planning this piece for the fire’s 40th anniversary. I’m also indebted to the Nevada Historical Society, retired Reno Fire Captains Joe Granata and the late Jim Arlin, Reno Fire Department archives, and the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau (now Insurance Service Office/ISO) – and to you readers for your input.

photo credit Reno Evening Gazette
© Karl Breckenridge 2002


Tombola Days!


There was a time in this great land when a function that was vital to the populace would find itself on the ropes, financially in this Saturday morning’s yarn, and rather than crying to state legislatures and selling out to the federal system, or hyping up a shaky stock offering or pruning down their loyal employees’ wages, they would roll up their sleeves and do something about it – with dignity, honor, and a little bit of fun.

            And that’s the way it was in the late 1940s at a little business down at the corner of Mill and Kirman Streets – the original brick building built in 1904 can still be seen amid the sprawl.  The Washoe County Hospital has roots back to 1876, when 40 acres of the Hatch ranch were purchased for a hospital and a poor farm.  At mid-century its fiscal pulse, respiration and temperature were approaching Code Blue – the (three, then) County Commissioners were noodling with the eventuality of closing the whole thing down.

            A knight in shining scrubs rode into town from Arizona – his name was Clyde Fox – and he took over as the hospital’s administrator.  One of his first acts was to create a body that had been successful for him in other hospitals: an auxiliary, composed of community ladies and doctors’ wives.  His auxiliary rapidly grew to 500 members and old newspaper clips include the movers-and-shakers of our towns.  I was surprised to see my own grandmother in a newsclip, shaking her ancient booty in some hen party at the Twentieth Century Club, all in support of the Washoe Hospital Ladies Auxiliary.

            “We shall raise money,” they decreed, and in the year fuzzily identified as 1951 they gathered on a sunny Saturday in Pickett Park across from the hospital, and held a rummage sale.  The name was “Tombola Day” – I’ve references to tombola as some sort of salsa bingo game, and/or a Central American fiesta.  Tents were set up for the merchandise, the hospital brought some grub over and they had a few booths for kiddies – a “Wheel of Fortune” sort of thing, a Fortune Teller and a Wishing Well.   They went all day, sold out, made a few bucks for the hospital and had a ball.

            Well, next year, it’s going to be a little different, someone said, and it was.  The rummage had a little greater variety, the children’s games were expanded a bit, and a school and a church were brought in to provide a few tunes.  Someone brought a barbecue, and recall if you will an outdoor grill was not an amenity in everyone’s home in the early 1950s – most were homemade from 55-gallon drums with little ostentation.  But – they had hot food.  And here I’ll run a few years together from newspaper accounts: Each year brought a little more entertainment – for the kids and the adults.  At some point a barbecued lamb became a fixture at the event and remained so for many years – John Iratcabal arriving the night before, digging a pit and starting the little creature’s journey to between two slices of bread the following afternoon (the lambs on several occasions, maybe more, were courtesy of John Ascuaga or Bill Harrah.)  And, the piece de resistance of every Tombola Day was a raffle for a little house, an A-Frame of about 10 by 10 feet square and 10 feet to the roof peak, complete with plumbing and electricity, ready to be occupied as a hunting cabin or backyard playhouse.  Washoe Med’s (its later name) maintenance crew, headed by superintendent Edin Sontag built the little houses and they’re still collectors’ items seen occasionally around town.

            Tombola Day grew, few in town didn’t visit it, and what a show – great parking, food, entertainment from schools, churches, the University, Tink’s Municipal Band, an early Day with Lash Larue and the Singin’ Cherokees, later whoever was playing downtown in an impromptu visit (a youthful Bill Cosby sticks out in my mind, I’d guess this in the early ‘70s, and no kid went home without a snapshot of him or herself and the Cos, often on his shoulders – what a terrific friend he is to kids of all ages.)  A couple of Harrah’s museum cars showed up one year including a fire truck with a Dixieland band; not to be outdone by all that was John Ascuaga, who dispatched Bertha & Tina, hoisting a few Nugget showgirls and some bolder volunteer celebrants with their trunks.  Reno Fire Department parked a couple of engines for the kids to climb all over, and Bill and Moya Lear, who were among the strongest supporters of the hospital and the League, delighted all by landing a LearAvia medivac helicopter for ground tours.  (This in 1974, a joint venture with Reno’s Aids Ambulance.  The semipublic Careflight air-evac service would come seven years later.)  Some thought the helicopter looked a lot like a French Alouette III, but Bill Lear liked to put his own name on things.

            Tombola was Reno’s big summer show, akin to the Harrah Swap Meet with many similar attractions – both bespoke a great time in our town, when kids were safe riding bikes on their own to Pickett Park and none, rich or poor, went without a hot dog, coke, and cotton candy; a tour of a fire truck, touching the snoot of one of the Nevada White Hat riding team’s palominos, ringing the bell at the Strongman Hammer booth and leaving with a Hartford Insurance fireman’s helmet – local businesses’ participation grew steadily over the years.

            And for  the adults?  Lash Larue and the Singin’ Cherokees, can’t beat that.  A fashion show.  Great food and company; a late-afternoon hoedown, I think a cold brew or two might have found its way onto City property, and a sense of getting something done for the community.  

            Tombola Day went away about 1984.  It was a point of municipal pride for three decades. Could we carry off another one in theses times?  Maybe.

            This note cannot go unpublished: On July the second of 1974, a bold step was taken at Washoe Med: Smoking was banned on the entire fourth floor, staff, visitors and patients alike, no exceptions. Have a good week, Remember D-Day, and God bless America.

• • •

© RGJ originally appeared May 2007

Fire truck photo © Harrah’s

Reno’s WWII Military Operation…


Often a chance comment mushrooms into what will probably be a couple of columns over the next few weeks, and I think that’s what might have happened here. In a recent gathering of geezers one participant mentioned the Quonset huts that arrived on Mary S. Doten Elementary School’s playground in our 1946 kindergarten year, with the speculation that they came from the Sierra Ordnance Depot. “That’s a long haul from Herlong,” another commented. “No, they came from the Sierra Ordnance Depot on East Second Street,” I said; another geezer uttered “Baloney,” or something akin to that, and we were off and running. Or writing. Tentatively, for as we’ll see, the thing is hard to research – it was a military installation during wartime and they didn’t exactly conduct press tours.

            The facility was usually called the Sierra Ordnance Depot but was more accurately the Army Ordnance Service Command shop. To get us started, travel in your mind’s eye out East Second Street to Kirman Avenue. At Kirman a substantial fence topped by barbed wire extended south to the Washoe Med grounds and eastward to Gould Street. Behind that fence the Army did something to military cars and trucks, that something that continues to elude me.

            In the Sept. 25, 1945 Nevada State Journal, we learn that the facility, which employed 250 civilian workers and processed over 4,000 vehicles in the preceding two years, would close in the next 45 days and the remaining workers would be offered jobs at the sister facility in Herlong. The Reno facility was built by the CCC in 1939, turned over to the Army quartermaster corps in 1942 and in turn to the ordnance department. At the time of this 1945 news story it had 24 buildings, 415,000 feet of storage space, accommodations to service 800 vehicles at once, and a cafeteria called the “Ptomaine Tavern.” The news story is cryptic as to what exactly was done at this facility, be it rehabbing of vehicles that had already been to war and returned, or upgrades to newly delivered vehicles? And what were the vehicles? My childhood twin buddies Don and Dan Stockwell, who are about as well-placed as anybody now living to recall the facility due to the fact that their dad John was a supervisor there, recalled seeing all manner of vehicles within there, from passenger staff sedans to Ford and Willys Jeeps, Dodge Power Wagon ambulances and deuces, half-tracks, six-by-sixes and tracked howitzers and tanks. I’ve written in years past of five Studebaker-built amphibians – Jeep-sized little jobs from this depot – that were tested on Virginia Lake. And how did all these 4,000 vehicles get to this Reno depot? There was no railhead shown on contemporary maps.

            This dearth of information makes for an interesting column challenge. I credit Phil Earl for the Journal clip cited above, the only one we could find. Nor could I find photos of the depot, even aerials, or scenes in the background of neighboring Washoe Med’s [now Renown] collection. The Sanborn map, usually a boon to these foraging expeditions, depicts a few random depot buildings but no facility name nor a railroad siding, nor does it include two major structures that many of us remember, the freight terminals later utilized by Western Gillette and Ringsby Truck Lines until well into the 1980s.Still there is the large Quonset hut on the south side of East Second Street at the intersection of Giroux Street in the 1600 block, home to Reno Furniture’s warehouse in the years after the war, now maintained, I think, as a warehouse/shop for the Cal-Neva. I was grousing around the Nevada Historical Society more than my usual, until Mike Maher, the NHS’ dauntless senior librarian added a forgotten dimension: wartime security. The press just left the depot alone.

            The facility’s wartime environment was discontinued very shortly after the end of the war. The fence was dismantled, and we can remember its smaller Quonset huts and barracks-type structures being relocated to some schools as classrooms, or rebuilt into storage and play areas in the city parks. Three Quonsets went out East Fourth Street to be joined together as the Penny Saver Market, later (Mayor Len) Harris’ meat market where my old RHS buddy John Stralla worked as a youth, and now Twin City Surplus. One barracks went up Ralston Street to become the Darrell Dunkle American Legion hall, another was converted to a lonely writer’s garret (mine) at the dead west end of Knight Road, and enough others wound up around town to form a whole new column here some Sunday. The City of Reno and Washoe County, and the Forest Service and BLM conducted field operations in the smaller buildings that remained on East Second Street for many years to follow. And if you drive around there, you’ll still see a few recognizable G.I. structures.

            The federal government had, maybe has, a corridor up by the University of Nevada (note the Bureau of Mines building and the old Hartman Hall military building.) The buildings – basically barracks – once on Highland Avenue between Evans and Valley Roads were in reality the housing units for the Reno Sierra Ordnance Depot, before they became a unit of the Reno Housing Authority and Dick Taylor Park after World War II.

            This column is a work-in-progress and remains open for reader input as to the operation of the Army’s East Second Street facility. I’ll drop a few names of key employees contained in the old Journal newsclip: Jack Erwin at 331 Locust Street, Howard Cairns at 631 Thoma, Darrell Johnson at 304 Roberts, Forest Gibson at 321 Locust Street, William Gotelli at 342 Vine Street, and George Meyers and Greeley Bonham of Sparks. I’d love to hear from these guys or their families with any recollections (my phone is FA2-5017 ) [I didn’t And the number in 2017 is 560-1626]. In the next few Sundays we’ll memorialize this somewhat occluded element of our city’s contribution to the war effort into the Great Pantheon of Reno and Sparks’ Heritage.

Have a good week; no, the Ptomaine Tavern will not be included in a future “Faded Menus” column, happy St. Paddy’s Day and God bless America!

The sequel to that column:

When last we met I wrote of the U.S. Army’s WWII vehicle maintenance facility on East Second Street, east of Kirman Way. I quoted a verified release that the facility encompassed 24 buildings of various sizes, most of which were hauled off to other parts of town. It could accommodate 800 vehicles in storage, and processed 4,000 military vehicles in the latter part of that war. I speculated what I’ve since confirmed, that the Highland Park housing complex was originally associated with this Army base. I mentioned that more incisive research became sketchy, owing possibly to wartime security clamped on the place.

            Then I committed the well-accepted Breckenridge research method, which is to plead “help!” I think in italics – primarily “what in the world, sitting in the middle of Reno, Nevada, did they do with all those vehicles 200 miles away from a military port of debarkation?” I left out what I’ve learned in writing columns for a while, that there is a narrow window of time, somewhere in the 65-year-ago range, wherein readers were then old enough to recognize an event or landmark when it occurred, and in 2008 remain capable of reliably recalling it.

            A few readers wondered if I was mixing my meds – “800 Army trucks stored down by Washoe Med?” “24 buildings?” “275 civilian workers processing 4,000 trucks?” The responses were few, but I hit pay dirt with a few readers. Charlotte Barr, née Anderson grew up in the area and recalls that on the southwest corner of Kirman and East Second Street then remained the County Poor Farm, confirmed by the Sanborn Fire Map (I had incorrectly placed the main gate to the Army facility on that corner.) And Charlotte downsized the facility a bit from what I wrote; in truth it was bounded on the east by Lewis and Gould Streets but didn’t extend quite to Kirman – an area undefined in Sanborn, again, possibly for wartime security reasons.

            And what did they do there? A couple of reliable responses here; one from David Cairns and the other from Don Stockwell, both the sons of a couple of the facility’s supervisors and childhood neighbors in the post-war years on Thoma Street. While they contacted me separately, they shared a common recollection of their fathers bringing a tank home for lunch – David’s father Howard driving with his head sticking out of the tank, and Don’s dad John training the turret at the neighbors as they passed by. David recalls the function of the facility as salvaging pieces and parts from vehicles that had been off to war – curiously neither he, nor anyone else can recall how all the salvage vehicles got to Reno, or how the detritus left Reno, or for that matter why a salvaged half-track would be hauled 220 miles from Fort Mason or Treasure Island in the Bay Area for processing. Chalk one up to the oxymoron of military intelligence. The tanks, by the way, were smaller training tanks, powered by a seven-cylinder radial aircraft engine. I asked David if they were therefore noisy, and he replied “Huh?” A half-dozen tanks remaining after the war were convoyed across the desert to the facility’s sister Sierra Ordnance Depot in Herlong, truly a sight – and sound – to behold.

            Where did the buildings go when the base closed in November of 1945? It’s moments like this when I really miss my ol’ buddy Romolo Bevelaqua who passed away a few years ago, who relocated many structures around Reno and Sparks for six decades (Rom was recognized in 2002 by the City of Reno Historical Resources Commission for his invaluable help with these matters.) While compiling a complete enumeration would be a daunting pile of work with little to go on, some are fairly obvious. Faithful reader Don Fowler reminds us of three military buildings under the Spaghetti Bowl, one now occupied by a tire shop and another by a longtime warehouse for Harolds Club. The RGJ’s intrepid Marilyn Newton took a good shot of the Quonset at 1600 East Second for our recent article (some may remember the service station that adjoined it on two-lane Second Street.)

            We mentioned the Army’s Hartman Hall, the Bureau of Mines and the Naval Reserve buildings at the University of Nevada in conjunction with the federal government’s presence in Reno. My U of N contemporary Dennis Reith wrote that he lived in Hartman Hall – quieter than Lincoln Hall, which is important to a guy from Pahrump – and speculated that in today’s collegiate America you didn’t want to even know how many guys at Hartman had a .22 rifle in 1959, for plinking jackrabbits in the boondocks a short walk north of the campus.

            And I’ll probably hear about that. John Gomes, U of N mining alum and now a docent at the Nevada Historical Society recalls a couple of ROTC barracks at the Highland Park army housing complex. They were named by the students who occupied them, McDougal Hall and Bourbon Hall, and later became part of the Reno Housing Authority (research of that authority in the early post-war years is a challenge.) The final Army vehicle maintenance facility note, for now: One cryptic newsclip mentions that the federal presence at the University campus was an outgrowth of the campus’ proximity to the Western Pacific Railroad (now Union Pacific), and its ready access to the Sierra Army Depot in Herlong.

                        There – I kept my word. Have a good week; try not to make a run at the first sunburn of 2008 as this day progresses, and God bless America!

 © RGJ a long time ago

Contact Karl Breckenridge at






























Father Bob’s Car, and a 1959 newspaper

ChevGoldenGateJust as 500 Reno and Sparks kids vowed 50 years ago to return to the Tower Theater on the next Saturday morning, with 14 cents and the top of an Old Home Dairy milk bottle as admission, to find out if the swamp creature would really munch on the fair maiden as it was starting to do when the episode came to an end, Homefinders flock to page 8 for little other motivation other than to find out what personalized license plate FRBSKR on the late Monsignor Robert Bowling’s plain-vanilla Chevy Caprice stood for, as promised in a recent column. You read it above: Father Bob’s Kar. Such was the wit of Father Bowling.

You have also read here that columnists who write about architects, churches, banks and railroads should have their heads examined, and I will now add “irrigation ditches” to that list. A literary house of cards built upon ditches just floated downstream due to conflicting information and will be rebuilt.

Therefore, the column for this Saturday morning will be taken from the text in a newspaper I was researching for ditch info, this a Nevada State Journal [precursor of that paper merging with the Reno Evening Gazette] of a day or two before the Fourth of July of 1959. (The hardest part of newspaper-microfilm research is sticking to the topic while ignoring the news of the day!)

On that day Topic A, aside from the Reno Rodeo in progress and Fred MacMurray winning the Silver Spurs award, was the upcoming bond issue for a convention center somewhere in Reno and a site search team headed up by warehouseman Frank Bender, and a beef already going on over room taxes (repetition herein of “imagine that” and “dayja-voo” could become frequent, as some things never seem to change.) [We did eventually build the Centennial Coliseum, now convention center.] Some old friends and column readers were the flag girls for the rodeo, chicks like LeeAnn Zimmerman, Anne-Louise Cantlon, Georgia Teskey, Karry Devincenzi, Susie Wedge and the Wilson twins, Marilyn and Kay. Cindi Codding, later the bride of Sterling the Butler and Joe Murin, same guy, and later not, won a city parks art contest.

A “freeway” down Third Street, along the railroad tracks? Who the Hell thought of that? Let’s put it somewhere else, maybe north of the University campus, screamed the editorial. Walter Baring introduced a bill to compensate homeowners along a downtown “freeway” route. The Reno city dump closed on June 30 – up on the end of what would later be Sutro Street – and Reno, Sparks and Washoe County officials had their heads together on where to put a replacement facility, great timing to address that issue. Roger Brander was named by the city council as coordinator for the upcoming 1960 Olympics – he died in the East Bay as a passenger on the first aircraft hijacking, three years later on a hijacked airplane, a full column about that somewhere in this tome. The Lancer restaurant opened on the bluff across from present Galena High School (it would burn to the ground on July 30, 1971.)</p><p> In our 1959 newspaper we read that Ted Patrick, a fixture at Nevada Bell and father of our classmates Mimi and Nancy, husband of Billie, passes away, too young. Businessman’s lunch at Newt Crumley’s Holiday Hotel this day was seafood and rice – crab legs, shrimp, lobster and scallops in the Shore Room, a buck ninety-five with a beverage. The Governor’s Mansion got a dishwasher and garbage disposal. The 1959 Hot August Nights are only a month away? Get thee by Lee Bros. for a used ‘56 Ford, $845, or a ‘57 Chevy $1,395 (with a heater). Realtor Mat Gibbons has a starter home for sale in Sparks, $12,000 for three bedrooms, a one car garage and asbestos siding (ouch).

A two-bit union agent named Jimmy Hoffa told a congressional committee that he was “no damned angel,” and look where it got him. Romance of Scarlet Gulch, a corny Comstock melodrama – he ties her to the railroad tracks, as the audience gasps – with an all-Reno amateur cast moves to Piper’s Opera House for the summer; for many summers to follow it played at the Liberty Belle in July, at Piper’s in August – great times, music and laughs. The Bud Connell Trio played Vista Gardens, two miles east of Sparks on Hwy. 40, Bud and the Gardens now long gone. Carl Ravazza played at Harolds seventh-floor Fun Room, Jimmy Durante at the Tahoe Cal-Neva, and Ish Kabibble at the new Harrah’s South Shore (before the showroom was built.) First National Bank, with 19 offices statewide, elevates E.H. (Bud) Fitz to VP-Operations and Harold Gorman to First VP, announced by FNB president Eddie Questa. [Ravazza and his bride Marcie would eventually buy a ranch south of town – now Ravazza Road – and became popular folks in the community. Carl gave up singing Vieni Su to become a Realtor, worked with my dad for 22 years, and never sold a house – which was exactly the way he and Sr. wanted it.]

There were 174 motorcycle license plates issued throughout the state, an out-of-town trucker was taken to the Reno city limits and thrown out of town for fighting at Mac’s Club on South Virginia Street, and Nevada’s entry to the Miss Universe Pageant in Long Beach was 5’-7” tall and 36-23-36 back when ladies had measurements in newspapers. Like to meet her today…

The sports page? A great one in the old Journal – the night before this paper ran, the Cleveland Indian’s legendary pitcher Herb Score fanned 14 Kansas City Athletics (that’s right, Kansas City.) There was an article about the start of a third major league, with interest from Montreal, Toronto, Miami and Buffalo. No league divisions then, just Boston alone at 9½ games out in the American League’s cellar, no All-Star Break in 1959, and the Dodgers and Giants tied up for the National League lead, (and yes, both teams by then were on the west coast.) Locally, a bunch of hotshot young golfers were tuning up for the National Chamber of Commerce Junior Tournament, my contemporaries Skosh Bell, Skip Meeks, Harry Massoth and Rudy Semenza, all mentored by popular pro Pete Marich. Cam Solari was the lead caddy. (Just kidding – Cam, my childhood neighbor, was first alternate to the delegation.) Good guys, all.

And that’s the way it was on the eve of the 1959 Fourth of July – a rather impromptu collection of notes for a Saturday morning. Have a good weekend and a safe short week ahead – let’s see some flags flying this Friday, and God bless America.

• • •


Flyin’ with Ty Cobb on Air Force One…



Off to San Francisco for the weekend?  Let’s see; reservations on Lombard Street for a couple of nights, done; a call ahead to see if the kids are available for a visit, check; pick a couple of joints for dinner in the Marina and the Buena Vista for eggs Benedict, easy; gas up the pickup, or the ragtop? – let’s see what the weather is the morning we leave.  No sweat – we’ve done it all before; let’s not complicate our weekend.

            But instead of a couple, let’s plan a trip four hundred close friends from the Beltway, this one a little further in advance.  We’re off to Geneva, the one in Switzerland, and instead of the kids we’re meeting the heads of state of a half-dozen world powers so we better bring an interpreter or a half dozen.  We’ll start five months in advance and make reservations for our group in five Geneva hotels – reserving rooms on a onesy-twosy basis is burdensome so we won’t mess around – let’s just book the whole Maison de Saussere, the Fleur de Eau and three more for a week or so.  Better get a hundred rooms a little early ‘cause we’re sending some guys over to make sure the accommodations are up to snuff and to scope out the traffic.  And, White House chefs to check out the bill of fare in the restaurants we’ll be eating at.  We don’t want to get POTUS or FLOTUS heading for the Tums when they get back to their rooms.  POTUS, of course, is the President of the United States; FLOTUS the First Lady O-T-U-S, but you figured that out (we’ll have a couple of American doctors with their own instruments unit and extensive medications aboard, just in case the food or a health issue gets too gnarly.)

            A word about where my mind was when I strung all this together on a dismal evening: My old childhood buddy, later Sigma Nu frat brother Ty Cobb the Younger has been speaking around our village about his life and times as a National Security Council advisor to President Ronald Reagan, and writes a fine column of his own in the Gazoo every now and then.  At breakfast at the Gold-n-Silver last week I told him that I abhor anything political, but getting President Reagan to a world leaders’ Summit conference, of which Ty went to four, now there would be a fine column through a Homefinder’s eyes.  Ty loaned me the weighty three-volume White House planning document for a November 1985 Summit, in which his name appears liberally – T. Cobb – and I can even tell you from the documents, if asked, where he rode in Marine One helicopter from the White House to Andrews AFB (right next to C. Powell).  That’s how intricate the trip planning for these sojourns was and probably remains.  In one volume, the American delegation leaving a formal dinner at a Swiss mansion with other heads of state is assigned, from POTUS on down to the Official Photographer, which of the three elevators in this palace they will be riding in, and who will board and disembark the elevators first and last.  Leave nothing to chance, as John Ascuaga counsels us.

Bags fly free

            The planning document volumes are made available in advance to the participants of the trip – White House staff, the military branches involved, the State Department, Secret Service, press – and contain an incredibly intricate, virtually minute-by-minute itinerary of the four-day trip. A facility at Andrews AFB was clearly indicated, with an arrival time at some God-awful hour of the morning.  That many folks have a lot of luggage and it appears that unless one lived at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue most schlepped their own bags, with instructions to leave them open – they were inspected before loading (T. Cobb always opted for carry-on).  From that point their walking route to which airplane – AF One or the several support planes – was mapped.  According to Ty, the most salient issue for the whole trip for most was not some vast life-changing worldwide issue being debated by the heads of state of the world powers at the Summit, but who got to get there on Air Force One.  Ty flew aboard it on many occasions to several Summits, a thrill he likens only to driving the Vagabond Touring Association’s ’34 Ford school bus, uninvited, into Kezar Stadium during an East-West Shrine Game in his college days. I recall that Saturday also. Gingerly…

The limousines arrive in a C-5B

The volumes held drawings of the eleven venues and hotels for the Summit, both of their interiors floor-by-floor and topographic drawings of their exteriors and driveways, including vegetation that could block a photographer’s view or conceal an assassin.  Walking routes the delegation will take within a ballroom or disembarking Air Force One at Cointrin Airport in Geneva – who leaves by the front steps or through the aft door – are clearly delineated.  Where the limousines and vans (hauled in by a C-5B prior to the delegation’s arrival) will be parked by Air Force One and the support planes and who will ride in each, where the honor guard meeting the President and First Lady would stand; the locations available to photographers, and the route the motorcade would use to depart the airfield are clear, and according to Ty that’s the way it had to be, period.  Some of the documents weren’t classified; it’s a pretty safe bet that other, tighter Secret Service maps showed routes to a designated hospital and other security protocol.  Interestingly, one sticking point that had to be worked out was whether Secret Service agents could carry their firearms in neutral Switzerland.  I don’t know the eventual outcome of that negotiation and wouldn’t ask.  And, the planning volumes indicated Air Force One by its tail number 26000, the Boeing 707 in use then – parked alongside the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Cal. now is 27000, the last 707 used as Air Force One. 

The event times during the four-day summit?  Leave us not forget that Geneva is a bunch of time zones ahead of any of the four in the US of A. and in the final evaluation these ritualistic and formal handshakes between eight world powers weren’t being choreographed just to go on live TV in some morning between “Regis Live” and “General Hospital” – prime time is the operative word for live formal events at a Summit and some of them were some pretty strange hours of the day in Geneva.

The three volumes were a thought-provoking read of the highest level of worldwide statesmanship, and Ty’s first-hand insight brought to light some facets of such a trip one would never think about without his narration.  Thanks, Tyrus…

Have a good week; summer’s right around the corner, trust me, and God bless America!


© Reno Gazette Journal  Jan. 10, 2006



Wells Avenue – a 2002 column (re)published 12 years later



South Wells Avenue was once a happenin’ little shopping area.  New, modern buildings were being built to accommodate merchants seeking a compromise between downtown and the Park Lane/Shoppers’ Square malls – then the only two malls in Reno.  South Wells Avenue is 22 blocks long, too far to walk, so for this morning and probably a follow-up next week we’ll hopscotch around instead of going block-by-block.  The inspiration for all this?  Twofold: The Reno City Fathers – and Mothers – are toying with a major redesign of Wells Avenue, with new landscaping, street lighting, and single lanes leading into traffic go-arounds at several locations.  Secondly, a landmark restaurant that opened during the heyday of the street, closed a week or so ago – a landmark that started and ended an era.

We’d like to recall what the street once meant to our town’s economy and lifestyle.

• • •

Cruising through newspaper ads, old Yellow Pages, City Directories, county records and other clutter pointed us toward the mid-1970s as the glory years of Wells Avenue.  It’s seems eerie that McDonald’s, which opened in June of 1975 on the corner of Colorado River Boulevard, recently closed.  The Wells Avenue McDonald’s was the third in Reno, following closely behind the original store on Keystone and the second on Oddie Boulevard (both those structures replaced in recent years.)  Across Wells Avenue was Wayne’s Drive-In, soon to become a casualty of Mickey D’s proximity.  The Deluxe Laundry north of McDonald’s was one of McKenzie Construction Company’s first buildings in Reno, ca. 1952, and is still active in business and under the same ownership. [And now a coffee-house, or something…]

            Restaurants – good ones – abounded on Wells Avenue.  A favorite watering hole for business people was Posey Butterfield’s, later the Rapscallion, on the corner of Vesta Street.  A Mandarin Café was across from McDonald’s, great Chinese, no relation to the classic Mandarin downtown.  We once wrote of old service stations becoming the best restaurants in Reno, and the Gulf Oil station that became Froggy’s Lunchbox, just north of McDonald’s is one of them.  (You may know it better as P.J. & Company.)   A base chapel was hauled down from Reno Air Base to the corner of Vassar and Wells, bricked over and made into Little Flower Church, somewhere between 1949 to 1951, depending on your resource.  Now a bank, it was banker Sid and Vera Stern’s macaroni joint in Wells Avenue’s heyday, proving that all good Wells Avenue buildings, including Catholic churches, start or end as restaurants.  Then we have the restaurant that became an office building, the Dairy Queen just north of Vassar; if you look real hard you can see where we ordered Peanut Buster Parfaits.  And we can’t forget Juicy’s on Ryland, for a great burger in the lube bay.

            South of Posey’s was Humphrey’s Furniture, a fairly large store.  Another major furniture store in Reno was Baker’s Furniture south of Arroyo Street, which had its origin as an Eagle Thrifty drug store.  It then became Baker’s, then Good Morning Furniture, then closed.  Eagle Thrifty moved across the street into a new building, with the greatest shopping variety in Reno, a true super-drug store.  Name it, they’d have it in that great basement of theirs.  That store, as did all Eagle Thrifty’s, became Raley’s, and that Wells Avenue Store is now an IGA outlet [or some kind of Mexican store…].  Many small retail buildings were built in the 1960s, some pretty clever and well-designed.  Check out the building on the southwest corner of Wells and Roberts Street: architect Web Brown incorporated five distinct architectural styles into one retail building.  Landlords had little trouble finding quality, long-term tenants, in all categories of merchandise – Brundidge’s Art Supply, GoodTimes Clothes, Lear-Higdon Opticians, Tapis Tree Needlework.  Crown Electronics, Wok-on-the-Wild Side kitchen stuff, Whippy’s Golf Shop, Reno Ski Shop.  Pants Etc., Earl’s Western Wear, Sierra Custom Sound, Greco’s Music Store, Murdock’s, Sierra Cyclery, Solari Paints.  Aids Ambulance operated out of a building at Stewart Street, their name proving to have an unfortunate connotation in years to follow.

            And services: a half-dozen pet stores, another half-dozen cleaners, beauty shops and barber shops galore, Corrigan’s and Ryan’s saloons and the Wonder Bar, dentists and optometrists, Art Remple Television, a Valley Bank and a major post office (at Ryland, now a hock shop.)  Many government offices – State and federal – in the small buildings around Posey’s.  A block-square vacant lot to play ball in north of Wonder Street, owned by LaVere Redfield, the water table about four inches below the ground hampering its use as a building site until recently.  [The building that was built there also sank, now in 2014 it has some lesser quality tenants.] Cornwall Insurance Adjustors, and the rhyming diners, Eato’s Burritos and Pat-Your-Belly-Deli, and that’s where I draw the line.

            South Wells Avenue was a great street.  In the years following World War II 37.2 per cent of the schoolkids in Reno lived within two blocks of either side of the street and continue to harbor a fierce loyalty to it even today.  The Wells Avenue Gang – a group formally organized by my classmate the late Clark Santini – meets regularly and will probably read this and regale me, of the Whitaker Park bunch, with tales of their youth.

But this is not a column validating their aberrant behavior, rather a plea for all to remember fondly the many businesses and merchants who populated South Wells Avenue, and hope that in time to come the municipal plans to revive it will meet with great success.