“Mr. Greene, you want a drink of my Coke…?”
Nary a codger my age, nor a codgerette, if that spell-checks, didn’t lurk around the high south window of the handsome brick building at Center Street’s intersection with South Virginia, watching the parade of green-hued clear bottles down the conveyor line. They marched like sparkling soldiers in lockstep from west to east, our left to our right, being squirted four-at-a-time full of Coca-Cola, to then disappear from view just as another machine capped them – poetry in motion.
But, the precision parade of these African kola nut-shaped little vessels wasn’t what we gathered there for. Periodically one bottle would get screwed up in the cadence and take down the three soldiers adjoining it and the whole parade would come to a halt. And that, readers, made our wait worthwhile, for the white-coated old bottler minding the parade would pull those bottles from the line, glance out the window at us – outwardly feigning great disdain for our barefaced supplication – and give a gruff nod to the door on Center Street. Inwardly we knew he was grinning wide at the opportunity to give us a free bottle of Coke and hie us on our way.
And – we’d look at the bottom of bottle to see what city it was originally bottled in – any kids’ worthwhile Coke bottle collection had a number of bottles with big east coast cities’ imprints on them, having migrated west along the Lincoln Highway.
That big sunlit south window, with the gleaming stainless steel conveyor and piping – the bottles changing from glistening clarity to jet black as they were filled – was a focal point of any drive around Reno until the plant moved out onto Vassar Street in 1972. And, in the convoluted logic that frequently drives this column I’ll mention here that what triggered all this is that the subsequent occupant of the bottling plant, Restaurant Equipment and Supply – RESCO, if you will – just vacated the building, to move out to the old McMahan’s Furniture on East Plumb Lane.
Les and Stanley Farr bought two businesses in 1924 – the Shoshone Soda Works and Diamond Springs Drinking Water Supply Company. They built a brick building in 1927 on South Virginia Street for the soda operation, hand-bottling a number of regional brands of carbonated beverages. Les’ son Curtis became the sales manager. In William D. Rowley’s book “Reno: Hub of the Washoe County” a great old picture by Lauren Wood appears, depicting the original Shoshone building, looking kind of lonely ‘way out on South Virginia Street – but recognizable as part of the existing structure. In 1930, long before Coke Taught The World To Sing and Mean Joe Greene tossed the kid his Steeler football jersey in one of most popular TV commercials ever made, Coca-Cola franchised the Farrs to bottle Coca-Cola in the northern Nevada market. They sold the Diamond Springs water operation to another company in 1944.
They added on to that old building in 1939, and again in 1941, the latter addition incorporating the showcased bottling line on the south wall. That high window in later years was bricked over, its silhouette still discernable. (There was a little more room on the corner in those days with a little wedge-shaped park; Center Street, then two-way would later become one-way north and a turn lane took out part of the sidewalk.)
The Farrs, to their credit, maintained their building beautifully – landscaping, the stainless-and-glass gallery to the south, and on the Virginia Street parking lot a fleet of immaculately maintained yellow-and white, with red trim, cab-over-engine – (OK, ladies: flat-fronted) – delivery trucks with racks for the wooden bottle containers, hauling Coke from Susanville to Lake Tahoe. (How’d you like to have one of those delivery trucks restored in time for Hot August Nights – what a showstopper that would be on a cruise.)
Research – ahh, that ugly word – brought a few tickles. The Farrs, cooperating to plug the local debut of “Grapes of Wrath” at the Granada (where admission, according to an ad in a March, 1940 edition of the Nevada State Journal, was 10 cents or 25 cents, regular or loge) offered a free Coke with admission. Henry Fonda and a Coke, what a deal.
Leslie Farr passed away in 1977, four years after his son Curtis’ death in 1974. They created a beautiful building for our local landscape, putting a great deal more pizzazz into it than the minimum necessary to do their job. Those ol’ bricks have served RESCO well for over 30 years, and we wish that company 30 more good years on East Plumb Lane.
And – the old bottling plant remains a highly visible building with a lot of potential. Hopefully some user will come along to rescue and restore it, maybe even un-bricking some of the windows to light up a slick little mini-mall or the lobby of a community theater…THEY DID, AND CALLED IT JUNKEES!
Oh – I’m full of ideas. And I told you last week, that summer’s coming and it did. You read it here first. Just as you read last week that the Herz Brothers, Richard and Carl bought M.M. Fredericks Jewelry Store on Commercial Row – actually, they worked for Fredericks in Virginia City and then bought William Goeggel’s jewelry store on Commercial Row. And, modesty probably forbade Wilton Herz when we spoke two weeks ago and he didn’t mention it, but I’m ashamed of myself for not including in last week’s column that R. Herz & Bro. has honored the top scholar of each graduating University of Nevadaclass with the Herz Gold Medal award ever since 1910.
Have a great and safe long weekend, with wonderful weather – we’ve earned it! Take a columnist to lunch, know where your children are, buckle up, floss, and God bless America.
© Reno Gazette-Journal 2006