Walkin’ downtown


In an unguarded moment a few months ago I mentioned that if I ever bound these thoughts into a book I’d probably title it You’re going to do what to the Mapes? A better title might be something as boring as Strolling Downtown Reno, for it is those strolling columns that seem to draw the most reader response. [And that I love to write.] Following a few downtown strolls some notes, questions, and recollections piled up so off we go, the Saturday morning movie at the Tower Theater is just letting out; John Wayne and Richard Widmark beat the bad guys again and The Thing didn’t catch us so we’ll walk around downtown some more.

            Most of the questions that arose were of the “where was the…?” category and while neither I nor my research assistant Carmine Ghia laid awake any nights over them, we can respond to a few: The Club Frisco – don’t call it that around Herb Caen – was in the Harrah block of North Virginia Street. Walton’s Town & Country Décor was on North Sierra, no known connection to the funeral home of the same name. That brings to mind the new office complex being built south of Del Monte Lane called Mountain View, a name that some out-of-town developer may come to regret. I for one already have too many friends residing in Mountain View, and they don’t keep office hours. Someone asked about the Red River Lumber Company; look out East Fourth Street in the 300 block, but call ahead to be safe that it’s open. Martin’s Cash Grocery was at East Fourth and Evans, and yeah, yeah, yeah, a good column might be of old mom-and-pop grocery stores – I hear that all the time and you’re right. Before families had 23 cubic foot refrigerators a trip to a corner grocery – not a supermarket – was de rigueur once every couple of days, and I’m cataloguing nearly 60 corner grocery stores in 1950s Reno and Sparks.

            The Elk Hotel? On Commercial Row by the Arch Drug, and it had nothing to do with the Elks’ Home by the river. (Across Virginia Street was the Stag Inn, a good corner for the antlered.)   “What was the Huskie Haven you mentioned in a Center Street walk column?” ‘Twas a social, after-school club for Reno’s only (public) high school (can you tell that I tangled with Manogue’s alumni over a “Reno’s only high school” reference a few months back?) Huskie Haven was former fire station on the corner of Center and Ryland, great pool tables, darts, study areas – a good place to hang out. It closed as a school district-sanctioned facility in 1955 when the Reno School District became the Washoe County School District, but continued on an unofficial basis, hosting dances most Friday nights at the California Building or State Building, and ice skating at Idlewild’s ponds during weeknights in conjunction with Parks & Rec. Life was good. And the Huskies welcomed the Sparks and Manogue kids. Primarily their women.

            The Western Milk Depot, you asked? East Fourth near Evans, getting the milk cans off the Western Pacific Railroad cars arriving from Sierra Valley every day. When the excellent Washoe (Period) restaurant opened in the old Glory Hole recently, a reader wrote, “wasn’t there a Washoe Restaurant in Reno years ago?” Sure was – on Commercial Row. A radio station on Stevenson Street?   KOH, on the west side of the street, torn down when the topic of another reader question, the Greyhound bus depot was built. Harrah’s wanted the downtown bus station site next to the Santa Fe hotel, primarily so the intervening alley could be abandoned and their properties joined. They acquired the half-block between West First, Second, Stevenson and the alley, then designed and built a bus station then exchanged it for Western Greyhound Lines’ terminal on Lake Street, (which curiously was never razed). That transaction was not without public rancor, for a few narrow-minded souls didn’t really want a bus station by a beautiful park and the river, knowing as they did that some discerning bus riders feel that there’s nothing more satisfying than fine wine and a snooze in a park after a long bus ride. Harrah’s prevailed. Imagine that. And closing out Stevenson Street, the early YWCA was on the northeast corner of Stevenson and West First.

            The original name of early Reno’s premier law firm? Try Hoyt, Norcross, Thatcher, Woodburn & Henley, and why do you ask me questions like that? I’m a street guy, not a name guy. Researching this, Carmine also found an ancient reference to the firm of McCarren & Wedge, proving that we’ve been misspelling Senator Pat McCarran’s name for over half a century now. McMahan’s Furniture was downtown, as a reader recalled, on Commercial Row well into the 1960s. [Somewhere in this book we learn that later-congressman Walter Baring sold finer parlor furniture there.] No one asked, but Whitehouse Clothiers, Jacobs (clothes) and yikes! – a hock shop were also on early Commercial Row. Soon we’ll gather at the all-new Shoofly Saloon near the location of the old Nevada Turf Club.

            Harry’s Business Machines – a sure Great Homefinder Longest-Running Business candidate if I ever get back on that kick – was and is on West Street, just north of the tracks. (Following a couple of GHLRB columns, I was accused of selling out accolades for goods and services, like I need fuel oil from Washoe Keystone for my gas furnace or Peerless Cleaners to press either of my Oxford shirts.) Harry’s owner Gordon Foote is a friend and a frequent contributor.   [GHLRB = Great Homefinder Longest-Running Businesses. Not one of my brighter ideas, in retrospect.]

            Closing notes: The old Temple Emmanuel? I’ll mention it again: on the east side of West Street across from old Reno High/later Central Jr. High School. I can’t resist including that Kay Fujii’s Nevada Nursery was on the south side of North Street, and the Western Pacific tracks ran along the west side of East Street. (East Street, never a dedicated street, actually the NCO/Western Pacific railroad right-of-way, mysteriously became known as Record Street relatively recently.)

       You read this first in the Gazoo: Greg Street was named for Greg McKenzie (true) and Picabo Street (possibly). Have a good week; go buy a house, and God bless America.

• • •

© Karl Breckenridge 2004 from “You’re Doing WHAT to the Mapes?” and the Reno Gazette-Journal