The Boys of Summer


The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville nine that day; the score stood stalled at four-to-two with but an inning to play…

          As I write, the Series score stands stalled at one-to-one, Angels-to-Giants, with five more games to play [I should include here that this was written in 2002 – KB].  Anything other than a trip to a ballpark by the Homefinders this fine October morning would be unthinkable.  On Saturdays past it could be Threlkel’s or the one at West First and Chestnut (Arlington), or Reneva Park at East Sixth and Valley Road.  But this morning, Moana Ballpark it will be.  It might be worth mentioning for the newer readers that the name “Moana” was the choice of pioneer Reno landowner William Short, who visited Moana Beach in Honolulu in 1904, and it’s probably a damn good thing for some local merchants that Short didn’t vacation at Ho’noali’iani Beach on Maui or they’d have been forever hung with that moniker for their businesses.  The Ho’noali’iani Lane Nursery?

          The history of our ballpark is rich, nearly a hundred years old since 1906 when Louis Berrum laid a streetcar line from downtown Reno to Moana Springs, which then included mineral baths, a dance hall, a movie theater, ice skating, and of course, a ballpark, albeit not in its present location.  And occasionally, a circus or a prizefight, a trap shoot or a rodeo.  I relied on Jack and Ed Pine for some reminiscences about the ballpark; turns out that their grandfather, Harry Plath, by coincidence was a conductor on that Moana car line.  Spanning a century makes for a tough column so this morning we’ll stick within the years following World War II through the early 1950s when the park stood in its present location west of the original Moana Springs.

          The old ballpark was aligned with home plate at the southeast corner of the park, the batter facing northwest to the pitcher. (If you haven’t been out to the park lately, home’s now southwest looking northeast, more about that later.)  In right center field backing up to Moana Lane – then a two-lane dirt road – was a flagpole and the scoreboard, and even as I write this Link Piazzo is digging out the year that Chet & Link’s Sportsman donated that board.  It was a classic ballpark scoreboard, like old Mackay Stadium’s, with guys working feverishly on platforms behind the board changing numbers by hand for balls, strikes, outs, the inning and the score.  A hectic job, but fans today wait in line for the honor of doing the same job for free at Pac Bell Park’s “other games today” board in San Francisco.  Along old Moana’s right field foul line fence was “Sunset League, Class D”, painted in large block letters. 

          There was a snack bar under the wooden grandstands, and for a time our classmate Rob Johnson’s mother Dell ran that show.  On the corner of the right field fence and the foul line was Monty Montgomery’s popular post-war restaurant – the “Steakhouse” – with a patio on its south side where patrons could dine and watch the action. 

• • •

And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air, and Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.  Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped – “That ain’t my style,” said Casey. “Strike one,” the umpire said…

          Well, any good ballpark needs some noise.  Let’s fill the wooden planks in the grandstand with fans and fannies, their cars parked alongside Moana Lane with a few unwary souls off the left field fence about to get smacked with a foul ball.  We need a P.A. announcer, so we’ll put Reno’s sportswriter and columnist extraordinaire Ty Cobb Sr. behind the stadium’s raspy microphone.  We were hashing this yarn out at an early-morning coffee klatch years ago –  the aforementioned Pine brothers plus stockbroker Johnny Heward plus Craig Morrison, who played outfield for the University of Arizona in the College World Series in his heyday – and we agreed that Ty missed very few, if any games, for a long span of time in the 1950s.  Alongside Ty in the pressbox was the venerable Bob Stoddard, the Voice (cap c.q.) of the Silver Sox, calling the game for KOH or KATO radio.  (That’s right, KOLO-TV weatherman Dick Stoddard’s father.)  Let’s put a kid on the roof to shag high pop-foul balls for a dime a ball, and direct the less-lucky guy working the alfalfa field to the south to the fouls that landed out there.  The ballplayers?  Park their buses at the Moana plunge, the old one next door; they can use those lockers and showers. 

          Even the Little Leaguers got to play in Moana Ballpark; ‘twas in 1952, we think, during Little League’s second year in Reno.  They shortened the baselines from 90 to 52 feet, ran a temporary fence behind the full-size field’s infield and played just like the big guys.

• • •

With a smile of Christian charity great Casey’s visage shone; he stilled the rising tumult, and bade the game go on.  He signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew; but Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said, “Strike two.” 

          The City of Reno bought the Moana Baths from the Berrum family in 1956 (and I also thank Washoe County Treasurer Bill Berrum for his input into this column.)  The City bought the ballpark in the following year.  The plunge, by then probably 50 years old, was razed and replaced.  The old ballpark burned in a spectacular fire on Hallowe’en of 1958 and the replacement diamond was realigned southwest-to-northeast when the park was rebuilt.  And I’ve leftover notes; one day soon we’ll go back and wrap all this up, with Bill’s help.

Epilogue: On June 3, 1888 “Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic”, penned by 20-year-old sportswriter Ernest L. Thayer on his lunch hour, appeared in the San Francisco Daily Examiner.  A statue of Mighty Casey now stands at the entrance of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Not bad for a 20-year old kid’s effort!

Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light; Oh, somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; but there is no joy in Mudville – mighty Casey has struck out.

[And so did the Giants, lost to the Angels in the seventh game…]

© Reno Gazette-Journal Oct. 2002

Sparks’ fireman: The Guy on the Bench


He looked dog-tired.  He sat alone, wearing heavy turnouts, all bunched up at the boots.  His head fell to his chest, left hand resting on his knee holding a helmet with SFD on the crown and his axe on the bench behind him.  A couple of teenagers took turns sitting by him and taking pictures of each other, and then they walked away, leaving him alone again.  I sat down next to him on the bench in a shady setting on Pyramid Way, right behind the Sparks Heritage Museum on Victorian Avenue.

I’d seen him before, while he was directing traffic at a wreck on Rock Boulevard and Prater.  Or maybe dragging a cotton hose into the burning garage at an old house on D Street where the barbecue coals got away from the homeowner, or earlier that same day inspecting an office in the Ribeiro complex on Stanford Way.  Once I saw one of Sparks’ Snorkel trucks in the Disc Drive Scolari’s parking lot, the truck’s operator keeping watch like a quail on a rooftop while his buddies joked around inside the store about whether to get chicken or burgers for their Sunday dinner.  The quail in the Snorkel called them all back to work, pronto, on the walkie-talkie; 15 minutes later they were pulling an unconscious teenager out of an abandoned mine shaft.  Dinner would have to wait this Sunday.  Maybe the guy on the bench was one of the crew on the Snorkel.

But I was sure that he the was a hint of a smile on his countenance, so I might have seem him at a happier time – like when he was cooking at the Fire Prevention Week pancake feed at the main station last October, best in the west, or slinging weenies at the SFD booth on a Thursday night Farmers’ Market on Victorian Square.  Or showing an elementary school kid how to “Stop, Drop and Roll” at the department’s training trailer, or taking a rebuilt bicycle to a needy tyke in west Sparks on Christmas day.

Whoever he was, he was a Sparks firefighter.  Or maybe he was a she – in the turnouts I couldn’t tell.  She might have been the EMT on the Water Rescue Team that fished the kayaker out of the river by old Manogue High School, or the tillerman on the aerial truck when Sparks still had one (and political correctness be damned; in this column the operator steering the back wheels of a hook-and-ladder will always be a tillerman!)  Sure, that’s where I saw her.  Or him.

Or it might have been a while back that I saw this firefighter.  Maybe as far back as 1905 when Sparks’ first firehouse opened at 12th and C Streets, or 1917 when the town got their first motorized apparatus, or in 1960 hosing down Kleppe’s Pond by wintry day so the Railroaders could go ice-skating by night, (the Reno Fire Department did this favor for us Huskies, flooding Idlewild Park and Lake Park in the northwest.)  Sparks’ firefighters have covered Reno’s many times when the RFD got bogged down, like the 1957 Sierra Street fire we read about here a while ago or the 1962 Golden Hotel fire we’ve chronicled in the past few weekends that partially inspired this yarn.  Or when the Galaxy Airlines propjet crashed on South Virginia Street, killing 62 passengers.  Sparks’ apparatus sat in a few Reno firehouses in case anything else got loose on that chilly night in January of 1985.

The Sparks Fire Department aided Reno in the August 1948 Lake Street fire, a nasty one.  Sparks’ chief Frank Hobson was overcome and died a hero’s death rescuing someone in a building.   I vividly remember standing in front of my dad’s office on A Street, watching a flag-draped coffin being escorted down B Street in the hose bay of a Sparks pumper.  Maybe the firefighter sitting next to me was one of the honor guardsmen that slowly marched alongside the pumper.  Or maybe it’s Hobson himself?  Or Fred Steiner Sr., the other Sparks firefighter who died in the line of duty responding to a fire in 1953.  Mutual aid between Reno and Sparks has always been the standard, and firehouse camaraderie transcends the shields of SFD or RFD, or FDNY or PAFD.  This firefighter next to me could have had any one of those stenciled on the helmet in his/her hand.

A few other visitors visited the little park while I sat there.  They saw seven bronze footprints in the walkway leading to the bench.  They studied the life-size bronze figure in a moment of reverence, then took a few pictures and left.

• • •

The Sparks Fire Department Monument project was quarterbacked by SFD‘s [now Battalion Chief] Barry Hagen, who, with help from Councilman Phil Salerno and SFD chief Lee Leighton [retired 2004], made a successful request to the Sparks Redevelopment Agency for approval and funding of the project.   Many Sparks businesses donated material, and 95 per cent of the labor was done by off-duty Sparks firefighters.  Hagen contacted Colorado sculptor Gary Coulter, who had created a Fallen Firefighter memorial for Colorado Springs.  That town released the right to replicate their statue, altering only the helmet to read SFD, and the monument was cast.  Coulter passed away from cancer during the casting, so his wife Debbie completed it, and fashioned the axe in the Sparks firefighter’s hand and the brass footprints leading to the bench.  Three flagpoles fly the United States, Nevada, and City of Sparks flags 24 hours a day – and at half-staff on each September 11th.  Bronze plaques descriptive of the department’s history, the dedication of the monument, and the Firefighters’ Prayer are emplaced on the three flagpoles’ bases.

The monument will be dedicated on April 20th – next Saturday [2002] – at 11 a.m.; once again, it’s right behind the Sparks Heritage Museum at Victorian and Pyramid.  Easy parking.

And after the crowd leaves, hang around.  Take a seat next to the firefighter, who might be on the quiet side, but the countenance at rest in this pastoral setting speaks volumes…

• • •

[I was proud of this column, and somewhat humbled to learn that it found its way into many firehouses across the country.]

© Reno Gazette-Journal April 2002

A friend writes of Joe Conforte…


I have friends who write excellent missives, and this is one such friend and one such missive. I’m running it as-received a day or two ago, with my thanks!

When we first moved to Reno, we purchased a small Westfield Village house on Westfield Ave, as it turned out right across the street from Joe Conforte’s “R & R” house for the girls who worked at Mustang.   We were very new to the Reno area, and very quickly found Reno a very interesting place to live.   Several other physicians lived in “the Village” or had purchased their first Reno house there.  We became friends with the Rosenauer and Guisto families, who also lived there.  Many Saturdays we would have “chowder and marching society” meetings at one house or another, sharing meals and family fun. And, we became friends with “the girls,” although they did not join in neighborhood gatherings.  

Conforte often stayed at the house, as he did during the court hearings.  When all the hullabaloo was going on, Bill Raggio, who lived around the corner on the corner of Robin and California Streets, drove to work down Westfield Ave every morning.  One morning I was in the front yard with the children as Raggio drove by.  He waved and called out,  “Has he left yet?”  We thought it was rather funny, because Conforte usually left early, beating Raggio to the court house.  That day he had not left early.  When he did leave, moments after Raggio drove past, he smiled, waved and called out a cheerful, “Good Morning,” as he followed Bill down the street.  It was an interesting neighborhood.

The girls were quiet neighbors, keeping much to themselves.  There was one funny incident when their cat went up a tree in front of the house.  Firemen came, the neighborhood gathered, and, to the delight of one and all, especially the children, got the cat down.  As one of the firemen started to place the small cat in one of the girl’s arms, the cat jumped down and went right up the tree again.  We were all laughing, and the firemen allowed as how the cat could get down by itself this time.  “When it gets hungry, it will come down.”  Sure enough, it did.  
Bob came home one day, with a fifty-dollar bill in hand and laughingly told me the story of two new patients, a couple who had come in to his office for general check-ups that afternoon both dressed in jeans and well worn cowboy boots.  Bob did complete exams on both of them, including drawing blood for certain studies.  (Docs did that then!)  When it came time, the man asked what his fee was.  Looking at them and their clothes, Bob said, “Well, lets make it fifty dollars for the two of you.”  At that point, the man proceeded to pull out a wallet full of hundred-dollar bills, handed Bob a bill and said, “Sorry, Doc, this is the smallest I have.  Hope you have change.”   Bob had to go across the hall to Drs. Greer and Lanning’s office to get change.  When he handed the man his change, the patient commented, “I know you are young, but I sure hope you are as good as you seem to be.  This is a real bargain.”  The couple became good patients, coming in regularly every year for their check-ups, and often laughed about that first visit.  Margo Frye, Greer and Lanning’s secretary/receptionist/jane of all trades, teased Bob unmercifully after he told her about the two patients.  
That year we were invited to go out to Margo’s home, an old stone building on a large acreage on the Old Geiger Grade Road, to cut a Christmas Tree.  We cut our trees there for several years, until Margo retired and moved from the wonderful building.  Families would gather one Saturday before Christmas, each bringing treats of some sort.  Margo had hot chocolate for the children, and hot buttered rum for the adults after they cut their trees.  There was always enough for everyone who arrived at the house, happily displaying a special Holiday tree on the tops of their cars, hungry and cold after trekking around the steep hills.  Margo’s mother lived there with them, a delightful old lady.  “Mom” went missing one day when no one was with her, and was found some time later in a steep sandy ravine where she had fallen.  (I know that it was one night, possibly two.)  She kept talking about the big kitty that had slept with her at night.  Curious, the sheriff’s officers returned to the spot and found very large mountain lion tracks all around where she had been found.  Without the “big kitty” that kept her warm at night, Margo’s mom would most certainly have died of exposure.  She was dehydrated, and I think that she had a sprained ankle, but she was otherwise unhurt.   I would say that that happened somewhere in the early 1960s, probably before 1966.  There was quite a write-up in the paper. 
By-the-by, on your walk down Virginia Street, wasn’t Grey Reid’s just between 5th and 6th on the west side of the street?  
Jean, when we were walking last weekend, Gray Reid Wright was still on West First and Sierra – we’ll visit it in a column some morning soon…Karl
Love your articles.  Keep them coming.  ‘Til later

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My mind was in the gutter (ball)…


I walked into the Nevada Historical Society a while back in my vermillion shirt with the black short sleeves, Sascha the Hamm’s Beer bear embroidered on one pocket, “Walker & Melarkey’s Flying A” across the back and the shirt-tail hanging out. NHS head librarian Mike Maher looked up.

            “Writing about bowling next Sunday are we, Karl?” he asked, laconically. I replied in the affirmative and descended into the abyss of the microfilm grotto.

For the king of old bowling alleys, we’ll focus on the YMCA, then located in downtown Reno on East First Street between Virginia and Center. The earliest reference I could find about bowling in Reno was in a March 1909 Nevada State Journal, and not in the sports section but the society page – bowling was fast becoming an acceptable diversion for young ladies, nationally and here in our valley. “Clubs,” which I surmise we now call “leagues,” were forming in town. And Thursday evenings were now reserved for ladies at the Y, which was open for bowling every night but Sunday. (The Y blew up in 1952.)

Print references are scarce for quite a number of years following 1909; the Downtown Bowl at 130 North Center Street pops up in a few sports pages’ references to tournaments. But, in the April 19, 1937 Reno Evening Gazette, pay dirt: We read of the phenomenal new “Reno Recreation Palace” ballyhooed on South Virginia at Ryland. I was unfamiliar with that stately pleasure dome, and opened a Sanborn map expecting to see eight or 10 city blocks devoted to civic revelry. But I found only a bowling alley we knew as the Reno Bowl, which adjoined a theater we knew as the Tower Theater. A movie theater in the same building as a bowling alley is a specious use of space, sound-wise – many of us recall a dashing and tuxedoed Errol Flynn sweeping a gowned Maureen O’Hara off her Guccis on the Lido deck of a luxury liner; violins soaring, the full moon on high dancing on the liner’s wake as the palm-lined island faded into the background on the Tower’s silver screen. Contemporaneously, as Errol planted a major lip-lock on Maureen, a bowling ball on the other side of the paper-thin wall crashed into the pins to complete a turkey as the inebriated keglers in the Reno Bowl bellowed and whooped and high-fived each other. Romance may not be dead, but at the Tower Theater it was frequently in ICU. That alley had human pinsetters; it should be noted that one bowler actually rolled a 301 (the pinsetter had a wooden leg).

On downtown Sparks’ B Street/Lincoln Highway/ Highway 40 (and now Victorian Avenue) from Home Furniture’s new Sparks store – now Terrible’s Rail City Casino – and next door to the Elbow Room, came a new, post-war bowling alley. The Sparks Bowlarium opened on Jan. 18, 1949 with eight, count ‘em, eight lanes; in 1958 the building would be enlarged and the lanes doubled to 16. It then had a real twist: automatic electric pinsetters – the kid resetting pins in the “pit,” working two or three lanes and ducking inbound bowling balls for all his life – would soon be but a memory. (It should be mentioned somewhere that the alleys then, as today, had cocktail lounges, food service, and at most, child care and dancing.)

            A long way out on South Virginia, almost to the end of Reno at Moana Lane (before Moana even existed east of South Virginia) Reno got its first post-war bowling alley. The Town & Country (now High Sierra Lanes) was opened in April of 1958. I’m stumped as to its original lane count; it is clear in both the Gazette and the Journal that at least some of that alley’s original lanes were taken from the Downtown Bowl, which closed that year. (I mentioned in a column a while back that that building on Center Street between First and Second Streets downtown was taken over by Harrah’s for office space.)

Back to Sparks now, just off Eighth Street – now Pyramid Way – to the newish Greenbrae Center – another new alley opens in August of 1960. The Greenbrae Lanes featured 24 lanes. And my Sparks readers are probably wondering if I could possibly deign to mention “Greenbrae Lanes” without also scribing “Driftwood Lounge” in the same sentence. That would be a travesty I won’t commit – the walls of the adjacent and fabled Driftwood could probably tell more tales than all the cocktail lounges in Reno or Sparks put together. The alley closed, but the lounge is still open for business, and we’ll give the Archueleta family a plug here and our thanks for the decades that they operated it.

Keystone Avenue was finally cut through northward from the railroad tracks and the Starlight Bowl opened on West Sixth Street near Keystone on Dec. 10, 1961. It’s been a winner ever since; when it opened with 44 lanes it was the biggest alley in Nevada. Sterling Village Lanes, toward the north end of Valley Road near once Bishop Manogue High School, opened on July 10, 1964; it closed in the 1980s and now houses a small market (and in 2014 a school). The big Kahuna of local public alleys is now within the Grand Sierra Resort; before it opened in 1978 as the MGM Grand its 50 lanes were shipped to Reno and installed temporarily at the Coliseum (OK, the Convention Center) for a summer-long national tournament, then were relocated to the brand-new MGM following that tournament.

Another big bowling alley opened in Reno in 1994 downtown on the old Northside school site but it’s basically a private building built with public funds so I won’t write about it. But, I will end with the note that the family that prays together, stays together; the family that bowls together, splits. Have a good week; avoid life’s 7 – 10 split, and God bless America!

© RGJ Feb. 2005 

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A Saturday morning 2005 Manteca-Fed Beef


 The topic of last Saturday’s page 10 spoke, among other matters, of the inadvertent but interesting knitting-together of turn-of-the-century meat packer William Henry Moffat and his home on the Alamo Ranch south of Reno, well-remembered by many readers as the ornate white frame two-story distinguished by the adjoining framed-in water tower that sat pretty much alone on the northwest corner of South Virginia Street at West Peckham Lane.  We learned of his Manteca-Fed Beef being sold exclusively in the local area by the Eagle Thrifty market chain, one of which was coincidentally built on his ranch about 65 years after he bought it. And we spoke of Tom Raley buying out Eagle Thrifty, and Tom’s first market which opened in Placerville.

            William Moffat didn’t build the house.  He bought it, as I wrote in a column that appeared here in April 1999. And finding little else to write about this week, I’m going to here reiterate that piece and add a little about Governor John Sparks.        

            The facts are that John Sparks, already an established cattleman from Texas and Idaho, bought the Anderson Station in 1887 and presumably built the magnificent home shortly after his acquisition of the property (yeah, Anderson School took its name from the huge Anderson land holdings in the South Virginia Street corridor.) Sparks would go on to become governor of Nevada in 1902, and pass away in office during his second term, in 1908.  Peripherally, we may note that he gave his name to our Rail City in 1904. More peripherally, if that adverb has a comparative voice, “Sparks” was the second name for that city, following its original name “Harriman” in honor of Southern Pacific Railroad’s owner E. H. Harriman.  E. H., a modest sort, beefed to the citizens of Harriman, most of who worked for him. Dick Graves hadn’t arrived there yet to vote for East Reno, so the governor got the nod. Early City of Sparks plat maps still show a Harriman Street.

            Enter now to our town William Henry Moffat from San Francisco, scion of a California meat-packing family. I was able to establish that in 1902 the 27-year old took an office in the power-center First National Bank building on Second and Virginia Streets for Moffat’s Nevada operation. I am unable to verify the year that he bought the Alamo Ranch from Governor Sparks.

            The Alamo remained a local player in cattle production for a good number of years.  And researching an earlier column that probably got me on this Alamo kick earlier in the summer, I found a 1930s reference to “…a sheep ribbon-tying contest far south of town at the Alamo Ranch” so apparently Moffat also ran a flock of sheep.

            Moffat was nominated a Distinguished Nevadan by the University of Nevada Board of Regents in 1960, three years before his death.

            His home, following a few decades of lack-of-TLC in Pleasant, not Washoe Valley, is being lovingly restored to its former grandeur and I understand a fellow Gazoo columnist is working on a piece about the home, the new owners and its restoration.  Stay tuned. [No further column ever came…]

Here’s a story about Mrs. Sparks by our friend Joyce Crowson Cox, go to


Let’s have a safe long Labor Day weekend; Happy Anniversary, Blondie and Dagwood, Cookie, Alexander, Daisy, Herb and Tootsie, Julius and Cora, Elmo, the carpoolers and mailman Mr. Beasley, who Dagwood’s been knocking on his ass going out the front door for 75 years tomorrow.  God bless America!

© Reno Gazette-Journal August 2005





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Enter a large man with a wooden mallet who hits me right between the horns with a guttural incantation: “Finish – the – Plumb – and – South Virginia – intersection – yarn…”

            Why didn’t I think of that???

            OK – I made some notes at the Nevada Historical Society, which will henceforth be known as the “NHS” on this web, get used to it, from Sanborn Maps, City Directories and some old friends’ recollections. We’re downtown and heading south along two-lane South Virginia Street, Plumb Lane is brand-new but we don’t think it had a stop signal in its first incarnation. Wells Avenue comes in from the east, a service station on both corners, with a couple of fast-food joints on the corners. Some of the coolest rock-work in the valley is on our right at the El Borracho Lounge and the El Dorado Motel – still there, next time you drive by, take a look and imagine what it would cost to replicate that today.

            Al Vario, a popular fixture in the downtown late-night scene and a good guy all around, had just opened his “Vario’s” fine restaurant – one of Reno’s premium high-end night spots for dining, dancing and cocktails. I’ve mentioned it in columns past as being on a par with two others, Eugene’s, a little further to the south by the present Peppermill, and the Bundox at East First and Lake Streets. Al Vario sold his restaurant, after a great career of entertaining two generations of locals (and moved to Arizona); following a couple of intervening operators, it became “Bricks,” which remains to this day as one of Reno’s premier restaurants – you can count them on one hand… “Bricks,” by the way, is correct with no possessive apostrophe – the place is named for the extensive use of brick in the original Frank Green design.

            South of Vario’s/Bricks, hang on, you’ll love this: a golf driving range. It was called the Tom Thumb Driving Range, and had the best snack bar in Reno, most agree. (Jack Pine remembers the “pickle burger” they served, with a pickle inside the patty, invisible.) And, your next ball popped up from underground, automatically, after you drove. Cool. The driving range, where you hit from Virginia Street west to Lakeside Drive, was the brainchild of Al Vario and contractor Bob Helms, who was starting to rule the roost in the highway construction business. And maybe a couple other guys. The ultimate plan was to use the site for a hotel/casino on a grand scale. That never happened; in later years that massive lot was subdivided into office parcels visible today from the street. Interestingly, the streets were named for Lincoln and Mercury automobile models.

            And why was that, you say? Glad you asked: Sometime soon after 1960 and the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, the owners of Eugene’s restaurant (e-mail me for a copy of that old column) whose names were Joe Patrucco and Gilbert Vasserot, envisioned a great new motel, on the northwest corner of brand-new Plumb Lane and South Virginia Street. They were both émigrés from Europe, and chose “Continental” for the name of their new venture. It was designed after the lines of the Holiday Lodge (now bygone) on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco – a south-seas look, very enduring, still one of the prettiest motels in Reno today. It had a fine restaurant mimicking their Eugene’s, a lounge that jumped (the Central Park), a gift store, a beauty shop, and remains a hub of Reno today. Why not rejuvenate the storied Central Park Lounge – parking shortage probably. In its heyday street parking was generous. No longer.

            And that “Continental” name explains the nearby street names…

Still driving south, we encounter a corner, sort of, at what will become “Plumb Lane” extended, but in the years close to 1960 about all we’ll see are used car lots on three corners, on the corner where the Continental will soon be built are now Pontiacs from still-downtown Winkel Motors, and kitty-corner from that on the future Park Lane corner, the embryonic Lee Bros. Leasing and Sales. At the present IHOP location was Whitey’s Union 76, a place where a guy comes out and puts gas in your car, washes your windshield, checks your oil (under the hood, it’s called) and airs your tires. Quite a concept. In a year or two, Security Bank of Nevada – later Security National Bank – Art Johnson at the helm, would open in the present B of A branch.

            Footnote: I used just one time “catercorner,” correct for “kitty-corner,” and “International House of Pancakes,” also only one time, and learned that Americans like their slang. In this column it’s IHOP and kitty-corner. And a few non-words you won’t find in Websters.

            A Motel 6 will soon appear on the southwest corner, that cardinal number indicative of the cost of a night’s lodging, which sounds a lot more rhythmic than “Motel 83” which is what a Motel 6 cost me in San Mateo recently. On that corner, where, by the way, one could parallel park on South Virginia Street in front of the coffee shop, was a “Sambo’s” which sort-of started to be a part of the Continental across the street but negotiations broke down. It was a gathering spot for half the town, as were its sister locations on Keystone and West Fourth (now gone), and on B Street in Sparks (Jack’s). Sambo’s name was actually taken from the founders, whose names were Sam and Baureguard or some such thing, but was interpreted by some with another connotation, and the Sambo’s reign ended in Reno and nationally. There was at least a few years ago, the first one in the town of my birth, Santa Barbara. (And I’ll hear that it had nothing to do with the name, just bad business. Dunno.) Anyway, now, it’s a Chinese joint.

            Which takes us one joint south, that one specializing in sushi, which some people actually ingest. That building, we all know, was the home of Waldren Oldsmobile following Frank Waldren’s move of your grandfather’s car dealership from downtown – one of the earlier GM migrations to the burbs. The mini-shopping center lying to the west along Hillcrest Drive was the dealership’s mechanic and body shops.

            Across South Virginia in the pre-Park Lane days, we can’t forget the Key Animal Hospital, Dr. Joe Key, still kickin’, a great guy and lifelong friend, and further to the south, the storied Doll House, and that wasn’t Barbee and Ken shakin’ their booties in the wee hours of school nights.

            I’ve some other notes, and readers will probably send in a few more – and I’ve got some photographs stuck somewhere in the great beyond of cyberspace, which seems to be my milieu lately – so our trek around Plumb and South Virginia probably will roll on again. Somebody will probably want to know about the Old Orchard Trailer Park – I’ll meet you right here.

            Have a good week, and God bless America!


© RGJ Feb. 2006

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