California Avenue, so named because it was the road to California, natch; follow it westward to Mayberry and beyond, ‘cross the river and onward up the Truckee’s canyon, and where are you? Well, California, of course – that’s how the early travelers got to the Golden State, beyond My Favorite Muffin, the Truckee River Bar & Grill, and a little past Raley’s, and they were there!!
Well, sort of, anyway. Today we’re just ambling around the street by daylight, but on Thursday night – Dec. 11th – from about five o’clock on you can stroll, shop, have a glass of holiday cheer, wear a top hat and look like a complete idiot if you want to – watch out for the TV cameras though; I got caught in the Blue Plate a couple of years ago (yeah, we have our own restaurant.) [That, the Plate Special, ws the former name of the Ol’ Reno Guy website.] There are supposed to be strolling carolers, and indeed there were, the first year, but the last two years some kind of fire dancers showed up with a few thousand decibels of rap crap music and most strollers strolled off to Buffalo. Or shuffled, can’t remember.
My roots go deep on California Avenue – in 1950 my dad, Karl the Elder, bought what was generally known as the Larsen house at 320 California Avenue – across the street from Roy Hardy’s house. I remember vividly seeing Mr. Hardy’s nurse, a stout woman in traditional white nurse’s apparel with a screwy cap, pushing him out onto the patio of the house – it had a patio then on its lower floor. And there he’d sit, taking in the sun on a Saturday morning. Went over and talked to him a few times, we kids did, to see if we could play ball on his front lawn, which seemed then to be huge. It was cool with him, and we did. He was a nice guy.
It was during that period of time that another fine old home was being moved by Rom Bevelaqua, from the lot next east to Roy Hardy’s house. It was a beaut, reminiscent of the Levy Mansion, now Sundance Books & Music, just down the street that’s still on the corner of Sierra (then Granite), but a bit smaller. It was taken out Plumas Street to a site near Mountain View Drive across from the present tennis courts. Pharmacist Bill Ramos, a nice guy from El Salvador who had operated a drug store downtown, had bought the site, with the help of a few doctors (who would later occupy the building to the east, facing on Hill Street). Ramos Drug opened in 1951 and was a fixture in Reno – prescription drugs, sundries, and the greatest soda fountain in town (yikes, now I’ll hear about a few dozen more favorites and have to write about them also!) That Ramos building is now the Cheese Board). Oh, yeah; Deux Gros Nes was upstairs for many years – that freestyle happenin’ joint occupied the space that Bill Ramos originally built as his own living quarters, and there he lived for a number of years (he later moved to Hidden Valley, and has now passed away.) Another stalwart, Powell’s Drug, is now a bar.
My dad built a building at 320 California Avenue, with three units (316, 318 and 320) and opened it in 1951 [it now houses the Postal Depot]. It was designed and built by contractor Clifford Blabon, who designed and built many homes in southwest Reno, my favorite at 864 Marsh Avenue, built for gambler Bernie Einstoss and his family. One of the nicest homes in Reno, to this day, if you can abide the Marsh Avenue traffic. The Larsen home remained behind the little office building, used as a contract bridge studio and later a decorator’s office until the late 1970s. Across the alley to the west was and remains a very luxurious six-unit apartment house for its time, originally called the Jamison Apartments and built by the contractor (Jamison)) that built the First Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science) church on the Truckee, now known as the Lear Theater.
Next up the street west is My Favorite Muffin, in the former California Avenue Market building (note that name; there was a California Market downtown before WWII, on Virginia on a site that’s now the Eldorado.) The California Avenue Market was a dandy, and catered to the landed gentry clients in the Newlands Manor and mansion row on the bluff to the west. Their service was heavily by delivery – I have a photo of my dad delivering groceries on the grocery’s bike, with a huge basket on the handlebars. George Minor started the grocery; many readers of this column in its print versions recall Charlie Bradley, Minor’s butcher who took the market over in the 1950s. And the more I write of California Avenue the more it is starting to dawn on me that I wrote about the street a couple of times, years ago, and they’re in my book in the Walkin’ California Avenue segment. (And while I’m at it, I may as well attach another column, that about the Levy Mansion at California and Sierra.)
On the southwest corner of California Avenue and Lander you’ll see, on your Christmas Stroll next Thursday evening, a handsome brick building that’s had a number of uses – originally it served as Otto Linnecke’s Reno Business College. I wrote once that the building was originally a military structure, e.g. a two-story office, barracks, whatever, and that I’m pretty sure of. I also wrote that it was moved to the present site from Sierra Army Depot on East Second Street – see a column I wrote in print earlier this year – or less-possibly from Stead AFB. That I was pretty sure of, but defied research. After writing that I heard from numerous experts, who are a never-growing number, that it came alternatively from Stead, from Virginia City, from Dayton, and a few other sites, some not generally associated with the military. Frankly, I don’t know for sure where it came from, but Rom Bevelaqua told me it was moved in. Good enough for me. Following its use as a business college, it became the studio for KOLO radio, when The Sound of the Sierra moved from its mezzanine location in the El Cortez. KOLO was there for quite a time, and the building has had a number of users since KOLO vacated it. Its owners have always done an admirable job of maintaining it
Across the street to the north side take note of the St. James Infirmary. Now that new watering hole has an interesting past – it was originally built by Otto Linnecke as a printing plant for his business college in the two-story brick building across the street, mentioned in the graf above. In the beginning Otto used it only for his own, business college-related stuff, but started taking in work to fill in slack time until it eventually rose to be one of the top offset printeries in Reno, catering to the public. It remained in business as such until relatively recently. 
Your voices spoke last week, following the “tour” of “Midtown Reno,” from California Avenue south to Mt. Rose Street: “Karl, your column’s too damn long…” OK – we’ll cut it off at this point, and reserve the right to go back to California Avenue on some week in the future.
Have a good week; tell a friend about this site and come back occasionally during the week as I can see it’s not all going to get updated in one swell foop on one night a week. Enjoy the California Avenue Stroll and God bless America!
© Reno Gazette-Journal Dec. 2006