Walkin’ “Midtown” c. 1955

Dick Dimond Dodge - 600 South Virginia St 1950So, it’s a 1950s walk y’all want. We haven’t taken a Saturday morning walk for a while, and although there’s frost on the pumpkin as I write, by the time you read this it could be a brilliant fall day. Or the dead of winter…no matter, we’ll meet on the lawn at the Lake Mansion on California Avenue and South Virginia and trek south to Mt. Rose Street, and return next weekend. Remember the walk rules: Space doesn’t permit including every man, woman, child or business along our path, nor a time span from the Civil War to today. We’re in our usual 1955-1960 time warp.


Onward we go across California Avenue with no stoplight, much to the consternation of the firemen in “South” Station across the street. We’ll walk by Lyon’s Signal service station on the corner (this is an era when almost every corner had one, if not more, service stations, heavy on the service.) Past there, Ham McCaughey’s Reno Motors was selling Lincolns and Mercurys, in a showroom that would later serve as Codding & Wetzel’s ski shop – Hal and Jerry, great guys – then later to become the casino area for the Ponderosa Hotel that would be built to the west of it.

We pass Reno Motors to Con Priess’ Kit Carson Motel and its expanse of lawn second only to the University’s Quad – many tiny rooms, stretching west all the way to Forest Street. It would later become the parking lot for the Ponderosa. Southward we pass Royal Tire, to have a few other names in years to follow, to the corner of St. Lawrence Street, and popular Glenn Turner Florist.

We’ll look both ways and cross St. Lawrence to what my contemporaries knew best as the Del Mar Station, but on the morning of this walk it was Heric’s Café, and would remain so for many years. [We’ll learn soon that it was also the Peppermint Lounge.] The Mt. Rose Market, one I wrote about in columns past was in the south end of that same building; a neighborhood grocer, as most were in that period of time. South past another bar that’s had a dozen names, to the Penguin Café, a favorite hangout until well into the 1980s, black-and-white checkerboard floor and all, their fare rivaled only by Ramos’ Drug around the corner. Now it’s Luciano’s original location, still great food. [2015 maybe not] Reno Pet Food was the baby of Don Combs, an incredibly funny guy whose [late] widow Rachael charmed all that knew her. Once upon a time a guy could work on his own car and might have gone to Ayres Auto Parts, south of the pet food store, for his plugs, points and condenser. (Do cars still have those gadgets??)

Across Taylor Street, a structure once the Dondero family home, later a laundromat, later still the American Red Cross, still later the KSRN-FM radio studios. South Virginia Street was used-car row in the post-war days, and we’ll just stroll past a few car lots now until we get to the corner, once a Richfield service station, later Tom and Suzi Jensen’s taco stand.

More car lots as we cross La Rue Street, translating from the French to Street-Street, the most notable lots were Hermann & Wilson’s (Chryslers), and Pio’s – Pio Mastroianni was an immensely popular Reno businessman whose surname I’ve never spelled right yet on the first try. At Martin Street, one of the earliest Eagle Thrifty Drugs then the Ox-Bow Motel, Harry’s Coffee Shop (later the Olympic) and a Shell Station. (Note the proliferation of great little coffee shops before the fast foods took the viability out of them.) Beyond Mary Street, the Pet Emporium where good ol’ Tom Jamison now has [had] his Pro-Serv printery and clock shop (clockery?), the Ho-Hum Motel, then Rauhut’s Bakery’s final location, now an open shell in the building. Two premium furniture stores: Freemont & Humphries, and Sellman & Gravelle Furniture and Décor a few doors to the south. Harry O’Brien, the Smilin’ Irishman was in that block before moving out to Glendale Road, Ma Bell had a phone truck garage there for a time, Nevada Traction sold tractors in this block, and we had two bars, Klub 1091 under the Arthur Murray Dance Studio, and the 1099 Club on the corner, and you don’t want to confuse one with the other if you’re pub crawling. And, a Wash-a-Mat, when “Laundromat” was a copyrighted term. The 1000 block was a busy one.

South of Caliente, the South Virginia Deli and Liquors owned by the Games family, who would build the new Washoe Market on the other end of the block – (it’s now an antique store). In midblock was Sprouse-Reitz, ditto [presently Ace Hardware], and a little building that some say was bootlegged onto Sprouse-Reitz, years ago. In the time of our walk there was a long gap from Arroyo to Pueblo Streets – the El Reno Apartments that once occupied it had all been removed, and the block was vacant for a time before the Sewell family built Sewell’s Market and joined the Bates family opening Nevada Bank of Commerce, both in the same building now occupied by Statewide Lighting and more antique dealers.

Another bank across Pueblo was an early First National Bank about which I touched off an e-mail riot sometime back, saying it had the first drive-in window in the state, while even admitting that Joe Sbragia’s FNB on Pyramid and Greenbrae, or an FNB in Las Vegas might have preceded this one by a month or two. Touchy, touchy… Rauhut’s Bakery occupied the southern part of that building, the best-smelling bank branch in Reno, later moving to their final location to the north, mentioned a paragraph or so above.

I think there was an beauty shop in what is now Miguel’s restaurant prior to Miguel Ribero but can’t pin that down. Miguel’s became a Reno classic, moving to a building across from the Peppermill for a time in the early 1970s, retaining the older location as the “Cove.” Before he passed away he beamed back to the old site; the food there better for extraterrestrials and mortals alike. A good hombre, Miguel was. We’ll end this tour at the Office Bar, now Mr. O’s, and cross Virginia Street next Saturday to Bill Stremmel’s new Volkswagen dealership, then catch lunch at Landrum’s – the Gazoo’s buying.

Have a good week, take a columnist to lunch and the family kayak down to the Truckee’s banks and enjoy our new park; congrats to my buddy Skip Hansen, named a Life Member of the Reno/Sparks Board of Realtors, and God bless America.

Strolling the east side of South Virginia

When last we met, we huddled over the shuffleboard table at Paul O’Gorman’s public house at South Virginia and Mt. Rose Streets, with a promise of walking north to our cars at California Avenue. I might have stopped too soon last weekend – several readers mentioned the early Safeway superstore in the “Val-U-Mart” Center across Mt. Rose Street, now an auto parts store [even later and presently Fed-Ex Office], and the early Eagle Thrifty Market, later a Raley’s, in the present Sports West gym; how could we forget the Cork Room and Spaughi’s? and the golf driving range south of Walts Drive bordering the early Vario’s, later Cicero’s, now Bricks, no apostrophe. Bob Helms and his group attempted for a time to build a hotel-resort on that block-deep site.

Now we can cross South Virginia, near the New York Deli not far from the present IHOP, and Warren’s Sav-Mor store, that would later move to Moana West. A slumpstone building next, housing a used-car lot, nearly across from the Continental Lodge, drab now but at one time invisible beneath a façade built around it to replicate a stagecoach, wheels, drover’s seat, luggage rack and all – looked like it should have been on the roof of the Liberty Belle. It was a Richard Graves creation, he the son of the Nugget’s Dick Graves, opened as a restaurant with chuck wagon vittles, whatever they are. It did well for many a year. Bill Stremmel built his Volkswagen dealership, Bugging out of his original West Second and West Street showroom. [Now, partly Lulou’s Restaurant; that cross-street came later.] Walking north across Pueblo Street, we find Applewhite Motors, notable only for their pre-FAirview (32) prefix phone number, 3-0000. We have to remember the late Ted Mattson’s little office on our path, Ted a fine Realtor, as were Ted’s office neighbors Gene LaTourette and the octogenarian Tom McKeown, now running a golf resort in Maui, the poor soul. The Lord smiles down on a few old Realtors. Walking north, Circus Potato Chip’s factory, next to my classmate Roy Walker’s Thriftee Seat Covers auto upholstery, and the venerable Landrum’s – with only seven stools, we strollers may have to eat our chili cheese omelettes in shifts.

Crossing Arroyo, well-nourished, we find what was once a White Spot grocery, replaced later by an early post-war retail building that housed a number of shops and restaurants – Martin Furs, Ma Rue Beauty Shop, Brookie’s Grill, and every guy in Reno’s favorite, Builders & Farmers Hardware. Upstairs was the greatest hardware store known to man, downstairs the most intricate model railroad ever built in Reno – few will ever forget the smell of artificial smoke puffing from the O-guage locos’ stacks, mixed with ozone from the big Lionel engines’ single-pole motors, plodding their cargo around a couple of hundred feet of track. What a store…

We’ll walk past Reno Frozen Foods north of the retail shops, later occupied by Flowers Distributing, which distributed not flowers but OJ and other cold stuff to grocers (kind of like Eagle Service a few blocks to the north during this time period, a mortgage broker, not a place to take your eagle every 5,000 miles for a tune-up.) On the corner, a Standard Station, and have I ever written that in our mid-century time period, a Standard Station was owned and operated by Standard Oil, and a Chevron Station a Standard Oil franchise? I didn’t think so. Standard closed this station, and did the only logical thing to do: park reefer trailers all over their lot to be used by the meat-packer next door. In a moment of civic pride, they flashed the underpinnings of the trailers, an only-in-Reno neighborhood cleanup display of solidarity.

Crossing Vassar Street, another service station, this a Signal. Further north on the block in a handsome two-story brick building with offices above, the Hansel & Gretel children’s apparel shop, I’ll write at some peril the largest then in Reno, and one destined to stay in business for many years hence (in Moana West). That South Virginia store became John and Janie Oliver’s waterbed store in years to follow and is now an adult bookstore. To the north, a Richfield station through the block to Center Street, later a drive-in, then yet another service station on the corner at Center Street, with a dozen names and operators.

We cross Center Street with some caution, because on this morning of our walk it’s still a two-way street with traffic entering from the north toward South Virginia. One of my favorite buildings in Reno was the classy brick Shoshone Coca-Cola bottling plant, the gleaming stainless steel bottling line visible in the huge south windows, a parade of pale green Coke bottles being squirted full and capped right before our eyes, boxed in wooden cases, and loaded onto the yellow, red and white delivery trucks in what’s now Restaurant Equipment and Supply Company’s parking lot A modern industrial miracle when the Farr family, nice people, opened it right after the war. Down the street across from Martin Street was and is Pangborn (then Pangborn & Douglas) CPAs, now the lair of my buddies David Morgan, Harry Parsons and Roberta, the Grinsell Who Stole Christmas, and onward to the Arctic Circle Drive-in at the corner. Onward to the next corner to the Q-ne-Q Diner – a stainless steel structure right out of a James Dean Hot August Night poster, where I had dozens of those new “hamburger” things with my dad right after the WWII while he met his buddies for coffee on Saturday mornings.

We see, from the Arctic Circle across LaRue Street, the neon “Barnes Radio” sign that would look so good in my backyard; Jim Barnes a radio pioneer in Reno who at one time had blue license plate W1, and also owned Barnes Cash Grocery on West Fourth Street. During the days when few locals had radios, Jim hooked up his set to loudspeakers and broadcast news of the day and prizefights to a crowd that assembled in front of the store on the Lincoln Highway. At the Cheney Street corner, we opine that the Giller family might have named their defunct ambulance service on that corner anything but “Aids Ambulance”, and a few steps to the north, the new Caravan Motel and its legendary cocktail lounge where if the walls could talk, I could write another book. And looking across the street, I’m reminded by my childhood friend Bob Busey that post-Heric’s Coffee Shop and pre-Delmar Station, was the Peppermint Lounge, where presumably one so inclined could do the Peppermint Twist. (Other landmarks I forgot last week were the El Borracho watering hole and the adjacent El Dorado Motel. Check out the incredible rockwork on both of them. They were all in my notes – who knows why not the column?)

Approaching the end of the walk lays Savage & Son Plumbing, Nevada contractor’s license #10, with its basement chock-full of oddball obsolete fittings and parts awaiting those goofy enough to want to buy and remodel old, picturesque homes with hundred-year old plumbing. [Savage is still hard at it on Wrondel Way – no basement anymore but their terrific inventory lives on.] Finally, Dick Dimond Dodge in the attractive, San Francisco-style brick building, [PICTURED ABOVE] later known briefly before its demise as Les Schwimley Motors. And lo, we cross South Virginia Street to the Lake Mansion, our tour completed.

Have a great week, a great Holiday season, and God bless America.

© RGJ December 2005