I’ve never heard the term “suffragette” associated with the Twentieth Century Club, but any ladies’ club founded in 1896 for the purpose of improving the lifestyle of a community and that hosted Susan B. Anthony as an early speaker, probably wasn’t organized to bake cookies.
The Twentieth Century Club, which will henceforth this Sunday morning be referred to as “20CC” to conserve space, boasted nearly 1,000 members at the turn of the last century [OK, 1899 > 1901!]. Noteworthy among those founding members, named in a 1903 Reno Evening Gazette were three educators – Libby Booth, Mary S. Doten, and Echo Loder, the latter who would be the final surviving charter member of the club. And very early in the club’s existence, they spearheaded two community projects, one the opening the first circulating library in the state, the precursor to the Nevada State Library, and the second forming Reno’s first public kindergarten. That would evolve into the Babcock Memorial Kindergarten, named for 20CC member Elizabeth Babcock. That school operated until 1946 at the corner of West Sixth and West Streets.
In 1906 the club incorporated and the membership elected to build its first building, a two-story frame affair on the corner of Arlington, then known as Chestnut Street, and West First Streets. I – along with a dozen other scribes or historians – have labored under the impression that that 20CC clubhouse building burned even although no fire ever shows up in club records. I discovered in unrelated research in the May 18, 1927 Nevada State Journal that that building did indeed burn on May 17, but it had been acquired by the Scottish Rite Masons a year before. That site remains vacant and is now a parking lot for St. Thomas Aquinas Church.
The club completed the fine new building in October of 1925 at 335 West First Street, that building just west of their earlier building. They added on to it in 1930. It was designed by a German named Fred Schadler, who emigrated to San Francisco to study architecture, then to Reno where he designed some other buildings, notably the Elks’ Home on Sierra Street that burned in 1957. The Elks’ building originally opened to the north onto a courtyard area toward West First Street. That courtyard was later removed to accommodate the Grey Reid, Wright Department Store and the entry turned toward Sierra Street. The original front (north) elevation of the Elks’ Home and the present 20CC building’s river elevation shared a familial appearance (few remember the Elks’ entrance now).
One of the nicest halls in Reno!
The 20CC was a grand building inside – reminiscent of a lobby in a classic old San Francisco hotel. A mix of overstuffed furniture alongside upholstered rattan chairs and tables alongside wrought iron pieces; torchieres abounding on the walls, ornate chandeliers and heavy sand-filled granite ashtrays. An entry lobby the width of the building was separated from the main hall by a glazed window-wall with three wide doorways. It featured rich hardwood flooring and a small stage with a fairly good system of overhead theater lighting. There was a kitchen; small but commodious enough to enable luncheons to be prepared in the hall. The 20CC was arguably the classiest hall in town in the early half of the 20th century through the 1960s for wedding receptions, fashion shows, university and high school proms and private luncheons and dinners. Many of this morning’s readers got their first look the interior of the club at a “JA” dance – a teenage boy’s worst nightmare was the twice-annual arrival of the engraved invitation to the dreaded Junior Assembly, a cultured debutante ball in a town and time when a cotillion competed for high-school attendance with a tractor-pull at the Washoe County Fair. But buy our dates corsages, we did; then waltzed them around the 20CC’s main hall for the proscribed 10 segments of sophomoric Terpsichore and whisked ‘em off to the Mapes Coffee Shop for apple pie and a shake on the way to park at Windy Hill.
The 20CC’s membership declined during the 1970s and the club’s building went on the block for $350,000 in 1980. My Sigma Nu brother and barrister John White now owns the building and treats it with the pride and reverence it deserves – John changed its use to offices, but preserved Schadler’s original character of the building. (Except for the club’s official color theme, described in an Oct. 31, 1906 Nevada State Journal as green and pink. John stood back from that treatment, as he did from the club’s official flower, the pink rosebud. Awwww…)
But in spite of all that, it remains a beautiful and an historic building – in past columns I’ve dubbed the Christian Science Church/Lear Theater the “Treasure on the Truckee”, and the Twentieth Century Club structure deserves to be accorded the status of another downtown treasure. Check it out on your next Artown visit, just across the river from Belle Isle (I’m bound and determined to keep that beautiful original name of the island in the Truckee.)
I thank former RGJ reporters Patrick O’Driscoll and Betty Malmgren for their 1980s accounts of the club; the Nevada Historical Society archives, and Historic Reno Preservation Society’s newsletter Footprints for resources contributing to this yarn.
© RGJ July 2006