When you’re up to your, er, waist in alligators, it’s sometimes hard to remember that the objective was to drain the swamp. Such was the dilemma a fortnight ago when my focus was on two new downtown bridges we read of last week right here – the Sierra Street and Lake Street bridges. But as I pored over the microfiche in the mossy stone-lined torch-lit chamber reserved for me five floors below the Nevada Historical Society on North Virginia Street, a dozen other tempting topics beckoned, and this week those hen-scratched notes become a column
The towns’ old swimming holes loomed large. We alluded to the original Idlewild Pool last week, and here I wrote of the concrete-lined pool in the present pool’s location that was dedicated in 1937. The city parks department in the years prior to 1937 maintained the west pond of Idlewild Park created ten years earlier, with rudimentary creature comforts like changing rooms and a snack bar. (The present 50-yard pool, with an adjoining kiddie pool, replaced the 1937 pool in the early 1970s.)
I found a great article about Reno Hot Springs, penned by now-RGJ editor Peggy Santoro a decade ago. “Reno Hot” as we called it was a bit of a challenge for kids on our Schwinns, being a mile or so up the Mt. Rose highway. But, on the days that we could score a ride from one of our parents, it was a favorite, with a big warm pool, a good snack bar and a vista all the way out to Pleasant Valley to the south. On the topic of that pool I’ll mention the miniscule rock house still standing all by its lonesome across the Mt. Rose highway south of Summit Mall: That’s occasionally cited as a last vestige of Reno Hot Springs. The straight story is that it’s a leftover from the Herz Hot Springs – a resort that went away in the 1930s, a hoot-and-a-holler east of Reno Hot.
Peggy’s yarn evoked many pleasant memories, from dog-paddling with Marcie Herz as twirps later to the high-dive boards with Rusty Crook, which mercifully went away in what most agree were the mid-1970s (the boards, not Rusty). Three meters off the water, they were, almost ten feet for us Yankees. Lawton’s pool, several miles to the west on the Truckee, had boards before my lifetime and replaced them with a tower, not only one- and three-meter platforms, but a 10-meter, reminiscent of Butch Cassidy’s famous line, “Can’t swim? Don’t worry; the fall will kill you!” Lawton’s was probably the most pleasant pool in Reno, when combined with its hot tubs to the east, rooms, and excellent dinner for grownups, poolside on warm summer evenings, and the Mighty Southern Pacific’s choo-choo trains plying the tracks next to it – which we kids enjoyed but in reality probably doomed both Lawton’s and its present forlorn cedar River Inn replacement.
The Mark Twain Motel came along, across South Virginia from Park Lane, with a great pool available to the public with the added amenity of a cover, ergo a year-round pool. The other year-rounder was another favorite, the Moana plunge on Moana Lane east of the ballpark (it’s frustrating to cite a landmark as a location for a bygone building, only to realize that the landmark’s gone also!) Moana plunge or Moana Springs was on the present soccer fields west of Baker Lane, site of the bygone ballpark. There. The Berrum family brought us a lotta laughs for a hundred years out there. If you liked diving off the three-meter boards around town, then you’d have loved the infamous rope at Moana, where one could take the rope to the ceiling and jump while emitting one’s best Saturday-morning Tower Theater Edgar Rice Burroughs “Tarzan” yell and bailing off, hopefully to land in the pool and not in the snack bar, the locker room or on your best friend in the pool. How did we ever reach adulthood, one wonders…?
The Railroaders had Deer Park, one of the last public structures completed after the beginning of WWII, and still immaculately maintained by the City of Sparks. I’ll be reminded of others – the YMCAs, downtown until 1953 then on Foster Drive after 1955. Baker’s, mentioned in the Nevada White Hats yarn a month ago. The prohibited and banned swimming holes, like Highland Park reservoir, Virginia Lake, Charlie Mape’s home on Mt. Rose Street, the ditches (you ain’t lived ‘til you take an inner tube down the Orr Ditch under Ralston Street a half-block from my boyhood home!) The city fathers (no mothers then) voted in 1947 to create a pond by the Orr Ditch at Whitaker Park – “No, guys; we’re trying to keep kids out of the ditches…” That idea sunk, no pun intended.
A few leftover hen-scratches: How many knew that in August of 1923 a bath house and “beach” was built on the river at Belle Isle? (Old-timers know that Belle Isle is the island between the two bridges on Arlington Avenue.) Or that in the mid-1920s Reno’s earliest incandescent, outdoor electrical lights were first introduced in Idlewild Park? Or that the City had bought 300 bathing suits to rent to patrons of the new Idlewild Pool? The August 14, 1937 Reno Evening Gazette was silent as to whether bathing suits were optional; we tend to think that they were obligatory.
And now comes the pièce de résistance of the whole column, if such there be: Reno mayor John Cooper and Sen. Pat McCarran, misspelled in the Gazette, imagine that, were dedicating the new 1937 Municipal Pool in long-winded and flowery oratory, when a 12-year-old bathing beauty of unchronicled name decided to hell with all that, dove in, and became the first lady to swim in the new pool. The children who followed would pay a nickel to swim, their parents a quarter, thanks for reading, and God bless America!
© RGJ 2015