Feb. 5 2017
It begins in the summer of 1946, on the hill bounding Whitaker Park on its east side, Ralston Street, they called it, named for the banker for the Comstock “Billy” Ralston. I was five years old, but have a dim memory of walking out the door of our home that morning after we arrived from Richmond, California on the east SF Bay, where my dad spent the war building Liberty ships for Henry J. Kaiser.
This was a return to Reno for my dad, and an inauguration for my mother. I was the oldest child; a brother younger than I by two years had passed away a year ago, and my sister Merilynn was still in a bassinet.
740 Ralston was a little home built in what we thought was 1909, with a carriage house behind it, vestiges of horses and tack still hanging from its walls. It was a tiny house, two bedrooms and a bath, and the living room converted to a beauty shop by its former owner, a Mrs. Shermerhorn who was a stylist for the ladies whose husbands were off to war. We bought that house for $4,600 and that room was rapidly returned to a living room.
There was a strange warmth to the air that first morning, my first time not feeling the Bay Area dampness. And – great clarity to the air, with all of Reno lying down the hill, verdant with trees, two silver domes where the street started to rise to the park across the street. I’d soon learn that those domes were a part of the school that I’d start in a month – Mary S. Doten. I seldom drive past its twin “sister” – Mount Rose School on Arlington – without thinking of “Mary S.” as it came to be known. And I learned of the “sister” connection later, as will the reader. The rest of the landscape above the trees was unbroken. A new hotel would become visible in a couple of years, to be known as the Mapes Hotel. But on this morning, the only structure I remember above the trees was another hotel, the “El Cortez,” I’d learn later, and far in the distance a white building – the Veterans Hospital.
I early-on befriended a neighbor, our neighbor to the north on the corner of University Terrace, Dr. David, a retired University of Nevada professor who told me much about my new clime, in the weeks to come. He smoked a pipe, which I thought was pretty neat. I walked to him, seated on a bench in his backyard, and introduced myself. We talked. And talked. The earliest conversation I remember was of the park across the street – a large grassy area with a playground at the top of its grade, at University Terrace, and tennis courts beyond. “There used to be a school there,” he told me. “The Whitaker School.” Its full name was the Bishop Ozi Whitaker School for Girls, but who cared, on such a nice morning for such an unwieldy name. “Whitaker” it would be.
We’ll not dwell long on Whitaker Park much longer here, other than to write a couple things about it while I’m thinking about them (the reader will probably be maddened by these side-trips of mine, ‘til they become accustomed to them!) One thought is that after the school closed, the land beneath it – the park – reverted to the S.P. Railroad, who had originally owned it (I’m not sure that they ever went out of title, or donated the land to the Episcopal Church for Whitaker’s school.) That railroad, in the early 1920s, gave serious thought to putting a major hospital for railroad employees on the site, and came pretty close to doing it. But, they didn’t. Then, the Veterans Administration, in the thought triggered by my mention of seeing the VA Hospital in my early view, considered putting the newly-funded Vet’s hospital on the former Whitaker School site. They later opted to open the hospital in its present location. End of side trip…
Other vistas opened up on that first morning in Reno, and while I was taking them all in, a cute little red-haired girl appeared, my next-door-neighbor to the south, whom I revere to this day 70 years later as my oldest friend in Reno, and first girlfriend! We’ll meet her in these pages one of these days; many readers will know her…
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