May 26 • Making new friends, for life.. the story began

karlatwhitakerWell, we’ve lived in Reno almost two months now and I’ve started school at Mary S. Doten School down the hill from our house at 740 Ralston Street. My baby sister is almost out of her bassinet, and the little red-haired girl from next door has a new baby brother a few days ago. I don’t know this in 1946 but he’d go on to be a dentist in later life. But I’ll write about them later.

I was playing in Whitaker Park across the street from our house and a car drove up and a guy in a suit got out. He had a great big camera and asked if he could take my picture. I said, “Sure!” and he did, up against a tree on University Terrace with the Eichbush mansion in the background. He asked me where I lived and I pointed across Ralston Street to the first house  down from the corner. He said he’d bring me a picture, and then got back into his car.

A few days later there was a knock on our door just after Dad got home from work in Sparks. Dad went to the door. The man with the camera was standing there with an envelope. He started to give dad the envelope then both men let out a holler: “Bud!” “Karl!” They talked for a half an hour and Dad got him a beer and they kept talking. Dad finally  introduced “Bud” to Mom: “This is my childhood friend, Bud Loomis!” Dad said. “We were buddies before the war…” They talked and talked what seemed like all night.

It turned out that “Bud,” whose real name was E. Frandsen Loomis, graduated from Reno High like my dad did in 1931. Then he went to some school called “Stanford” and became a lawyer. He was a great fan of China, and went to China to be an advocate for American companies doing business in China.

But China got mad at the outside world, and in some year, maybe 1937, closed its borders to Westerners like Bud and threw them all out of China. Bud came home to Reno and brought a whole lot of Chinese stuff with him, Dad thought maybe “bootlegged,” whatever that meant. Bud’s love for China continued. He and his new wife Cebe took the old carriage house for the Reid mansion on Court Street and turned it into a Chinese house and they lived there. It was right across the Truckee River from some land that Bud’s grandfather Andrew Frandsen, a sheep raiser, owned. There were and still are some steps from the Court Street mansion criss-crossing the hill down to the carriage house.

LearBuildingAbout that time Bud’s mother, whose name was Anna Frandsen Loomis but we all called her “Dosh” later after the war, gave the land to her church and hired a Negro architect from Los Angeles to design a church. My family attended that church after the war, it was called the Christian Science Church, but my dad seldom went. I met the architect whose name was Paul Revere Williams when he visited the church in 1951 but this is only 1946 so I can write about that yet. Back to Mr. Frandsen:

Mr. Frandsen and his wife Cebe had all this Chinese stuff with nowhere to display it because the floods kept sweeping it out of their house. So they got some land from the Chinese people in Reno, for whom Bud acted as attorney, on the Truckee further east on Lake Street. He and Cebe would in a few years build a motel they’d call the “River House” with Chinese architecture and some artwork from China in every room. And they’d build a bar at the west end and call it the “Bundox,” a word he learned in China that meant “a remote place.” Bud and Cebe had more fun running the Bundox than he did being a lawyer so he almost got out of business.

Bud and Cebe had children, Drew (Andrew) and Del, who were about my age and we became good friends (they later had two younger sons). Del and Drew have both passed away, Drew killed in a theft of his automobile, but that was long after 1946 so I can’t write about it yet. Their cousins – Bud’s sister Mary Alice Blakely married Bill Blakely, another friend of Dad’s – were Jim, Janet and David Blakely who would also be my lifelong friends. His other sister Inez married Scoop Johnson an insurance man, and their kids also played with us.

But, this is about Bud and Cebe, and Bud’s mother Dosh. She built an apartment house further west on Riverside Drive, that Mr. Williams designed. And she ran the Frandsen Apartments on West Fourth Street that her dad built (he also built the Dania House, that later became the Reno Little Theater on Sierra Street.)

Anyway, they were my new friends, and Dad’s old friends, and became some of the closest friends of the family for many, many years. Dosh would take me in her 1951 Cadillac to get my driver’s license but that was long after 1946 as I write this.

And it’s all because of that picture that Mr. Loomis took of me, without even knowing who I was! Pretty neat, huh?

Come back once in a while and we’ll read some more about growing up in Reno. And the Blakely family and the Sala family and a lot of other stuff. But now I’ve got to walk down the hill to school. See ya.

May 18 • New wartime buildings all over the place


…how it all began

I’m back writing again, sure would like to learn how to “type” on a machine like a lady at our school has. School’s been going for a couple weeks now at Mary S. Doten elementary school a couple blocks from my house on Ralston Street.

The weather is really nice now, Dad says it’s the best time of year in Reno. Me and the little red-haired-girl next door have been playing in the park across the street. And there’s been a lot to see, big trucks going all over the place towing steel buildings around. Today they put one with a round roof on our playground at school. It’s called a “Quonset hut” – I think I’m spelling it right.

Dad says they’re all coming from a place downtown by Washoe General Hospital, an Army base called Sierra Army Depot. Apparently it was built by the Army right after World War II started, a few weeks after I was born. It was on a bunch of old meadows and fields between the hospital and the Truckee River. It grew fast until Quonsetthere were over 60 buildings there, mostly building made somewhere else out of steel and hauled in and bolted together. There were a lot of these Quonset huts like the one Mr. Bevelaqua and his two sons are hauling around on big trucks. Four of them wound up on East Fourth Street as a market, later it would be a good store for Twin City Surplus [below on the left]. There were square buildings also that got moved around Reno. Dad says if you drive east on the Lincoln Highway you can see a lot of them.

The Sierra Depot was built to fix Army cars and tanks and stuff that got wrecked in darrelthe war, and they would come to Reno on railcars. A lot of people worked there. They lived in a little village up east of the University of Nevada in little houses set in a circle that would be there 80 years later off Highland Avenue. Over 6,000 military trucks and tanks and stuff were hauled in and out of that base by the little brick hospital. After the war was was over last year the Army started to take it down immediately, and that’s why all these buildings are being moved every day. Two “barracks” – buildings where soldiers lived – were hauled to Ninth Street north of our home on Ralston Street to be a veterans’ center – Darrell Dunkel Hall they called it [above right]. That’s a funny name: “Dunkel”! They hauled a couple more to the corner of University Terrace and Washington Street for an apartment house, and one cut in half to the center of Whitaker Park for the kids to use for storing stuff and doing projects at the park. Apparently a lot of Reno parks got other halves of barracks. If one is a “half” why are two of them “halves” and not “halfs”? I’m having trouble learning how to write. So I’ll probably make a good reporter someday because my language is so crappy (I’m not supposed to say that word.)

TwinCityOne barracks went up to Little Italy that I wrote you about a month ago. It was for the Italian men that Mr. Ginocchio brought from Italy to work in the iron works on Chestnut Street. These little buildings went all over Reno and Sparks, all five of the elementary schools got one for extra classroom space, the University got quite a few of them. The hospital got a couple of the Quonset huts. In later years their first “computer,” whatever that is, would go in one of them. But this is only 1946 and I don’t know anything about “computers.”

Eventually, and it didn’t take long, all of the Army buildings on East Second Street were hauled to Reno and Sparks, and only two big Quonset huts were left – one would stay until at least 2017 beyond the hospital on the south side of East Second Street. That’s the last one.

Dad said the gates into the place were on East Second Street at Kirman Avenue, and the fencing ran all the way to a fence on the Kietzke farm. And the Army did a pretty good job of keeping it secret. There were no stories in the newspapers about it nor any photographs of it. It was a secret base right here in Reno, that 6,000 vehicles went through, but few knew anything about it.

And now the Bevelaquas are hauling it, building-by-building, all over! Of over 60 buildings, I’ve heard that over 45 of them were still around Reno and Sparks in 2000. But this is only 1946 so I won’t write about it. I can keep a secret also.

Aside from all that, life is good here on Ralston Street. The fireworks at Mackay Stadium are over for the summer but now there are football games. Dad likes 1946UNfootball and we’ve walked to a few games. Everybody is excited because the Wolf Pack’s new coach Jim Aiken is building a great team and St. Mary’s Gaels are coming to town. I got to go to the radio station last week and met Mr. Stoddard and Mr. Cafferty – he told me I could come in early some morning and listen to him when he went on the radio as “Cactus Tom.” I’ll tell you all about that soon.

There’s really a lot of things to write about coming up. Some new “diesel” train engines are starting to come through town and a new hotel is almost done right in the middle of downtown Reno built by a rancher named Mapes and his son, who Dad thinks is a hotshot punk. But Dad says the hotel will be the highest building in Nevada and will stay open for hundreds of years.

In my crystal ball, I can see Dad working on a giant haylift loading airplanes for cattle next winter in the snow, and a guy who owns a club downtown named Fitzgerald getting shot up by the railroad tracks. I’ll write about that stuff also. But now the little red-haired-girl next door wants to go across the street and swing in the park so I’m done today. See you soon….




May 7 • The Sunday in 1948 that downtown Reno burned

karlatwhitakerHow it all began…

Well, I’ve managed to get into the doghouse with a bunch of my friends because I haven’t been writing anything down lately. I’m on the horns of a dilemma, an expression my dad uses that I have no idea what he means. The problem is I want to write about some stuff that hasn’t happened yet but it’s still only the summer of 1946, I’m six years old and still live on Ralston Street. So I’ve decided to just make believe about some fires and floods and stuff happening about Reno and to hell with logic and chronology.

I keep thinking that I ought to pay attention to what’s happening around Reno after the war so that someday I could write about it in a newspaper (we have two newspapers in Reno, the Nevada State Journal that comes out in the morning and a separate paper the Reno Evening Gazette, an evening paper). Someday maybe I Pascuccicould get a job writing in one about stuff like this. And get some friends to help me; my friend who actually hadn’t been born in 1946 named Gene Pascucci (pictured) sent a little story about Mackay Stadium that I’m going to put up when I get this letter to you written. He always said he’d grow up to be a dentist…we’ll see!

Reno150Somebody said  then that when Reno turned 150 years old in 2018 there will be a big party. I probably won’t even be around then but I’d like to contribute something to the celebration if there is one.

One thing happened that was pretty historical, on August 15th of 1948 – Dad was mowing the front lawn with the push mower on this Sunday morning, Just before noon we could hear a lot of sirens downtown and a big plume of black smoke came from downtown, just east of Ralston Street. I knew it was a big fire, so I hopped on my bike and started toward downtown. Jimmy Doll and Johnny Molini were on their bikes too. We pedaled toward the smoke while every fire truck at the firehouse on Commercial Row came out toward the smoke. Boy, would I get in trouble for riding off when I got home. Maybe I won’t even go home…

It was Sunday morning, and people were getting out of church, all the churches were downtown then – St. Thomas Aquinas, and along Church Street west of Chestnut [Arlington]. Years later I’d count seven churches within two blocks of St. Thomas. And all had people in them, and all were getting out about the time the smoke started. By the time we got to the fire there were probably already 400 people there, according to the fire chief. And all were in the firemen’s way.

Santa_Fe_HotelThe fire was in a building on Lake Street across from the Toscano Hotel behind the Greyhound terminal, where my grandmother would arrive a couple times a year from her home in Petaluma to visit my mother. She actually liked my father better than she liked my mother and they used to sit on the porch of Ralston Street and drink wine and laugh ‘til it was pretty late (she was from Ireland, which explained that). But they’re another story for another day.

The fire was growing incredibly fast and soon enveloped the buildings across the alley south of the Santa Fe Hotel [artwork credit Roy Powers]. The buildings had been bought by the guy who was going to move the bus station across the alley from Center Street to Lake Street. The buildings were going to be torn down but the fire was doing a pretty good job of wrecking them right now. Then somebody hollered, “There’s dynamite in one of the buildings!” and the firemen and all the churchgoing folks started to run away. There was no dynamite, they’d learn later, but something did blow that building higher than a kite and scattered burning building and roofing material and metal and glass a block in every direction from the fire. It blew the windows out of the Mizpah Hotel across Lake Street, and some more buildings nearby. There were a lot of civilians injured by that, and I heard that St. Mary’s and Washoe General Hospitals called all their employees and doctors to work on Sunday, helping over two hundred people until well after midnight, with burns, broken bones from the walls falling, and cuts from the flying glass. The paper the next day gave their names and many were Chinese – probably from the Mandarin – or Basque, from the Santa Fe. Most of the herders were away on this summer day.

We were all skeered, ‘cause we knew we were in trouble for coming down here. There were a lot of rumors – one was that the fire chief had died. He was a nice guy, Mr. Evans, who let us kids climb all over the apparatus and slide down the pole on 1947 Fire ladderCommercial Row (I’m adding a picture of a brand-new fire truck Reno bought, an American LaFrance 1948 hook-and-ladder). But Mr. Evans was OK; the chief who died was Sparks Fire Department’s chief, Frank Hobson. And two other Reno firemen died when the explosion hit – Glen Davis and Earl Platt, who both still would have family around Reno 70 years later. Sparks had sent its two engines and a pumper to the fire to help, Sierra Pacific Power, the Red Cross, the Army Reserve, Nevada Bell and the airbase north of town all sent help also. And Isbell Construction and Southern Pacific Railroad sent some big cranes and Caterpillars to knock the brick walls of the buildings down.

The power company turned up all the pumps nearby to raise the water pressure which by then was falling all over town north of the Truckee. But the buildings kept burning, and the firemen worked mostly to save the Santa Fe Hotel across the alley and the Mandarin Café to the south. And succeeded. It took over five hours before the flames quit and it was overnight before anyone could even get close to the buildings.

When all the dust settled the next day, Monday, five people had died in the fire and some 270 had been treated, with 39 people admitted to the hospitals. Most of the downtown and the schools were closed. It would become known as the Lake Street Fire, or by some the Greyhound Fire, and would stand as the biggest fire in modern times that’s ever occurred in Reno in terms of injuries and fatalities, (there would be one nine years later* on Sierra Street that would do more property damage.) But now it’s only 1948 and I don’t know about that one yet.

The fire was put out; the burned-out buildings would become the site of the new FireMagnoliaGreyhound station, that building still there and now owned by Harrah’s Club. Frank Hobson’s flag-draped casket would pass in front of my dad’s office on A Street in Sparks in the hose bay of a Sparks pumper, and Johnny, Jimmy and I would ride our Schwinns back up the Ralston hill, where our parents, not knowing whether or not we’d perished in the fire, soundly spanked us for taking off to the fire. (I might add, as we had a couple weeks before, when the old downtown YMCA burned down, but that’s another story for another day!)

But it was pretty exciting. Come back once in a while, we’ll tell another story!

*Here’s the story of that fire that was nine years later