Downtown Reno’s Nevada State Building

StateBuilding2I can hear y’all saying, “The Nevada State Building? We always called it just the State Building.’

And so you did, and so we still remember some pretty great times in that old workhorse in Powning Park, where the Pioneer Center is now. The tall two-story building was the DeLongchamps-designed Swiss army knife of public buildings. It came to be when the 1925 State Legislature decreed that the “Nevada Building,” its original name, should be built; its short-term justification was to house displays and exhibits for the upcoming 1927 Transcontinental Highway Exposition to be held in Reno. The longer-term usage was “for the permanent storage of state artifacts, records and photographs by the Nevada Historical Society.” Construction followed, and its cornerstone was laid on June 26, 1926.
The building was the hub of local social, cultural, civic and just-plain-fun lifestyle headquarters in downtown Reno, when there wasn’t much happening outside the downtown corridor. It had a broad, welcoming front porch a half-flight up, a configuration that would rightfully drive the Americans with Disabilities Act crazy in 2014. Entering the building you’d find a number of public businesses on either side of the open foyer, and the Nevada Historical Society, for which the building was ostensibly built, toward the rear of the main hall. On a lower level was the Nevada National Guard in a daylight basement opening toward Center Street.
The Washoe County Library under the hand of longtime librarian Darrell Cain occupied the ground floor with its own entrance from Center Street. It was a
nice library, airy and open and well-operated with a lot of senior and youth functions. I remember a Saturday morning reading program that was a close
competitor to the 14-cent movies in the Tower Theater a block to the south. No satellite locations then, no bookmobiles, but a dandy nevertheless!
The National Guard operated out of the lower level, and kept their fleet on Center Street, right “behind” the building. There were Jeeps, six-by-sixes, a low-boy and two Dodge Power Wagon ambulances like the ones on “M*A*S*H.” An occasional Studebaker amphibian and a half-track. The Guard eventually moved to the fairgrounds and eventually to Plumb Lane.

It was the scene of many USO functions and socials during the war. The second floor was a fan-shaped hall; the apex of the fan was the stage, a first=class
affair with professional theater lighting and curtain flys. It for years was the best theater in the state; the mid-20th-century equal of the later Pioneer Theater.
But it was used far beyond serious theater — there were probably two Huskie Haven dances a month on Friday nights — Huskie Haven, the social club of Reno High, then the only public high school in Reno (Note the spelling, no “Y”!). The university used the hall for their stage and choral productions. Private groups, such as Joe Battaglia’s Men of Renown, and that ain’t the hospital, sang there. There were more Messiahs performed there more often than the place could Handel. Warren Miller ski movies, yearly. The university’s Mackay Day and Winter Carnival shows, count on ’em. Dances galore. The place cooked everyweekend with something — what a place!
Some of the occupants over the years were the Nevada Historical Society, the Washoe County Library, the Washoe County Justice Court, the Reno Constable, the county coroner and the VFW. And the State Highway Department’s Reno office, the Nevada National Guard, the Boy Scouts, the Reno Chamber of Commerce, the opera society, Huskie Haven after it moved out of the old fire station on Center Street and the driver’s license division of the Department of Motor Vehicles and the draft board. A number of state and federal agricultural offices and the BLM. And a host of short-term occupancies such as the Olympic Organizing Committee for the 1960 Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley. And almost weekly were the University fraternity, sorority and Reno High dances and sock hops, and kids walking to the historical society from schools all over town.

Christmas of 1952 featured an unmanned TV camera in the lobby from newly-on-the-air KZTV, so kids could wish their friend “Merry Christmas” on TV!

A bunch of guys the other morning reminded me of the Merci train car on display in MerciTrainold Powning Park in 1949. The little boxcar was one of the 49 sent to
the United States by France, as a show of gratitude for the American charity to the starving French people after WWII. All the cars had gifts from the French — simple ones; a doll from a French 10-year-old to a like American girl — to each state in the Union and the District of Columbia — put together by Les Societe des Quarante Hommes et Huit Chevaux — “40 men and 8 horses” — the capacity of the WWI boxcars. The cool thing about the location of the State Building — was that we could walk there from any urban school in Reno. And did, frequently.
But dark clouds were growing over the Nevada State Building. In the early 1960s the civic mood was in favor of a convention center and the County Fair
and Recreation Board, later RSCVA, started to acquire land out south. The Centennial Coliseum was completed and to mollify the downtown gaming
interests the Pioneer Theater was approved. Its design was originally conceived by engineer Buckminster Fuller for covering radar antennae in Arctic climes, with acoustics to match, and would be painted gold. On April 19, 1965, the State Building’s ownership was transferred to Washoe County. The Nevada Historical Society was kicked out and moved up Virginia Street to the former St. Albert’s Church. And in early 1966, Nevada’s State Building in Reno, serving us proudly for almost exactly 40 years, one of the busiest buildings ever built and probably one of the most successfully conceived buildings in the state, was razed.

I miss it. Have a good week and God bless America!

© RGJ once upon a time..

August 5 – A hot time in the new town!

KF_headshotThe little kid’s first post

I thought Richmond had had some hot Bay Area summers until we moved to Reno last month…boyoboy, this town can get warm! I had been warm for a week already, and last night at three in the morning our neighbor, that grouchy old bastard Dr. Somebody from the University of Nevada was banging on our front door. Fortunately Dad was up playing his bagpipes so he was able to meet him at the door.

Dad went to Sears Roebuck on Sierra Street and bought a “swamp cooler” for our new house on Ralston Street, actually an old house built in 1902, new to us. I don’t QQQswamp coolerknow why they call it a swamp cooler and Dad didn’t either. But he and our next-door neighbor Mr. Sala went down the hill and came home with the thing, they said it cost almost forty dollars. It’s a big metal box with slots all over the sides that has some straw pads behind them, a fan to pull air into it, blow the air over the pads, which are soaked with water. Dad went to Mr. Horgan’s hardware store on Commercial Row and got a valve and some tubing to hook to the hose bibb out in front, to get water to flood the straw pads.

They put the output side into the little bedroom in the front of the house where my baby sister Meri’s bassinet was, that was Mrs. Shermerhorn’s beauty shop before Dad bought the house. They plugged in the contraption, let the water get the pads wet, and turned on the fan.

Air, first warm, then cool, and finally almost cold, came into the room, and within an hour the whole house was cool and comfortable. Mom thought it was too cold and beefed. Imagine that…

It was 100 degrees outside but nice inside. Dad said that most houses in Reno and Sparks, if they had “air conditioning” at all, had swamp coolers. Some had some permanently installed on the roof. They were a good way to cool a house. Some commercial buildings, not very many, had all-electric units with no water, but they were really expensive to buy and run. Mr. Sala, who ran the buildings and grounds at the University of Nevada down University Terrace, said that in a few years most buildings and even houses would have electric air conditioners.

AwningMost houses in Reno after the war had big eaves on them, to keep the sun out more. And Reno was a town of trees, big ones, that made for a lot of shade. And most buildings and many houses had awnings, heavy cotton, often quite colorful and striped, that stretched on a steel frame that could be cranked up or down depending on the time of day. They were almost a staple (pretty big word for a little kid, huh!) on most homes and buildings. A friend of Dad’s named Mr. Quimby made almost all of them and did quite well. He had a big white house on Mt. Rose Street, the south city limits of Reno, on the southwest corner of Nixon Avenue dead-end. By the “Mapes Mansion,” Dad said Mr. Quimby’s house was much nicer, that the Mapes Mansion was a piece of crap. But Dad knew Mr. Mapes. And Mom got mad when he used that word. I’ll probably come back and erase it or she’ll be furious.

My new school at the bottom of the Ralston hill, Mary S. Doten, was one of four that were almost the same, that actually had air conditioning. It was a system that went back to the 19th century, where air that had been trapped in the basement for quite DotenPostcarda while and cooled was blown up into the classrooms. Those “Four Sister,” or “Spanish Quartette” if you read Mr. Van Tilburg Clark’s book “City of Trembling Leaves,” were known as the four most comfortable buildings in Reno!

Our cars didn’t have any air conditioning then, except for some really expensive ones. Many drivers did, however, get a little baby swamp cooler for cars, that one rolled up a window to QQQairconditionerhold on the passenger side, filled with water and plugged in to the cigar lighter, which all cars had. They worked really well. Our family would take a 1952 Buick across the nation and back in the summer of 1953 with a swamp cooler, which would get the Buick so cold we had to turn it offQQQwaterbag once in a while even across the hot Midwest states. Almost everybody had one of them.

The best air conditioners on anything with tires were on Greyhound buses, that had their own little diesel engines to run them independent of the buses’ main diesels. I’m putting the lady readers to sleep…

Dad took me to the coldest place in Reno that summer, actually in Sparks, a little railroad town to Reno’s east. There, two railroads, the Mighty Southern Pacific and the Union Pacific formed a company called the Pacific Fruit Express and had made Icehousea building to make and store ice for the trains hauling produce – mostly from California to the east coast, but a little known fact Mr. Swart told Dad, was that trains hauling strawberries from the East Coast to California had superiority even over passenger trains, who had to go to a siding to let the strawberry train pass! Pretty neat, huh?

The railroads built a building out of concrete on the south side of the trainyard that we’ll tour someday. It had some gigantic refrigerator units to cool water in big 46-gallon tubs to make ice, then they’d store the big ice cubes in another part of the building. A train with produce from California would be spotted by the icehouse, and the cubes spread out on some long planks, where men, lots of men, many U of N students, off-duty firemen and townsfolk worked part time to slide the cubes to the hoppers on top of the cars and be dropped in to keep the stuff inside cold.

When the plant was running making ice it was Sierra Pacific’s largest customer. It had four wells to supply it with water. It was built in 1920, and worked until 1958; of course I don’t know that now because I’m only a little kid. Dad took me in with Mr.Swart and I froze my little butt off when it was 100 outside!karlatwhitaker


Anyway, Reno was really hot that summer but I still enjoy living here. Come back in a while and we’ll get on our bikes and ride somewhere again!

Mount Rose School artwork © Roy Powers, used courtesy of Jackie Powers