I 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 old 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..