November 16 – a walk downtown with Dad

karlatwhitakerI’m off with Dad this Saturday morning to run some errands downtown. It’s a nice fall day, and since every store in Reno is within walking distance we drove the Dodge down Ralston hill to the Lincoln Highway, hung a left to Sierra Street, and found a parking place in front of the fish market in the Travelers Hotel building just south of Commercial Row. We got stopped for a couple minutes when a train was heading up the hill to Truckee and its smoke is still swirling around the street when we park. Dad says that the steam locomotives are only going to be around for a couple more years, and we’re already starting to see some of the newfangled “Diesel electric” locomotives on the shorter trains.

It’s easy to park on most of the streets downtown, because they “diagonal park,” SP_locoDad calls it, and just drive right up to the curb. Across Sierra Street the cars are going north toward the tracks, but there’s the same parking deal. The Traveler is one of the six or eight hotels that cater to the Basque sheepherders that moved to Reno before WWII. The hotels let them stay part of the year when they’re not out with the sheep, and take care of their mail and money. A lot of them don’t speak English yet so the hotelkeepers do some business for them. Our next-door neighbor Mr. Sala, the cute little red-head’s dad, is Basque. He works across the street at Brown-Milbery, a company that makes big motors for the mines.

Dad and I walk south on Sierra toward Second Street. He says we’ve got to go into the Pizorno family’s Dainty Cake Shop on the way back to get a cake Mom wants for her “bridge” party. Dad called it a “Hen” party and she got real mad. But I don’t think Dad cared. The Pizorno’s son Larry is my buddy. He lives down on Winter Street by the river and is nuttier than hell. Whoops. I can’t write that word. We stop at the light on Second Street, by J. C. Penney’s. It’s got a neat system for handling money – if somebody buys a pair of shoes or a sport coat, the clerk puts their $20 bill into a little can and drops it into a chute where compressed air takes it to the only cash register in the building. A few minutes later the can pops out of the tube with the change in it. Saves having cash all over the store!

Some of the sidewalks we’re on have a nifty feature: There’s a pattern of little round circles, each about two inches around, that reach in rows for quite a ways, like little round checkerboards. The circles are actually heavy glass, and let light into the basements of the buildings. And we’ve seen a couple sidewalk freight elevators open up – two big plates in the sidewalk that rise to let an elevator come to street level from the basement to load merchandise onto and take back down to the basements. Dad said to take a good look at them, because they wouldn’t be around much longer – the sidewalk lights or the elevators. And Mrs. Conrad, my teacher, would make me rewrite that last sentence: “the sidewalk lights NOR the elevators.” Grownups can be really picky about the way kids talk…

We cross Second Street and look into the windows of Sears Roebuck. Dad doesn’t know I know it, but down in their basement is a toy store that carries Red Ryder BB guns. One of these days I’m going to get one of those. Across the street Is the Emporium of Music, about the only musical instrument store in town. A BB gun from one side of the street, a kid-size banjo on the other – can life get any better? (Unless I can swing a J. C. Higgins bicycle with a speedometer from Monkey Wards, but that’s a reach – they’re almost $25!)

BoolsButlerWe walk past Bools & Butler, where all the real cowboys – “buckaroos” in northern Nevada – buy their tack. Then past the Sierra Bar, where Dad pokes his head in to see if any of his buddies are there. It’s got a real neat big ‘ol shelf behind the bar, with all the bottles in it and mirrors and stuff. I don’t know yet, BelleBackbarit’s only 1948 but I think that “back bar,” Dad called it, would wind up ‘way out on South Virginia Street at a bar called the Liberty Belle, when the State of Nevada turned 100 years old. But I don’t know anything about that now….

Past Montgomery Ward we walk – it’s got a cool sporting goods store in the basement with “J. C. Higgins” bikes and baseball mitts and stuff. And the “Five and dime” – National Dollar Store, a loft in the rear, huge stairwell, and squeaky floors like all good sundry stores should have. Someday it will be filled with western wear by Parker’s, but this is still pre-1950. Then to the corner, and Dad’s friends the Ginsburg family’s Home Furniture.

We’re on the corner now, Sierra and First Street, the Federal Outfitters across First Street on the corner. Dad’s buddy Jim Slingerland is building his insurance office to the west. Neither Dad nor I knew it this fine November Saturday morning in 1948, but nine years later a gas explosion would take out most of what we’re looking at right now, and Mr. Slingerland would be, er, sitting on the commode in that building and be blown clear off of it! Pretty funny, huh?

Actually, that gas explosion would burn every building between us and the Truckee River, and months later it would be determined that the gas came from a joint in Sierra Street when gas was hooked up to be taken south of the Truckee, with that BIAjoint being bum and slowly leaking for almost ten years. Across the intersection kitty-corner is Gray Reid Wright, which Dad calls the best department store in Reno. The Elks Home is next to it to the south to the Truckee; when that building was built it had a half-block courtyard with walkways and shade trees, a little park that went all the way to First Street. The Elks sold that half-block to Gray Reids so they could build a new store and move off the northwest corner of First and Virginia Street. But that was before WWII.

We’re going to cross Sierra Street now. I just read that Sierra Street, beyond the Truckee River Bridge to the south, is called Granite Street, but would soon be changed to South Sierra Street. But still have traffic going in both directions, north and south. And the Riverside Hotel, across the river, was going to tear down a bunch of old crappy buildings along Island Avenue and build a new section with a swimming pool on the Truckee! Prett neat. And I’ll catch hell the dickens for writing “crappy” but can’t think of a better word. We walk past the Sierra Bar, where Dad pokes his head in to see if any of his buddies are there. It’s got a real neat big ‘ol shelf behind the bar, with all the bottles in it and mirrors and stuff. I don’t know yet, it’s only 1948 but I think that “back bar,” Dad called it, would wind up ‘way out on South Virginia Street at a bar called the Liberty Belle, when the State of Nevada turned 100 years old. But I don’t know anything about that now….

Looking up Sierra Street on the east side I can see the Moulin Rouge dinner house, which Mr. Vasserot owned and just joined Mr. Patrucco, who was the bartender in the Riverside Corner Bar, and the two of them bought a restaurant a ways south of town called “Eugene’s.” Gilbert and Joe, their names were. Dad was going to the Riverside quite a bit, and to the Mapes Hotel after it opened a year ago, to start a new club for businessmen in Reno called the “Prospectors” – he took a lot of time on that project.

Y’know what? I’ve spent more time than I thought I would writing all this down, and I don’t even have any pictures back (I dropped the film from my Brownie Hawkeye off at Nevada Photo Service when we got back to the car) so I’m going to leave this project for another day to finish, as Mom’s calling us for dinner and then I want to listen to The Shadow on KOH radio before bed, so please come back in a few days. I’ve still got a lot of notes so we’ll finish our walk on Sierra Street!

photo credit: who knows??

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SOME NIFTY BUILDINGS…

linotype

Thomas Edison called the linotype the “eighth wonder of the world.”

The days grow shorter, the crisp of late autumn hangs over our early mornings; HAN, RTO, Artown and the rodeo are in the past, and the kids are back in school – (do modern schools have the permeating, almost pleasant odor of fresh wax and polish on the hardwood floors we returned to after summer vacations?)  I’ve learned that no one reads this column anyway on Labor Day or the Fourth of July weekends, so right now I’m having a little fun with my solitude, kidding on the keys, just the RG-J’s linotype operator and I. At the left is a linotype, for the younger readers. That’s how we set type and  printed stuff ‘til the 1960s…

            Many notes collected over the summer went into an “unsung treasures” file, most subtitled “bricks and stones” – buildings we’d pay an arm and leg to replicate today for our new office or home.  Reading this column any further creates the implied promise that you’ll go out and visit them on your own.   Study the workmanship on,

            …The Belmont Apartments at California and Arlington (once “Belmont BelmontApartmentsStreet”).  The old industrial buildings and hotels on East Fourth Street.  Incredibly complex masonry on so many homes in the Academy Heights area by the University – hobbit doors, columns, variegated colors of brick – Imperial Way, Codel, The Strand, Citadel, Seminary, College – park on any of those old streets and just take a fall walk.  And if you’re that far north, go a block or two west to “little Italy,” generally Washington, Ralston and Bell Streets north of Whitaker Park and check out the rococo interlocking of multicolored bricks and wood, the arches and fenestration (OK, OK: windows, sills, and lintels.) 

            Downtown now, and remember you made a promise to go: The Triune Building at Pine and Center, named by attorney Clel Georgetta for the Triune Ranch he grew up on in eastern Nevada – great brickwork – across from the Pioneer DimondDodgeTheater (can you implode a round building…?)  Check out the former Skaggs-Safeway market at Fifth and North Virginia, SE corner, and the old National Dollar Store/Parker’s downtown.  Under a half-century of bad paint jobs lies a wonderfully designed classic auto dealership at 500 South Virginia Street (left), reminiscent of many on San Francisco’s Van Ness Avenue auto row.  It was for many years the Dick Dimond Dodge and the Cyrillic or Hebrew letters on some of the blocks continue to elude me, and others I’ve asked.  Were it to be sandblasted back to its postwar red brick it could be one of the prettiest buildings in downtown Reno, and here you never even noticed it.

            In the Saturday morning treasures, rock division, are the old guardrails along the University Terrace curve by the Lambda Chi house, and the big stone mansion at the southwest corner of Keystone Avenue and Kings Row, built a hundred years ago by Chinese laborers – note the vents to free evil spirits on the roof crown – great rockwork, no spirits.  Right house, wrong lot: The Steinheimer, Hill, later Redfield house on Mt. Rose Street.  Picture that baby removed to the long-vacant bluff in the 800 block of Marsh Avenue overlooking Reno High and the Village Center, with extensive landscaping and a big matching rock-and-wrought iron fence along the Stremmel Homestreet.  [2017: it didn’t happen – a spaceship landed there…] Now that would be a showplace.  But – the granddaddy of rock, the sovereign of stone, is on Hillcrest, a block south of West Plumb Lane and a half-block west of South Virginia.  A drum roll please: the Alamo Lodge.  And remember, you’re on your honor to go there, and tell me if you’ve ever seen finer stone masonry in the world, including the lighthouse with its stained-glass lens and the little wishing well in the front yard.  And it’s unbelievable how few residents ever see it, and, sadly, that it can’t be relocated.  In the same architectural vein, check out the El Borracho lounge a few blocks to the north on South Virginia Street.  [And since much of that block has been cleaned up, one can actually see the Alamo looking past the Mark Twain Motel from South Virginia Street]

            While they’re not ornate masonry, we must be happy as connoisseurs of old structures that the ornate original entrances of sprawling Washoe Med and ditto St. Mary’s hospitals have both been mercifully preserved in spite of a dozen expansions of each facility.  Well done, trustees.  And we just have to include the former Mary Ann Nichols School on Pyramid Way’s 400-block, and the Robert Mitchell School on Prater, for their cool brickwork.

            Now – while you’re committed to a mandatory, self-guided tour of neat stuff to see, we’ll depart brick and stone for Lincoln logs – piles of them, we call it the Silver State Motel on West Fourth Street, built when the Lincoln Highway (40) ran in front of it [2017 – new gonzo].  Fifty years from now some drive-by-columnist will play the game I played five [17!] years ago with the El Reno Apartments (left) – how many were there? – When were they built? – Where are they now?  So, my counsel to some seven-year old who likes to write would be, go out and count them so you’ll be prepared when I retire [past perfect tense. At least for now..].  Soon they’ll likely be dismantled and rebuilt, maybe all over town like the El Reno apartments have been.  There was lots of history in that little “auto court,” as it was called.  And I can’t omit that my classmate, Pat Reynolds Ferraro Klos, the grand diva of the Historical Reno Preservation Association, grew up with her family in the Silver State Motel; her late parents, Rod and Peg owned them for many years.  [Sorry, young writers – they were demolished – no salvage – in 2004]

            A few more treasures, seldom visited: Oxbow Park and the Dickerson mansion, on Dickerson Road, where else; another is the University Farm, one of the last places around to take the little ones to see herds of sheep and cattle.  They’ve a great butcher shop there, known only to a few, and your child could take a little lamb to school (between two slices of bread)  [Several readers complained about “herds” of sheep. When writing a column, one economizes on words.  How ‘bout a “flock”, or a “band”?  Better?]

            Final unsung treasure for the weekend: train whistles (never horns.)  In a LawtonsToweryear or two we’ll miss them.  Does anyone else wish that they’d just left Lawton’s Resort alone?  A great swimmin’ hole, far better than what’s there west of town on the river now.  And while speaking of the river, one squawk: Kayakers must have better lobbyists that the Virginia Lake joggers and walkers – the Truckee is being turned to a rehearsal stage for World War III to accommodate kayaks, yet we can’t get more than one working drinking fountain at Virginia Lake

Go forth in safety and good cheer for the next three days; watch out for self-expressionists rejoining society from Burning Man, have your hat blocked at Peerless Cleaners, sign up for the Historic Preservation fall tours, floss, know where your children are, buy a home through a Realtor, and God bless America!

text © RGJ Labor Day, 2002

photo credit Dick Dimond Dodge, Jerry Fenwick; linotype machine, web; Lawton’s diving tower UNR Special Collections, others by author

 

 

You’re doing WHAT to the Liberty Belle?

Liberty BelleI’ve a fond recollection of a ’52 Chevy full of Reno High hotshots returning from an afternoon of skiing at Sky Tavern.  Far south of where U.S. 395 became South Virginia Street on the east side of the two-lane road was, well, a little red barn.  We needed nourishment…

            “Let’s stop here,” said one.  “Wasn’t this the Li’l Red Barn?” another asked.  “Yup,” said yet another.  (That watering hole had become the “Liberty Belle” a month or so earlier, on Nov. 20, 1958.)  We entered, ordered, and met Frank and Marshall Fey, whose grandfather had invented the Liberty Bell slot machine, that Bell with no “e”, and they had just moved from San Mateo, Cal. to open their new saloon.  We formed a friendship that has lasted for 48 years [2017 note: Let’s make that 59 years; sadly, Frank passed away a couple years ago].

BelleBackbar            I scribe this on a Tuesday [2006]for you to read on a Saturday, not knowing for sure whether or when we will satiate ourselves at the Belle again.  I do know that there will follow scores of other patrons’ pleasant recollections and a ton of ink about it in the next few months, and thus I’m moved to offer a few thoughts to the assembled Gazoo readers.

            By some measure I write of many old Reno establishments that have all converged over time under one roof – that roof itself supporting some of the eight horse-drawn wagons that the Feys acquired from Roy Stagg’s Roaring Camp, a downtown 1940s tourist draw in the now-vacant triangle bounded by Lake, East First and Second Streets.  Two heavy ore wagons near the building later arrived, one from Death Valley and the other from Mina.

          One hundred years minus 30 days ago, the city of San Francisco was ravaged by an earthquake and fire – from that maelstrom to Reno came the heavy bronze doors from Market Street’s Palace Hotel.  Marshall once quipped that it cost them $250 for the doors and two grand to adapt the Belle’s front entrance to utilize them.  We’ve all opened them a few times.  Underfoot, wooden planks form the decking of the entrance, not just any planks but wood taken from the entrance to the Federated Church on Virginia Street at Fifth when the church was razed to make room for parking at the new Sewell’s market in 1948.

            Inside the Belle and over the bar hang two chandeliers and three round glassSMFey globes – those hung for 80 years downtown at the Wine House until that venerable saloon was razed to make room for Harolds Club’s addition in 1960.  Dust them carefully; they’re pushing 125 years old.  From the Golden Hotel, following the 1962 fire came the life-size cocktail waitress-slot machines in the south dining room. 

            The back bar’s been around for a while also.  The rosewood and birch classic started life in the Owl Club downtown at the turn of the last century – some speculate that it came ‘round the horn from Europe but I can’t prove that – and following the repeal of prohibition was relocated to the Pastime Club on Sierra Street at Douglas Alley.  The Feys got it in 1964 and my recollection is that it was unveiled during Nevada’s Centennial celebration, after the ceiling was raised two feet to accommodate it.  Somewhat noteworthy was Walt Tripp’s early frustration in locating a letter font in mirror image to make engraved signs with, enabling a patron at the bar to read in the mirror “Winchester Model 94” or whatever above the rifles displayed over the bar.  Walt’s son Warren, now the honcho of Tripp Plastics, reports that the Liberty Belle’s signs were the only use that mirror image font ever saw.

            The list goes on – ephemera from Becker’s Bar on North Virginia, later the site of Southworth’s Cigar Store, antique street lamps from downtown Reno in the parking lot, and a gas lamp brought down from Virginia City.  Here’s a note to fit somewhere in this yarn: Behind the original bar in the years before that back bar was installed, were hooks to hang beer mugs from.  Frequent customers had their own time card on a rack by the front door, and after they “clocked in” on an antique time clock 16 times they were accorded their own personalized steins to display behind the bar.

            In 1967 the south dining room of the building was added and served for a couple of years – at least during the summers – as the Bella Union Theater.  Some of my own greatest memories of Liberty Belle visits were to the Bella Union.  There was little in Reno in the late 1960s to compare with a warm summer night at that theater – a production of “The Drunkard” with local talent, using that term judiciously.  “He tied her to the railroad tracks” the narrator would announce as the villain twirled his moustache, the audience gasped and Barney Barnard of Hatton’s Mens Wear rumbled an ominous chord on the piano (Hal Goodwin of Kentile Floors played the banjo).  The show ended in an “olio” – a grainy black and white movie with song lyrics, follow the bouncing ball as Barney and Hal played and all sang.  Two nights a week at the Liberty Belle, repeated on another two later in the week at the Bucket of Blood in Virginia City, all summer long, and life was good.

            I’ve got more notes but no space, so I’m probably not done as yet.  I thank Geno Oliver, who spent three decades behind the Liberty Belle’s plank, for passing on this morning’s column hed which was uttered by an anonymous customer last week. [And made its way onto the covers of thousands of my books!]

 

 

            We’ll end this visit to the Belle as we always do, with a chocolate sundae in aAlice shiny bowl served up by a pretty lady named Alice in a black skirt, a crisp black blouse and a perpetual smile [and in 2017, we still see Alice at Simon’s on Lakeside Drive! She’s pictured to the right…>>>>]  Thanks Marshall, Frank and Jeff Fey, Jeff Courson, Alice, Geno and all hands for what seems like a lifetime of pleasant memories, ale and prime rib – collectively you’re still a municipal treasure.

            Have a good week, and God bless America.

Text © RGJ March 2006

[Note: The Belle closed forever the Friday before this column ran, on St. Patrick’s Day, 2006. We were there for lunch…]

Liberty Belle artwork by Roy Powers, used here courtesy of Jackie Powers – Ad featuring Fey brothers ©  from Sierra Magazine          1961- photo of Alice, from KB file

 

 

November 5 – Selling houses after WWII

KitCarsonHotelWell, we got through Nevada Day and Hallowe’en so I’ll write a little more. I should mention here that some grownups got on my case because they couldn’t find some of the stuff I’ve written in the past, so I’ll make it easy. Below these writings on the last sheet of paper I print ‘a writer’s vignette’ and if you ‘click’ on that, whatever that means in 1947, all my older stuff will come up together and you can just scroll around, find something you want to read if there’s anything like that here, and enjoy. There’s also a ‘search box’ on the bottom of my binder paper and if you write something you want to read about in the search box and ‘click’ on it, all the similar stuff may open in the binder.

Grownups have asked me why last Super Bowl Sunday when I started writing, or for that matter a decade ago when I ‘posted’ all these stories, why I didn’t do a better job of cataloguing and indexing my ramblings. The simple answer is that I’m only six years old and didn’t know any better, plus I didn’t expect it to last very long anyway. If you’re looking for something I’ve written about in the Gazoo or here or any other site email me and I’ll see if I can find anything to help you. Email, whatever that is, is kfbreckenridge@live.com  .

Anyhow, this morning I’m writing about the job that Dad got when he got back to Reno after WWII, working for Charles Skipper as a real estate man. (He worked in a shipyard in Richmond, where I spent the first five years of my life.) Now I’m six, going to Mary S. Doten School and live on Ralston Street across from Whitaker Park.

Dad takes me on Saturday mornings to what his friends call the ‘multiple listing QneQservice.’ They meet at a little diner on South Virginia and Stewart Street, and trade descriptions of the new houses that they’ve ‘listed’ this past week. The number of bedrooms, whether it has a sewer or a septic tank, two bathrooms on some of the bigger ones but not too many houses in Reno or Sparks have more than one bathroom . They put whether the houses have coal or oil heat, and a few of the newer ones in Sparks with gas heat from the gas retort at East Sixth and Alameda Street (in a few years they’d change that to ‘North Wells Avenue.’) The men told each other how to show the house, where the key was hidden, and what furniture or automobiles went with the home. A lot of houses were sold ‘furnished’ and cars frequently were part of the sale. They’d write down what ‘escrow company’ the owners wanted to use. And who owned the house – in 1946 most homes were owned by ‘John Doe et ux’, for the wives’ names were seldom on the homes’ titles (nor the loans!)

PolaroidDad bought a brand-new camera for his real estate work, called a ‘Polaroid’ that would make a picture of a house for his friends. One of their problem was making enough copies of the information, because there were probably 25 real estate men in town and a good typewriter would only make about six or seven carbon copies, so they had to type these ‘listings’ two or three times. Dad’s new Polaroid camera was stolen in 1948, but the guy who stole it wasn’t too smart and hocked it in San Francisco. His problem was that there were so few Polaroid cameras in existence this one stood out to the cops in San Francisco so they caught the thief and Dad got his camera back.

I made a lot of friends at these ‘multiple listing’ meetings, the children of the real estate men – John and Jimmy Gibbons’ mom was a real estate lady, one of the few inJimGibbons Reno or Sparks, and had to change her name from Matilda to Mat Gibbons so people wouldn’t know that they were calling a woman broker. I got Jimmy’s picture in here somewhere.  In the same token Marilyn Harvout, who drove here big sedan by Braille, used ‘Merlyn’ on her signs. My dad’s number was 9195. In NewUnderwoodabout 60 more years I’d give that old phone to my friend Emerson Marcus. Emerson sent me a picture of that phone taken in 2017 with an old typewriter I got in a hock shop in Oakland. (Emerson, of course, wouldn’t even be born for about 50 more years!)

Another little friend was Dee Garrett, whose dad Bill Garrett was a real estate man. \And one of Dad’s best buddies Gene LaTourette had a son John. We all used to play together while our fathers met at the Q-ne-Q, on the front lawn of the Kit Carson Hotel across Virginia Street, which I understand later became the parking lot for a hotel called the Ponderosa, and even later a strip shopping center. (The Kit Carson Hotel is pictured above)

This might be more than anyone wants to read about the real estate business, but unless somebody objects too much I’ll write on another day about all the lady real estate agents in Reno and Sparks getting together in the ‘Trocadero Room’ of a new hotel downtown called the El Cortez, the tallest hotel in Nevada right now. They ElCortezgathered to learn how to survive in the real estate business and get along with men like George Probasco, Wes Weichman, the Novelly brothers and the Ramsay brothers who were building the new houses, and the banks and savings and loans where people got their money to buy the houses. Right now it’s hard for a woman to stay in the real estate business so a trainload of ladies came up to Reno to meet and show them how to get along. I’ll ignore what Dad said about that, or what Mom said about Dad. In a few years they’d name their group the ‘Womens Coucil of Realtors.’ But not now yet.

Speaking of Dad, he says I’m going to get my tiny ass in a sling, whatever that means, for not telling people where I’m stealing these pictures for this journal. Most of the photos you see are from the Nevada Historical Society, the one of the Kit Carson Hotel is supposedly from the University of Nevada Special Collections, although it’s been on calendars and documents for many  years. The painting of the Q-ne-Q is by Hilda (Hildegard) Herz, of the Herz Jewelers family, who was quite an accomplished artist in her day. I’ve written about her before, and am proud to include her art in this column.

And that pretty much wears me out for now. Soon I’ll write of the ladies with the furSuffragettes coats, feather boas and hatchets gathering at the Troc to show the men who’s boss! Come back and read that, or whatever comes to my mind next….

 

 

Of Hobos, Tigers and Leprechauns

leprachaunladyThe local gentry were all atwitter when, on the southwest corner of South Virginia and Gentry Way arose a rough-hewn timber building with a rusty corrugated iron penstock ten feet in diameter beneath a wooden water tower, framing the entrance to a building that appeared to be a hundred years old and belonging better in Norden on Donner Summit or along the Carson & Colorado line below Mt. Whitney. Entering through that giant iron duct was a dining room, and another and another – timber walls and ceiling, industrial lanterns over the tables, strap iron hinges, brake levers, glowing red and green switch lights and brass-faced gauges. Servers in what approximated railroad garb, engineers’ hats and men in conductor livery. Sort of dark, a neat place for a burger and beer.

            “What the heck are they building?” asked the townsfolk. “It looks like a crash pad for hobos. Like a Hobo Junction!” And that’s exactly what it was – Hobo Junction – a new watering hole on South Virginia, joining Marie Callender’s a block to the south and Posey Butterfield’s – to later become the Rapscallion in 1977  – on Wells Avenue. On September 8th of 1974 the Junction’s doors were opened and it immediately joined the ranks of places to dine or hang out after work. A nice meeting room to the north received a lot of use from many groups seeking a new place with some personality, and the Hobo had it. (The sobriquet “hobo,” by the way, might be derived from Hoboken, New Jersey, said by some to be traditional home for these gentlemen of the ribbons of steel.)

            But one night the train departed Virginia and  Gentry and went chugging off into the night, a six-wheel driver pulling a hundred coaches from end to end, and the Hobo’s heavy timber door was padlocked. My recollection is that it was sort of abrupt and a few Toastmasters’ and Rotary Clubs were left scrambling for a place to meet. But fear not, for more men descended on the Hobo’s shell, stripped the water tank, yanked off the pipe that framed the doorway and generally took the rugged building into the 20th Century. Repainted, re-signed and looking pretty good.

            Some newer doors swung open in 1979, and we congregated in a brighter main room, with the trappings of early railroading gonzo and replaced by what one might find in a post-war aircraft hangar – old wooden propellers on the walls, maps, runway beacons, oil cans with products plainly for aircraft engines, ashtrays (remember them?) crafted from aircraft engine pistons, and pictures, pictures, pictures – of cool old airplanes.

            We went from a train station to a hangar. And why a hangar, you ask? Well, it’s really simple – a bunch of retired Flying Tiger pilots – the combat pilots, not the cargo guys that came later – were sitting around LAX as the story goes and said, “Why, shucks, we could open a restaurant, how tough could that be?” And they did open, starting in about 1962, a number of joints that grew to 40 in their heyday, serving seafood as their specialty. What did these retired Tiger pilots name them? Well, “Hungry Tiger,” of course. And I’m not sure that they said “shucks” but this is a family column.

            And the fine diners of Reno welcomed the Hungry Tiger, as they did the Hobo Junction. The place thrived, as I recall more for lunch and dinner than breakfast. But it was a good restaurant, flying high on our list.

            But – as so many restaurants and airmen do, the men of the Flying Tigers came in high, hot, and overshot. The chain started running rough and they feathered a few non-producing engines, Reno’s being one of them, and in 1985 declared a MayDay = Emergency in Progress! – and the Hungry Tiger on South Virginia was parked, chocked and dark. Too bad; like so many others – Houlihan’s and Victoria Station come to mind, great food but doomed to my Faded Menus list by bum management.

            So – the Hobo and the Tiger sat wanting a new operation, and in what I think was 1986 – accounts vary – Tim, Mike and Shaun Wiltshire sprinkled stardust from the Emerald Isle onto the darkened building, and through magic a leprechaun in a green suit appeared in the entry lobby playing the Old Songs on a grand piano, and Famous Murphy’s Oyster Bar & Grill was born. I can’t say enough good about the Murph – great food and salad bar, nice people helping us out, and a downstairs lounge that raised the bar on happy hours in this burg as no other public house has ever done. And it thrived for 20 years, coming as close as any restaurant has ever come in our town to a singular local favorite.

            But as all Irish songs must, it ended on a low key. I don’t know what happened – and wouldn’t ask Mike if I saw him – but the leprechaun at the baby grand joined the loco engineer in the Hobo and the hot stick in the Tiger, and all disappeared down Virginia Street. That great old building with so many memories for all of us, was again dark. Were I a betting man and permitted to scribe an opinion on these pages, I’d say that it was partially doomed by an architectural element that the Wiltshires inherited and had to make the best of – it suffered from an entry door at the top of a long uphill ramp, far removed from the parking lot, and a reception lobby with a half-flight of stairs down to the main dining room to the north or the classy lounge to the south. (It also had an entry, a half-flight up to the parking area.) That arrangement puzzled me from the day the Hobo opened.

            But all that speculation now written, the best I can say, and I think the Gazoo readers join me, is, thanks to the Wiltshires for a score of years of good food, spirits and friendship. And the column now ends with these simple words: Thanks for reading!

Text © RGJ April 2015

Two msgs arrived shortly after this was posted:

From Phyllis Wetsel:   “This was fun to read (again) because there has never been anything (in Reno) to replace what it was like to go there, especially the lounge downstairs.” Thanks, Phyllis!
From another reader:    “Where’s the ‘God bless America’?”  The RGJ was on a rampage when this was published, and didn’t want God, Christmas nor Easter to sully their pages. Ergo, no “God bless America” ’til editor Brett McGinness fixed them.