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 Street”). 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 Theater (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 street. [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 year 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