“You’ve walked all over town in past columns, why don’t the Gazoo readers walk East Fourth Street?” Or so a few readers wrote.
(This is a re-run of an old column….)
It’s mostly because the RG-J recently carried an excellent three-issue overview of East Fourth with more ink and graphics than I could ever hope to squeeze out of the real estate editor. This piece started as a commentary on old signs, but while riding around with a notepad some quirky thoughts of East Fourth in Reno and B Street – Victorian Way – in Sparks still beckoned to be heard, so we’ll mix up the two themes this morning.
To the ongoing horror of friends, the two neon signs that most interest me while I’m enjoying an ale or three at the Great Basin Brewpub in Sparks are first, the Pony Express Motel sign at the Prater/Victorian “Y”, a late-1940s product of Pappy Smith’s (Harolds Club) and Young Electric Sign’s imaginations. I started to write that it was the first “motion” neon sign in town – (the arrows being shot over Prater Way from the car wash, from the Indians’ bows) – but I now spell-check out any superlatives, like first, oldest, highest, etc. And “railroad” or “architect” for that matter.
It’s much too big to steal, but the second sign I lust after is more portable, in front of the old Park Motel on Prater Way; the Phillip Morris-type bellboy with the once-waving arm that used to beckon travelers into the “motor lodge.” It’s a creation that would blow the CC&Rs of the God-forsaken desert to smithereens if I lit it up in my backyard, waving at the architectural committee. No chance. Note the other remaining motor hotel signs on East Fourth – the Sandman, with the tires on the prewar sedan that once appeared to revolve. And the classic neon art style, with no name that I know of attributed to it, on Everybody’s Inn and Alejo’s motels’ signs, and a few others – hopefully they will all be saved, rehabilitated and displayed somewhere as signs of a bygone era, no pun intended.
Check out the architecture on East Fourth – the brick patterns in the Alturas Hotel, J.R. Bradley Company, the buildings that flourished in the early postwar period like Siri’s Restaurant, Reno Mattress and some of the retail stores. Replicating the rococo brickwork style in some of those buildings today would cost a fortune. And Ernie’s Flying “A” truck stop, we called it then, now signed as RSC Something-or-other: The fluted column-tower signature of Flying “A” stations has long since been all but removed from this garage, but look close and you can easily detect a close resemblance to Landrum’s Café architecture on South Virginia – a very prevalent commercial style of a prewar period. (Ernie’s was, with McKinnon & Hubbard on West Fourth Street, the forerunner of Boomtown, the Alamo and Sierra Sid’s to old U.S. Highway 40 truckers.) And, if I’m permitted to editorialize, hats off to my old buddy Steve Scolari, whose family business Ray Heating – now RHP – has been on East Fourth for 70-plus years. Faced with the need to expand, he turned the main office building facing East Fourth Street into a great-looking little office, yet retained its post-war nuance, then upgraded a half-dozen industrial buildings on the street and railroad land to the south into very serviceable first-class modern shops, preserving the workforce and tax base in the East Fourth corridor. A gutty move, but a lead that more property owners in areas like East Fourth and South Wells Avenue should follow. And progressive city management, not hell-bent on plowing two or three hundred million dollars into a hole in the ground [the railroad trench!], should offer tax incentives for this “infill” redevelopment like other cities do. End of tirade.
Evidence of a bygone retail presence on East Fourth is Windy Moon Quilts on Morrill Avenue, the only quilt shop in town with a drive-up window. Why? ‘Cuz it once was a busy and highly profitable branch of First National Bank, that’s why. [In a later column I alluded to the Windy Moon moving to the former Mary Ann Nichols School on Pyramid Way in Sparks (pictured at the right), and some dude wrote the paper deriding my “poor research.” In reality, he was right; it’s still in the Morrill Avenue location as well as the former school. But to hell with thanking me for the plug…}
We couldn’t tour East Fourth without stopping at the architecturally resplendent Tap ‘n Tavern, where that’s not sawdust on the floor, but last night’s furniture, and then mosey on down Highway 40 to Casale’s Half-way Club for world-class pizza, and if Mama Stempeck ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. What a great lady… (pictured at left, photo courtesy Guy Clifton)
Many notes remain and readers will kick in a few more, so we’ll probably go back and finish this tour soon. I detected a slight deterrent to development on East Fourth while driving, starting, stopping, backing up, making notes and taking pictures, stopping again: on several occasions local ladies practicing the world’s oldest profession invited themselves into my pickup for a good time, some of whom were probably undercover police. “Honest, officer, I’m researching a column for the paper.” (Good story, buddy, tell it to Judge Salcedo.)