On our bikes we ride, out to Hubbard Field!

Thumbs upWell, here we go, together again! I’ve not written for a couple weeks while I was benched for my poor behavior, but now I’m on the loose again – my neighbors here in the new house on Sunnyside Drive, Tommy Weichman and Hank Philcox, have planned an adventure today, to ride our bikes out to Hubbard Field, the airport east of Reno. Mrs. Philcox – Corrine, we sometimes call her is a really good cook and packed some sandwiches, cookies, fruit and stuff for our trip. That new girl up the street, Judy Metzker, wanted to go too but she’s a gurrrllll, and would just slow us down. Yecch.

BambooBombar_T50So, off we go, down to the river and across the bridge at Belmont, then ride out toward South Virginia by that new lake with the island in it. We get to Airport Road and there’s hardly any traffic this Saturday morning, so we cross both lanes of Virginia Street and head east. Going further out Airport Road we can smell the swamp to the south of the road where Mr. Biltz and Mr. Dant have their game farm, and can see Mr. Chrisman’s trout farm out further south in the swamp. We’re Staggerwingstarting to get close to Hubbard Field, because we’re riding alongside the cross-runway and there’s a lot of old planes, most of them salvage from the war that was over a couple years ago.

Hubbard Field has been around for about 15 years [from 1950 when this was written!]. It was named for engineer Eddie Hubbard, a friend of Mr. Boeing’s and who built the airport. Boeing sold it to United Air Lines, three words, in 1936. Not too much has happened since. (United would sell it to the City of Reno in 1955.) Quonset hangarThe main airport is a great big Quonset hut turned into a hangar, and a little control tower set on top of it. Painted on the control tower is, “Reno, Nev. Elev. 4,415 ft.” The man who runs the airport, Mr. Hopper, saw us and motioned us to Towercome over to the fence. “What are you men up to?” he said. His real name was Claude (!) but he was a retired Navy pilot. Navy pilots all get nicknames. His was “Grass.” We just called him Mr. Hopper.

We told him we were just trying to see what happened at the airport, and he told us to park our bikes. We followed him up some rickety stairs and into the control tower’s “cab.” One controller was working. He showed us how they handled airplanes in 1950: If a plane was approaching Reno, the tower would call it, “Plane over Reno Hot Springs approaching Reno; if you can copy this, show your landing light.” If the landing light blinked, the tower operator knew that the plane could hear the radio. (If the plane could also transmit a message, the tower would already know, because the plane would have called tower first!) If the lights didn’t blink, tower would know that he was “NARDO” – no radio, which wasn’t uncommon in 1950. If the plane could hear, the tower would clear him, and give him the wind direction, barometer reading and what other planes were around.

But, if the plane was NARDO, the tower would take one of the big spotlights hung InteeriorLightsfrom the ceiling and give that pilot a green light (he had other triggers also, for a red flash or a white flash}. The pilot would continue his approach and land. When he got on the ground, he wouldn’t cross a runway or taxiway until he got another green light from the tower.  Or if he was taking off, he’d wait for a green signal. The system worked pretty well. He let us play with the lights hanging from the ceiling. We didn’t know it then, but those lights are still hanging in control towers today, for NARDO emergencies

 

BeaconHe let us listen to what the pilots who were equipped with visual omni-range, mostly in the larger airliner types, heard. A steady tone, [for grownups reading this, middle C on the piano, 256 cycles/second!] interrupted every 30 seconds by “dah-dit, dah-dit-dit-dah, dah-dah-dah” – R – N – O in Morse code. This told the pilot riding the VOR that he was locked on to RNO – Reno Municipal Airport. If he had all the equipment, he could also tell where he was.  There was a big bright beacon on top of the mountain north of Virginia City that we could see from all over town.

 Tom, Hank and I looked at each other – we’d really hit the jackpot by meeting Mr. Hopper!

 There was one big main runway at RNO – it was numbered three-four if you were landing south-to-north, or one-six if north-to-south. He told us that that was because your compass would be reading 340 degrees from the south, or 160° from the north. The cross-runway was shorter, and 90° off the main runway at seven and two-five. We could see also the “diagonal” runway that in 1950 ran from the south end of the main runway to the east end of the cross-runway. It was used mostly for parking airplanes now.

 The Nevada Air National Guard was in the process of moving from the Reno Air Base north of Reno to Hubbard Field and the City of Reno was buying Hubbard Field Mustangfrom United. A Nevada ANG pilot named Croston Stead was taking off from Reno Air Base in a P-51 Mustang, and neglected to lock his blower switch on “high.” The engine petered out, the pilot was too low to parachute, and died in the wreckage. The Reno Air Base was being renamed “Stead” in his honor.

 There’s a picture around somewhere but I can’t find it, of 17 Lockheed ConstellationConnie airliners parked on that diagonal runway. Mr. Hughes, who owned Trans World Airlines, bought them from Lockheed and took delivery of them in Nevada, because Nevada has no sales tax. Somebody in the state raised hell, whoops, sorry Mom, raised the roof and some say that this triggered the enactment of sales tax in Nevada. (And Dad said I better write that these were Lockheed 1049s, not the later “Super Constellation” 1649s. I hate it when he looks over my shoulder when I type this stuff.)

 A plane is landing now, a big one, and we’re going to go down and watch it taxi up. DC3UnitedIt’s a United Air Lines DC-3, the pride of the fleet. Mr. Hopper says that most all airlines’ DC-3s are really military C-47s that Douglas Aircraft took back after WWII and “civilized,” getting rid of the double cargo doors and military stuff so the airlines could fly people in them. And a local restaurant, Eugene’s, way out on South Virginia Street, got a contract to provide snacks for the flight to Mills Field in San Francisco, and dinners to the passengers going east to Salt Lake City. He didn’t know it then, but by 1955 Eugene’s would be providing meals for 28 flights a day!

ElectraWe watch the DC-3 taxi up to the Quonset hut and the stair placed against the hull of the plane. It’s pretty impressive. And, leave it to Mr. Hopper, he got us a guided tour through the airplane and we all three got to sit in the pilots’ seats. Pretty cool.

We’ll, it’s getting late so we better shove off for Sunnyside Drive. We thanked Mr. Hopper and he said to come back any time! And we will….

That’s about it for now – come back in a week or so and we’ll see where the trusty Schwinn takes us about the city..

HA! I screwed up a fact and no one caught me for 24 hours – Red Kittell, who flew AC-47s in Vietnam, pointed out at coffee this morning that I called the UAL twin-engine plane pictured a rebuilt C-45. I know better – it’s a rebuilt C-47. There is a C-45 pictured, later known as a Beechcraft D-18, or just a Twin Beech. It’s the first airplane pictured in the column….the State of Nevada had one; used it to bomb the burning Golden Hotel with water in 1962…thanks, Red!

And, in response to a reader email, the last plane pictured is a Lockheed Electra, parked behind a Cord automobile parked behind Amelia Earhart, who flew an Electra.

 

 

 

 

 

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Don Hartman checks in…

DonHartmanI appreciate your faith in my writing.  Not sure I even come close to you in writing  and skill….But, I will try.  I hate to steal your format, but, perhaps I may write about my own days growing up in Reno and going to “our” Mary S Doten K-4. 
“I am the 4-year old Don. Mrs. Molini and my mom have invited me  to visit Mrs. Parker’s K at Mary S. Doten where John Molini is enrolled.  Johnny is a year older than I. I walk down a short flight  of stairs.  The floor in the basement is dark, dark brown-painted cement and heavily waxed and shining.  I smell the wax.  I will never forget that wax smell. I turn the corner into an amazing room with a piano at the head of student chairs.  I am  excited at the orange-crate airplane set-up on the classroom room floor…………etc.”  Thanks for the  photo of home at Ralston Street and Ninth, where the US Air Mail Service’s plane went in!  I delivered Reno Evening Gazette to that house when John Hancock lived there in the late 50’s. 
I forgot to mention what I was wearing when I visited Mrs. Parker’s Kindergarten that day so long ago… : My mom had me put on my warm clothes for the visit  to Mary S. Doten as it was a cold, winter’s day in Reno……jacket, golashes with buckle-down fasteners, pants with extra giant cuffs, my cowboy belt with  red and green marble-like glass decorations…..my long-sleeve  flannel cowboy shirt and my beloved World War Two surplus leather aviator’s helmet complete with goggles.  I am more than ready to pilot that orange-crate airplane in Mrs. Parker’s room”  (Thanks, Karl, for the info on that house and Congress.)
And Karl thanks Don for this anecdote, and invites others to send in their thoughts and recollection, about early life at “Mary S” or about anything else that you want to put out for us….pictures are fine, state their origin if that’s known.
email to KFBreckenridge@live.com – don’t worry about making it perfect, my editorial staff, Carmine Ghia and typist Ophelia Payne can straighten it out (or screw it up) for you.

 

 

The six-year-old kid’s ass is in a sling…

LittleKarlDateline 1949 – Sunnyside Drive and Peavine Row: My dad has sent me to my room for the rest of the weekeend and several of my friends have chewed me out for telling a small number of people to stick their comments about our town where the sun don’ shine – and telling them that if they don’t like Reno, the Lincoln Highway and the Purdy Highway go both ways and they’re free to find a town that suits them better. If they want to save a few old decrepit motels that should have been bulldozed years ago, or turn Reno into a haven for those who require subsidized housing, that’s their business. Just start their ki-yi-ing before the wrecking ball arrives – the City can’t do much on 24-hour notice to accomodate their squawking. Find an area today, as Mark Taxer identified, and work toward saving it. Right now the town is beautiful, all those motels down by Virginia and the Lincoln Highway are new, and gambling controls Reno. But it won’t always be that way – there’s already talk of a “freeway” going from the blue Pacific to the broad Atlantic’s shores, and whether to put Reno’s link down the center of town and take all those pretty old buildings and homes along Sixth and Seventh Street out so the “freeway” can go closer to Harolds Club. (It’s OK, Mom; Mr. Smith doesn’t want a possessive apostrophe in his club’s name.) And the University of Nevada – what a beautiful campus! It’s full of old mature trees, and open. Other universities have jammed their campuses full of building with no open area or parking. (OK, Mom: ” …nor parking.”) Thank God we have some intelligent management on The Hill. And others with sense enough to put the “freeway” north of the University campus and the town – and let all those beautiful houses on Sixth and Seventh Streets survive. Can you imagine putting a six-lane highway right through our town?

The worst part of being sent to my room is that I’m also without a radio and now it’s Saturday morning and I’m without “No School Today” to listen to, from Buster Brown and his dog Tige and his squeeze Mary Jane and Gilhooley Mahoney and his Leprechaun Marching Band. Rats.

I’ll see if there’s anything left to write about. Come back later Saturday or Sunday and maybe I can get myself loose. I hate being grounded.

Eugene’s

(this column originally appeared in the RGJ on June 23rd, 2001)

If you came to this site looking for the Wreaths & Shamrocks column, try here

Eugene Jarvis turned a classic old ranch house a fur piece south of Reno into an elegantly appointed restaurant after the end of World War II.  He might have called it “Jarvis’s”, but owing to either caprice or the awkward apostrophe, he elected to go with “Eugene’s”, thus bestowing one of the most instantly identified and enduring names in Reno’s heritage.

Jarvis picked the name, but it took two young men who met in New York at the 1939 World’s Fair and journeyed – separately – to Reno, to get the restaurant underway.  Joe Patrucco was the affable bartender at the Riverside Hotel’s well-known Corner Bar, while Gilbert Vasserot had opened the Moulin Rouge restaurant on Sierra Street.  Their youthful careers were interrupted by a world war, but they rejoined and in 1947 bought the restaurant from Jarvis, retaining the Eugene’s name and assembling a world-class staff that would give Reno a restaurant that would rival the finest in cosmopolitan San Francisco.  (Eugene Jarvis, possibly to create confusion for 50 years to follow, would open a second Eugene’s on a promontory above Lake Tahoe’s Crystal Bay.)

      Gilbert, a Swiss culinary artiste trained in Europe, donned the chef’s toque, a hat he would wear six nights a week for years to follow, while Joe handled the “front” duties – also six nights a week.  And Joe greeted all equally – Eugene’s had the local reputation that a guest was a guest and none were treated better or more quickly than others; that all would receive old world hospitality be they Dennis Day sneaking in for dinner before his show in the Mapes Sky Room, or the local couple taking their daughter out to dinner on her 16th birthday. 

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The town embraced Eugene’s with civic pride, and eleven years after it opened in Eugene Jarvis’ ranch house, local architect Frank Green was commissioned to design a new restaurant building. 

        Premier local builder Allan Gallaway finished the new restaurant on a spot now near the domes left over from the Century Theater south of the Peppermill, and Gilbert and Joe reopened Eugene’s on May 14th, 1958 (a great photo of Joe and his wife Lucia, and Gilbert with his Lucienne, taken on the steps on opening night, will magically appear on my website soon…) [Lucienne passed away shortly after this column appeared.]   The original ranch house restaurant had been moved a few hundred feet to the west to free up the site for construction.  That structure burned a few years after the new restaurant opened.  And it wasn’t the old James McKay house, as I and many others originally believed; the McKay home was a long block to the south.

What a place the new restaurant was!  A classic bar with a beamed ceiling, leaded glass windows and thickly padded leather banquettes, and a bartender named Cliff Challender who prided himself on committing regular diners’ cocktail preferences to memory (Gilbert points with great pride at his sommelier – wine steward, to some of us – well-remembered by many as Antoine Balducci, who handled the patrons’ wine orders with uncanny knowledge, freeing up the waiters to provide better service.)

        The main room was quiet and open, with rich paneling and more leather – chairs and banquettes – and chandeliers with bulbs hand-painted by Gilbert himself for just the right effect. Pianist Del (few knew his last name was Dellaquadre) could be heard around the room, subtly, but less subtly when somebody would roll in with a party of eight and no reservations.  Del would break into La Vie En Rose, to some a charming love song, but to Joe Patrucco, somewhere out in the room greeting guests, a code to come to the front pronto and deal with a problem.

        One didn’t hear La Vie En Rose too often at Joe and Gilbert’s…

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The bill of fare rivaled any fine dinner house in America, garnering Holiday Magazine Five-Star awards year after year when fewer than 75 were conferred in the whole country.  In 1960, Eugene’s hosted the City of Reno’s welcoming luncheon for the International Olympic Committee during the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.  Business soon came from one interesting market, the airlines. United Air Lines, three words in the 1960s, began with meals for two flights a day to solve a logistical problem and found that the food was so popular on those runs that they eventually selected Eugene’s to prepare meals for twelve flights a day.  Years ago the rumor was that United changed their schedules just to use food from Eugene’s.  Bonanza Airlines also served Eugene’s fare enroute to Las Vegas.  Gil and Joe did take-out judiciously; for a good customer a little under the weather, a Broiled Langoustine Eugene’s or a Filet of Sole Meuniere, with Foigras du Perigord or Zabalione might appear on their sickbed tray.  Or, for Charles Clegg and historian/raconteur Lucius Beebe’s St. Bernard – all three fairly frequent diners — a nice dish of Skippy a la Comstock for the beast.

There’s too much on the menu here to cover in one week.  Soon, we’ll name names: the long-time employees who bought it from Joe and Gilbert in 1961; about photographers Gitta and Jimmie Smith, old-world names like Madalaine Chamot, Annie Creux, Walter Zhand, Rene Jacquemin, Raymond Capitaine, Sergé Nussbaum, Don Richter and Dave Blakely (Richter and Blakely?  Well, not all of them were old-world…) I’ll include some anecdotes from a recent visit with Gilbert Vasserot, some more from the late Joe Patrucco’s daughter Linda, about Eugene’s guests, staff, and great times in a Reno landmark, and finally about Joe and Gilbert’s Continental Lodge.

And now, dessert…

In a recent column, we spoke of what I boldly labeled the finest restaurant that ever graced local nightlife – Eugene’s – and I braced myself for a spate of e-mail pointing out a few other classy places, of which there are many in town.  That argument never arrived (a lot of agreement did, however.)  On the other hand, I heard from all 1,704 people, to listen to them, who had dined in the old house out by the present Peppermill that housed the original Eugene’s on the night owners Joe Patrucco and Gilbert Vasserot closed it in 1958.  And all of the 3,214 first-nighters when the restaurant reopened in the new building across the parking lot on May 14th the same year.  [Sarcasm herein missed by some readers – the new place sat about 130 diners.]  Gitta was there that night and took many photos of the diners, as she did almost every night, trundling off to her studio downtown to process and print them and return before her subjects left for a nightcap at the Riverside.

I promised in that column that in this sequel I’d name names and here we go, with little regard to sequence or grammar:

        It’s hard to think of Eugene’s without thinking of Gil and Joe, then almost automatically of the tall, ethereal waiter-turned-host-turned-owner, who approached Joe Patrucco in 1946, he looking for a job as a waiter, Joe then in the process of buying Eugene’s from Eugene Jarvis.  His name was Walter Zhand (still is) and this “skinny kid,” as Joe described him once in a letter to his daughter, became synonymous with wonderful service and food, first at Eugene’s, then at the Continental Lodge that Joe and Gil opened in 1963 (that’s a column for another Saturday), and later when he built the Galena Forest restaurant on the Mt. Rose Highway.  (Walter, with Raymond Haas and chef Raymond Capitaine, bought Eugene’s in 1971 and operated it into the early 1980s.)  Walter still walks from his home by Virginia Lake, ramrod-straight, still a great guy.

        Many readers wrote of their favorites: Angelo Buccalari tended the bar in the earlier years; Cliff Challender, of the masterful memory for patrons’ favorite drinks, took over later.  Armand was the wine steward of long standing; Raymond Haas was originally a waiter, becoming the lead wine steward when Antoine Balducci, who took over from Armand, retired.  Sergé Nussbaum, Walter Dixon, René Jacquemin, and Carmen.  Waiter Heinz Sauer’s name came up, as did a chef named Mel, and another named Steve LePochat.  Here’s a surprise: Retired Carson City dentist Tom Horgan, who bussed tables while in school. Ingo and Uwe Nikoley, they were there…

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The patrons were myriad and far-flung to Reno from around the world: During the Squaw Valley Olympics, Joe and Gilbert hosted Lillian Crosa, the figure skater from Gilbert’s native Switzerland, her coach Annie Creux, and ladies downhill contender Madelaine Chamot.  During the filming of The Misfits, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and most of the cast made

Eugene’s their home-away-from-home for dinner (a photo in Gilbert’s scrapbook which he so kindly loaned me depicts our own Betty Stoddard in a page near the Misfit cast, and most people I’ve shown the scrapbook to at first see Betty as Marilyn.  Their 1960 resemblance was amazing…)

        It should be noted that the inspiration for this column came from two fronts occurring within a week of each other: the first, the aforementioned Betty Stoddard sitting with Bob Carroll in a Bonanza Inn TV commercial chatting about great old restaurants – the Lancer, Vario’s, Eugene’s, etc.  Almost simultaneously a lady e-mailed me about a restaurant that her father co-owned, out South Virginia by the Peppermill, a long time ago.  Might make a good column.  “Yeah, I’ve heard of it once or twice,” I answered Linda Patrucco Doerr, and I was off and running.

        Gilbert’s book contains dozens of other neat photos, most from Gitta, Reno’s pre-eminent nightlife photographer, a few from Jimmie Smith and a few more from Don Dondero.  One is of Reno mayor Len Harris and his wife, another of Mike Mirabelli, the music man and state treasurer, one of my old friend Dave Ginsburg and his parents, yet another of Eddie Questa, Jordan Crouch, and a few other First National Bank honchos who I can’t recognize.  And one real treasure: How many people remember Reno’s first TV news anchorman?  I picked him out of a shot, when others couldn’t: His name was, and remains, Durward Yasmer, the voice of KZTV. [later KOLO-TV.]

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Finally, the guys who parked the cars.  There were a few, I’ll name two old fraternity buddies: Don Richter, who prided himself on lurking around the restaurant watching for a party to get ready to leave, then bringing their car to the door as they walked out (he used his free time to dump the ashtrays and wash the windshields, and reportedly later took three years in the insurance business to get his income back up to what he made in tips at Eugene’s.)  A later valet was Dave Blakely, whose late parents Bill and Maryalice were steady diners at the restaurant.

        I’m indebted to many for the background for this yarn; to Gilbert Vasserot, who with Joe Patrucco – who passed away in 1994 – set the standard against which local dining class and elegance will be measured for years to come.  To Joe’s children, Linda Patrucco Doerr and her brother Bob (and Wendy) Patrucco.  And to Josette Jacquemin, Christiane Markwell, Denise Haas Hastings, and Carmen Buccalari Borges, for their reminiscences.

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