Well I’m back in school – Central Jr. High now, which was the old Reno High School until the new Reno High opened out on Booth Street west of town this summer of 1951. Dad says I gotta quit doggin’ it and get to writing – I’m no longer on Ralston Street and if I go another summer without writing no one is going to care what or if I write. But I’d still like to meet the moron that changed the school-start day from the day after Labor Day to a couple days into August.
Our new school opened in 1913 as Reno High School. [Here, I’m going to insert the reminder I received from retired WCSD teacher and my kindergarten classmate at Mary S. Doten Elementary, that our school was known as “Central Intermediate” when we were there, and it had just been converted. The “Jr. High” designation came later. But changing it in this tale is laborious, and I like Jr. High better anyway. The Beach Boys never sang of an “Intermediate” school…!] Back to work: It was on the north side of the alley between Chestnut Street and West Street, facing West Street (the Temple Emanuel was directly across the street). A bunch of old apartment houses were on the south side of that alley, separating the school from the Lincoln Highway – West Fourth Street. The Lincoln Highway became Reno’s apartment row in the 1920s and ‘30s, with some of the nicest apartment houses in town on that stretch of the road. One-by-one they were torn down, mostly to make motels, and the last one that most remember was the Frandsen Apartments on the south side of the highway. The apartment houses on the alley were eventually razed and the land became a playground for Central (I should mention that a home on the Lincoln Highway was donated to the Reno School District, and became a music/band area for the school!)
The new Reno High School was a pretty snazzy building – it was designed by the same architect who did the “Spanish Quartette” elementary schools I told you about a while back – Mary S. Doten was one of them, only three blocks away to the west on Fifth Street. The new Reno High was quite similar to the Spanish Quartette – or Four Sisters – George Ferris designed them all – picture two of the four that would remain in town for many years, McKinley Park on the Truckee River or Mount Rose School on Arlington, but with one more story, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Reno High looked like. They got rid of some of the better features like the balconies on the third floor when it became Central Jr. High last summer, but some of it stayed – the flagpole that was a gift of the VFW after World War II remained. That flagpole would be placed in front of another high school named “Wooster” many years later, but of course I can’t see into the future so I can’t really say.
The old Reno High – now our Central – was a neat place with a lot of nooks and crannies and stairwells. It had a big room downstairs with some built-in bleachers lining both sides, and a stage, with a full set of lights of different colors and a “fly” with curtains that would raise straight up, and a main curtain to draw side-to-side. It had a hatch to open big hole in the floor so an actor could jump in to fake a getaway. My own father shot a man on that stage in 1931, he did – he shot a classmate named Ralph Menante and his pistol backfired, damn near took his finger off! (This was all in a student play, by the way ….. they remained friends for a lifetime to follow.)
The ROTC had a shooting range in one wing of the building’s basement – the ceiling of that range was all screwed up from 40 years of kids – soldiers – misfiring Garand M-1 rifles into the air. [See Hank Philcox’ letter below…] Upstairs was a big gym that was a lot brighter than the assembly room of the same size directly below it. It had windows and was quite bright. Back in my crystal ball mode, I’ll write of the electric scoreboard for basketball games that hung in that gym – the scoreboard later went to a school that would be called E. Otis Vaughn, and is still there as you read this. I have, with the usual luck anyone has with the school district, tried to save that unused scoreboard and have it donated to the Reno High’s alumni center but the school district doesn’t give a rat’s ass about its heritage so the scoreboard will probably eventually be dumped. Too bad.
Speaking of school districts, I should probably write that when we started at Central Jr. High and until 1955, Reno School District was only one of 18 districts in Washoe County. No wonder things worked.
The food was good at Central Jr. High. We had a big lunchroom in the basement with good, cheap lunches. Most of us took turns bussing tables. In the colder winter days we enjoyed the “noon movies” – mostly fairly new Hollywood movies, comedies, some drama, some Westerns – usually split into three segments and they showed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. A good sound system and a bright Bell & Howell projector – a pleasant way to spend a lunch hour!
Upstairs in the south wing was the library, and we at Central were the benefactors of an almost total updating of the Reno High library when the high school relocated to Booth Street. The lion’s share of the books were left in the “new” Central, and we had this wonderful asset upstairs, Miss Thomas presiding over it, and came to really enjoy it [See Anna Siig’s comment below]. A wood-shop downstairs, a home-ec suite upstairs. Dropping names, Chauncey King was our principal, Chet Green, one of the best teachers I ever had, was the vice-principal; John Gonda, Ted Furchner and George Getto became good friends, and in the fifth-grade slot, a new teacher named Fran Trachok! Mrs. Howard was the school’s secretary, a lass not hard for a fifth-grader to behold.
Who went to Central? Well, if you lived north of the Truckee River and west of Virginia Street, we were probably classmates (the alternatives were Northside, east of Virginia Street, and B. D. Billinghurst, south of the Truckee in the sparsely-populated area of town) [see Eric Nummela’s comment below]. We were starting to see more kids from the air force base north of town that had just last year been renamed “Stead” from Reno Air Base. I’ve written before of the children of ladies, and a few men, living temporarily in Reno seeking a divorce; since most of their housing was in the upper-Ralston area, they came to Central while in Reno. A lot of kids lived west of town along the Truckee in the power company’s hydroelectric plants, and the only school bus I remember brought them in to class each day.
Anyhoo, it was a great school, comfortable, with good teachers, sports and facilities. I’m sure that the same could be written of Northside and B.D. The 1950s were good years to be a kid.
Oh – on a sadder note – Central Jr. High suffered a fire in 1966, which didn’t do a great amount of damage, but Darrel Swope Middle School was open in a populous area southwest of the new Reno High, and Central was razed…