I’m often too embarrassed to let a dated column stay alive, for example the preceding Thanksgiving dinner column. But, I’m also too lazy to write a new one, as I am this morning. Thus, I go into the laptop’s disc and find one that hasn’t run lately, like this piece that was mostly updated from a 1997 column and hasn’t been seen since 2002 about some folks, the University’s missing ceremonial mace, a mother’s shamrocks from the Emerald Isle, old theaters and some darn good trivia. Here it is, unedited, and copyrighted by the RGJ under the hed Flicks & Quickies:
How in the world would I know that Walter Baring worked at McMahan’s Furniture as a salesman in the very early 1950s if one of someone didn’t call me? [This following a “why did you leave Walter Baring’s name out?” of McMahan’s on Commercial Row during a downtown text “walk”]. Baring was a dandy, went to Washington in 1956 as our Representative in Congress, our only one in those days as Nevada had only one seat. “No one likes Baring except for the voters,” was the accepted mantra in Nevada politics – he served us in a long series of two-year Congressional terms until 1972, when he had a cardiac problem only days before the primary election. And true to form, Baring didn’t hush it up. He got beat by a relative nobody in the primary by playing off his formidable incumbent’s health problem; the nobody in turn got beat by another nobody in the general election. Baring could have covered it up, won both elections and remained Representative until today, (notwithstanding the fact that he died in 1976, but as we see in the CNN sound bytes of several dinosaurs every evening – presence of pulse, respiration and temperature are not necessarily requisites of congressional delegates.) The one-time furniture salesman got a major street named after him in Sparks, and in retrospect, he was a hell of a Nevadan.
A reader a recent column about downtown Reno took umbrage that I didn’t mention Fenwick’s (art supplies) on Sierra Street just south of the tracks – I pointed that store out in a column last summer but I don’t mind saying it again: Fenwick’s was a wonderful store, and Jerry Fenwick remains today a northern Nevada history buff and the keeper of an extensive bygone day-photograph collection, and who, like historian Neal Cobb, is happy to let the community enjoy the old photos and has arrived in the 21st Century ahead of most of us – computer-wise – and is hard at work digitizing old local photos.
Or, you might like this one – this firsthand from Clayton Phillips during our many “Tuesdays with Clayton” before he passed away: Two popular Reno couples, Virginia and Clayton Phillips, and Nevada and Sessions (Buck) Wheeler, were sitting around a campfire in northern Washoe County many years ago – four late Nevadans who knew our state like the backs of their weathered hands, and loved every acre of it. They dreamed up an icon that night: a baton, embodying all the elements of our state. Over time, they found a suitable piece of native mountain mahogany. Onto it they bonded some Carson City-minted cartwheels, some gold, silver, copper and other ores that Nevada produces; they affixed sprigs of sage and pine and fauna indigenous to our state and a host of other souvenirs embodying Nevada, like chips from some old casinos.
They presented the mace to the University of Nevada, where annually University Provost Alessandro Dandini, a legend in his own mind, raised it with great aplomb just as Professor Post cued the orchestra to begin Pomp and Circumstance and start the graduates in their processional. Count Dandini then carried the mace on high as he led the graduating classes onto the Quad for Commencement, as did Rollie Melton in the years to follow. At Clayton’s memorial service a few years ago, where the featured music was Home Means Nevada, natch, the question was asked several times: Where is the mace now…?
Next time you’re stop-and-going along Kietzke or Longley Lane, remember that either the guy behind you or the one in front of you, or both, aren’t trying to go north nor south, but in reality to the east or west, but have to get around that great big long airport runway that a young Realtor named Karl Breckenridge (the Elder) wanted to tunnel under when the costs were still minimal. Ol’ Dad about got a net thrown over him for irresponsible babble like that – how ridiculous! A tunnel or trench?
And the moral is that some ideas are wonderful, but become less so as the infrastructure grows and costs skyrocket. End of trench commentary, no position taken. [For now]
On the Saturday nearest St. Paddy’s Day each year we usually run the story of a shamrock – this year we’ll abridge it a bit to give it a rest. The shamrock in question arrived yearly from Ireland just before March 17th, to be placed on the grave of a young Irish U.S. Air Mail pilot who crashed in 1924, while trying to drop a wreath at Air Mail mechanic Samuel Gerrit’s funeral service in the cemetery behind the present ATΩ fraternity house. The leaf was mailed until the war years from the Emerald Isle by the pilot’s mother. After a number of years the shamrock quit arriving, but the tradition was resurrected a score of years ago by northwest Reno resident Barbara Rabenstine, who will journey tomorrow [written March 16, 1998 ] to Mountain View Cemetery to place a shamrock on the grave of William Blanchfield [pictured left]. Barbara, a friend and fine lady, has the dubious distinction of being a resident – three years old at the time – in the home that Blanchfield’s DeHavilland mail plane crashed into. By the luck of the Irish, Barbara, her sister Betty and her family were away from the home at the moment of the crash on that hot August afternoon.
Next time you’re riding about up by Whitaker Park, check out that home at 901 Bell Street, the only residence in America built by the U.S. Government, appropriated following a debate that took place on the floor of Congress. The solons concluded that since a federal airplane wrecked the home, the feds should rebuild it, and so they did. If you’re in that neighborhood, we’ll point out another home with a story, at 752 West Street, a home designed by Death Valley Scotty’s architect and later the residence of a University of Nevada president.
[Yes, the U.S. Air Mail airport by the present Washoe Golf Course was named Blanchfield Field in his honor, to be officially shortened in years to follow to the more obvious Blanch Field.]
A recent column “killed” the YMCA too early, in the words of Neill (two-ells) West. The boiler blew and the 1911 Delongchamps building was razed by the ensuing fire three years after our 1950 walk, which I meant but wasn’t what the text conveyed. Neill was an Alpha Tau Omega fraternity pledge in 1952 and was working in the building, where he probably met Les Conklin the Younger, while Les was lifting weights when the building exploded. (No doubt buffing up for a career selling heavy fur coats a block to the west for 40 years.) Les questioned the date too, and I thank them both. (Too many notes – I was researching our walk downtown and the fatal Greyhound building fire at the same time, a fire that did in fact predate 1950 by two years. And I’m too old for multitasking.)
We’ll throw this out to get the pot boiling a little: Realtor Paul Crooks supplied a 1958 photo of Crooks Bros. Tractor Co. on two-lane Glendale Road, which he reported to be the first building ever built by real estate magnate John Dermody (and I suspect was actually constructed by McKenzie Construction.) It’s still visible as the core building of mighty Cashman Equipment, your local Cat dealer.
• • •
And now, to the flicks:
To hear from three favorite correspondents in one week is a thrill, and this week Pauline Carpenter, Neill West [text preceding] and Nevada history heavy-hitter Richard C. Datin all checked in.
Richard is a gentleman. A historian and prolific writer, and a nationally regarded authority on Nevada’s railroads, he’s more entitled than most to derail me for an error, but only pleasantly nudges me that “…the Reno Theater you mentioned last week as being next to the Wigwam cafe, was actually just south of the Overland Hotel on the east side of Center Street.” He’s right, of course; an old photo at the Nevada Historical Society shows the “Nevada” theater, not the “Reno”, next to the Wigwam Café, from 1942 to 1948, when it became the “Crest”. Mea culpa.
About 22 of you all claimed to have the neat clock, the one that we all remember over the fire exit of the Crest with the white hands and blue-neon rim, hanging in your dens. Several people recalled never, ever sitting under the massive chandelier in the Majestic Theater. (That chandelier’s featured in 1920s brochure about the Delongchamp’s rejuvenation of the Majestic.) Several readers mentioned the wide seats – about a seat-and-a-half/three buns) – on the ends of alternating rows in the Tower theater, so that no seat was directly behind another. Those who would neck in public places, the Pagans, generally grabbed those wide seats first.
I mentioned that the Granada had no loges in 1950, prompting Pauline Carpenter to scold me for forgetting that the Granada had loges and balcony seating until a 1953 fire trashed the inside of the theater, when it was refurbished with no upper deck. And I never argue with any lady who was a head Granada usherette during her senior year at Sparks High School (maiden name Pauline Keema). Nothing escapes you readers…
And then I wrote: Sarah Bernhardt would be hopping mad: The tiny 3,800 square-foot office building in Sparks that Joe Mayer and I eke a living out of has four handicapped parking spaces, with two or three usually in use. The new art museum on Liberty at Hill Street? Four handicapped parking spaces. Go figure…
And that’s the way it was, Spring of 1998. “God bless America” didn’t appear at the end of my columns until the Saturday following 9/11.