A strange effect is starting to occur: The Six-Year-Old Kid from Ralston Street was going to saddle up his bike with his neighbor Hank Philcox and ride out to the Sparks railyard and get a last look at the old roundhouse as it’s being torn down; our school Mary S. Doten elementary on West Fifth Street closed this Memorial Day weekend for the summer, Hank’s mom Corrinne packed us some sandwiches and goodies for ou trip – but – I started researching our journey with City Directories and an old Gazoo column that I wrote in 2004, and got lazy. “Why rewrite all this when I can cut-and-paste it?” So I did.
But, that said, Hank and I are riding all the way to the Mighty SP’s railyard, so watch this space as I chronicle our trip down B Street and within the railyard – probably two columns you may come back to in a week or so.
In the meantime, here’s what we saw on that first leg of our bike ride, pretty much as it appeared in print a decade ago:
“You’ve walked all over town in past columns, why don’t the RGJ readers walk East Fourth Street?” Or so a few readers wrote.
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 morning’s 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.
The two neon signs that most interest me while I’m enjoying an ale or three at the Great Basin 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 from the Indians’ bows) – but I now spell-check-eliminate any superlatives, like first, oldest, highest, etc. And “railroad,” “church” or “architect” for that matter.
It’s much too big to steal, but the second sign I lust after is more portable [and now gone in 2019], 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 rotate. And the classic neon art style, with no name that I know of attributed to it other than post-war contemporary, 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, 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, retaining its pre-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, now hell-bent on plowing two or three hundred million dollars into a hole in the ground for choo-choos, 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. [And Windy Moon has since moved to the Velvet Ice Cream building on Kuenzli Lane, at one time known as North Street. But wait: now that’s the home of Road Shows – Street Vibrations. Still a pretty brick building]
We couldn’t tour East Fourth without stopping at the architecturally resplendent Tap ‘n Tavern Saloon, and then mosey on down Highway 40 to Casale’s Halfway Club for world-class pizza. And if host Mama Stempeck ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. What a great lady…
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 retail 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 Gazette-Journal.” (Good story, buddy, tell it to Judge Salcedo.)
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And we walked some more…
We took a little stroll around East Fourth Street last week, and one observation that just wouldn’t fit was of the arachnid – OK, scarab – atop the roof of the building visible best from the Wells Avenue overpass. The bug first appeared in the late 1970s, some say as a dare, others say a work of art, still others as the result of seven Sigma Nu frat-rats finding four cases of beer, a blowtorch, and an SAE’s Volkswagen. As the sun rose over Lagomarsino Canyon it appeared on a field south of a Quonset hut-barn so far out South Virginia Street that you had to pack a lantern and a lunch to get there (but now the only Quonset hut in the South Meadows techie park.) Bug you a little? [A column about that Scarab appears somewhere in this book.]
The structure that the big bug sits on was Reno’s most modern and largest fire station (Station 2, the first numbered station, replacing the former system, Central, North, etc.) when it was built after World War II. It replaced Reno’s East fire station across East Fourth Street then west a few blocks, and was a twin of the now-gone Station 3 at the dead-end of California Avenue and South Virginia Street. Walker Boudwin Construction converted Reno East into a construction office many years ago; it became an independent-living resource for the handicapped, and now it’s a halfway house.
I had a call or two about the old Wells Avenue bridge – this is the second modern one. Seven more frat rats (probably ATΩs in this case) with a trunkful of Burgermeister might have built that earlier bridge – swayed in the breeze, it did; no trucks bigger than a Ford Excursion could use it and it ended in mid-lane on the north landing at Wells Avenue, creating basically a one-lane northbound affair. So much for the low bidder, railroad trench proponents take note.
Akert’s Market? Right across from Hale’s Drugs. Benny Akert – as in Ben’s Discount Liquors in years to follow – and his sister Betty (Brown), later one of my favorite Realtors, worked Akert’s for their parents, at the corner of East Fourth and then-Alameda Avenue – now renamed North Wells. [And no it wasn’t the first Ben’s Discount Liquors – that was at Pine and Center Streets.]
Did I tour East Fourth without even a whisper of Louis’ Basque Corner (picture on the Facebook page)? Did I do that? I owe you all a picon…
Here’s the photo that Sheila referred to in the “Comments” below: