July 2 – a Mackay and a murder with a shake, and who is “Delongchant”?

JohnnyFeverThe Artown challenge continues! If you’ll bookmark this URL I won’t have to post it all month..

I have it on fairly solid authority that the John Mackay statue was originally destined for the Statuary Hall of the State Capitol Building in Carson City. Upon arriving with the statue aboard a V&T train, its creator, Gutzon Borglum, was informed A) that there was no statuary hall in the building, and B) that if there were, it still would not stand there because the State as a whole was still not enamored with Mackay, Fair, Flood, O’Brien nor their ilk for the waste they had laid upon the Comstock while lining the streets of San Francisco with gold. Say goodnight, John.

Mackay

Following some frenzied cabling back-and-forth between Carson City and New York City, and conversation with the officials at the fledgling Nevada State University, it was decided that the statue would be placed at the north end of the Thomas Jefferson-designed Quadrangle.

The donor of the statue, John Mackay’s son Clarence, subsequently came to Reno to view the statue and was displeased that its background was a ramshackle corrugated tin shed. Clarence then endowed the Mackay School of Mines structure in its place, and commissioned the famed New York City architect Stanford White to design it.

That was supposedly 1906. Several other events happened that year: Stanford White was caught in flagrante delicto on the roof of a building that he had earlier designed, Madison Square Garden. He was caught in the act of, er, winding the clock of Evelyn Nesbit, the toast of Broadway celebrity style and élan, by her husband Harry Thaw, described by most as not a well man upstairs, that being charitable.

So – Stanford White met his maker, after accepting the contract to design a building for the Mackay family, and sending off his design for another building he’d designed as its basis, which I think was a Carnegie Library in Framingham, Massachusetts. I think. That design was sent to architects Faville & Bliss, prominent in San Francisco (and yes, principal partner Walter Bliss was from the Lake Tahoe Bliss family). The firm had designed quite a few buildings in San Francisco, and later some buildings for the University of Nevada.

It gets better: On April 18th 1906, an earthquake of epic proportions reduced that city – and many Faville & Bliss buildings including Charles Crocker’s St. Francis Hotel – to charred rubble. The firm had more to contend with than a tiny university’s building in Reno.

Here, I prove the theory that one finds more when he’s looking for something else, than the original quarry of the research: Once while seeking out a fact for a story about San Francisco in the SF Fire Department’s excellent museum/library, I inadvertently saw a listing for “Faville & Bliss, Architects” in an old Polk’s City Directory, c. 1905. Down the hall in the same building, on Franklin Street, as I recall:

“Frederick Delongchant, Architect”

Delongchant was Delongchamps’ original surname. It challenges reality to think that Faville & Bliss, with a good percentage of their architectural works in San Francisco in ruins (and at the University of California in Berkeley, I might add; the East Bay caught it also), and, a young architect who graduated from the Nevada State University two years before, right down the hall, and sensing that they needed one more infinitesimal job 200 miles away like Custer needed Indians, didn’t take White’s rolls of plans to Delongchant and say, “Good luck!”

I don’t know that for a fact. Some of what I write is incontrovertible fact – White was a goner, we know that; Delongchant graduated from the School of Mines, not yet the Mackay School of Mines. The earthquake. The years fit: Mackay graduated in 1904; the earthquake and White’s demise were 1906, the statue and the building were dedicated on Mackay Day 1908, but could have been there a year or two longer.

And why did this assortment of stuffy University mavens bristle when I speculated at that meeting that Delongchant/Delongchamps was the horse behind the Mackay School of Mines’ design? EVERYONE wants a Delongchamps work. Unless they have to surrender a Stanford White design to get it – Delongchamps was  prolific and a hot item locally, but far short of a Morgan, Williams or a Lloyd Wright. A White design on one’s campus ranked it up with a modern Piano, Saarinen, I.M. Pei or Gehry design.

I could hear them cackle: “This upstart columnist says the Nevada campus lacks a Stanford White design…” Not what I said, Dearies:, what I inferred was that Frederick Delongchamps influenced the Mackay School of Mines building…

This story is offered with the reminder that no less than Mark Twain borrowed from me his credo, “Never let the facts interfere with a good story…” Much of it was told me by an elderly lady with an indelible memory, whose father had had an integral relationship with both the early University of Nevada and with the Mackay family. But – take it with a grain of salt, and enjoy the totality, if not the yarn’s most-minute details. And if you want to dispute it, bring some facts, not the thin air that a university professor hung his hat on a decade ago!

© Karl Breckenridge 2019