Dennis had the unique ability to look at the most convoluted of news events, separate the wheat from the chaff, then craft a highly readable, professional and ethical piece about it. His knowledge of our valley was immense. Dennis Myers was a journalist’s journalist and my friend.
photo © KTVN
I no sooner post a photo of the Lancer Restaurant on the Mt. Rose highway, than my buddy ol’ Chuk Thomas gives me the authentic recipe for the famous Lancer grapes, the highlight (or at least one highlight) of their menu.
The storied restaurant was on the hill across Hwy. 27 from the present Galena High School. (Whoops – Highway 431 – the Mt. Rose Highway)
The image above, one of the few of the Lancer, was shot from an NDF helicopter by Don Stockwell. Both images are c. 1965; the Lancer, which prior to that name was called the Mesa, burned on July 30, 1971. Yeah, I know, it’s “Chuck,” but Chuk is an old Marine nickname. Here’s the recipe, somebody lemme know how it came out!
Bruce Waltz sent in a bit more about the Lancer, thus earning a cold brew at Brickie’s after Labor Day: “Marvin Goins was the Host/Manager/Head Dude WAIC and eventually ended his career at Joe Conforte’s Cabin In The Sky. Brother Arvin and his wife Winnie were in the kitchen and in charge of the steaks, lobster tail, those grapes and spinach salad.
“Leo and Chris walked the plank and Glenn Rolfson on keys, piano and organ. And Merle Crickhard was in charge of everybody else.”
Thanks, Bruce. And if you’re too young to comprehend “Walking the plank,” you’re on the wrong website!
Lancer exterior photo © Don Stockwell; menu in the public domain
On August 15th of 1948 – Dad was mowing the front lawn with the push mower on this Sunday morning. Just before noon we could ear a lot of sirens downtown and a big plume of black smoke came from downtown, just east of Ralston Street. I knew it was a big fire, so I hopped on my bike and started toward downtown. Don Hartman and Hank Philcox and Willy Molini were on their bikes too. We pedaled toward the smoke while every fire truck at the firehouse on Commercial Row came out toward the smoke. Boy, would I get in trouble for riding off when I got home. Maybe I won’t even go home…
It was Sunday morning, and people were getting out of church, all the churches were downtown then – St. Thomas Aquinas, and along Church Street west of Chestnut [Arlington]. Years later I’d count seven churches within two blocks of St. Thomas. And all had people in them, and all were getting out about the time the smoke started. By the time we got to the fire there were probably already 400 people there, according to the fire chief. And all were in the firemen’s way.
The fire was in a building on Lake Street across from the Toscano Hotel behind the Greyhound terminal, where my grandmother would arrive a couple times a year from her home in Petaluma to visit my mother. She actually liked my father better than she liked my mother and they used to sit on the porch of Ralston Street and drink wine and laugh ‘til it was pretty late (she was from Ireland, which explained that). But they’re another story for another day.
The fire was growing incredibly fast and soon enveloped the buildings across the alley south of the Santa Fe Hotel [artwork credit Roy Powers]. The buildings had been bought by the guy who was going to move the bus station across the alley from Center Street to Lake Street. The buildings were going to be torn down but the fire was doing a pretty good job of wrecking them right now. Then somebody hollered, “There’s dynamite in one of the buildings!” and the firemen and all the churchgoing folks started to run away. There was no dynamite, they’d learn later, but something did blow that building higher than a kite and scattered burning building and roofing material and metal and glass a block in every direction from the fire. It blew the windows out of the Mizpah Hotel across Lake Street, and some more buildings nearby. There were a lot of civilians injured by that, and I heard that St. Mary’s and Washoe General Hospitals called all their employees and doctors to work on Sunday, helping over two hundred people until well after midnight, with burns, broken bones from the walls falling, and cuts from the flying glass. The paper the next day gave their names and many were Chinese – probably from the Mandarin – or Basque, from the Santa Fe. Most of the herders were away on this summer day.
We were all skeered, ‘cause we knew we were in trouble for coming down here. There were a lot of rumors – one was that the fire chief had died. He was a nice guy, Mr. Evans, who let us kids climb all over the apparatus and slide down the pole on Commercial Row (I’m adding a picture of a brand-new fire truck Reno bought, an American LaFrance 1948 hook-and-ladder). But Mr. Evans was OK; the chief who died was Sparks Fire Department’s chief, Frank Hobson. And two other Reno firemen died when the explosion hit – Glen Davis and Earl Platt, who both still would have family around Reno 70 years later. Sparks had sent its two engines and a pumper to the fire to help, Sierra Pacific Power, the Red Cross, the Army Reserve, Nevada Bell and the airbase north of town all sent help also. And Isbell Construction and Southern Pacific Railroad sent some big cranes and Caterpillars to knock the brick walls of the buildings down.
The power company turned up all the pumps nearby to raise the water pressure which by then was falling all over town north of the Truckee. But the buildings kept burning, and the firemen worked mostly to save the Santa Fe Hotel across the alley and the Mandarin Café to the south. And succeeded. It took over five hours before the flames quit and it was overnight before anyone could even get close to the buildings.
When all the dust settled the next day, Monday, five people had died in the fire and some 270 had been treated, with 39 people admitted to the hospitals. Most of the downtown and the schools were closed. It would become known as the Lake Street Fire, or by some the Greyhound Fire, and would stand as the biggest fire in modern times that’s ever occurred in Reno in terms of injuries and fatalities, (there would be one nine years later* on Sierra Street that would do more property damage.) But now it’s only 1948 and I don’t know about that one yet.
The fire was put out; the burned-out buildings would become the site of the new Greyhound station, that building still there and now owned by Harrah’s Club. Frank Hobson’s flag-draped casket would pass in front of my dad’s office on A Street in Sparks in the hose bay of a Sparks pumper, and Willy, Don, Hank and I would ride our Schwinns back up the Ralston hill, where our parents, not knowing whether or not we’d perished in the fire, soundly spanked us for taking off to the fire. (I might add, as we did when the old downtown YMCA burned down, but that’s another story for another day!)
[To add a clarification: The 1948 hook-and-ladder pictured above was enabled by this fire – the fire proved that Reno neeeded a new aerial truck. And the white fiberglass roof in the photo was added many years later; it was originally an open-cab apparatus.]
But it was pretty exciting. Come back once in a while, we’ll tell another story!
*Here’s the story of that fire that was nine years later…
And, for Sharon Quinn, here’s the 1962 Golden Hotel fire link…
I’m catching hell for not posting for three weeks. Here’s a 2006 column to chew on:
Stuff without a category, maybe a Faded Menu or three
Until the lst local attic and basement is cleaned out and dad and mom’s last priceless antiques are taken to the Nevada Historical Society to put with everybody else’s priceless antiques, this column will always have unlimited new, vital and earthshaking input.
A case in point this morning comes from an old throwaway tourism brochure from the early 1950s that depicts a window into our valley. This Week, dated Oct. 1, 1949 was printed by Cleve Crudgington at Silver State Press (Cleve and his drop-dead gorgeous wife Phyllis were a popular couple in Reno through the 1950s.) In that pamphlet we learn that the University of Nevada football team would be playing St. Mary’s Gaels in Kezar Stadium – that note only a minor squib in 1949, but prescient of a game that would be talked about for 50 years to follow and put Dick Trachok and Tommy Kalminer in the Nevada Athletic Hall of Fame.
We read a name forgotten since our childhood, Laurance, often Larry, Layman. Layman was a Nevada-style Justice of the Peace, probably one of the few in the nation who listed not only his office in the courthouse but his home phone number 2-3116 and his residence at 420 W. Sixth Street. This was for the convenience of a Bay Area couple fresh off the Lincoln Highway desirous of tying the matrimonial knot at 2 ayem – not an unusual event in Reno. Several jewelers listed night numbers, as did Reno Florist at 40 E. First Street, also in order to capture this nocturnal wedding trade. Forty East First Street deserves to be written of herein on some future Sunday morning; kind of a crummy little office building sandwiched among the Majestic Theater, the Mapes, and the YMCA (which would blow up a couple years later.) Crummy, maybe, but half the state’s prominent businessmen and politicians, read Norman Biltz for one, quietly emanated from there (or from Eugene Gastanaga’s Eagle Drug lunch counter, two blocks to the south.)
Here’s an ad for the Mesa (across the Mt. Rose highway from the present Galena High, later to be the Lancer and to burn in 1971 while Glenn Rolfson tickled the ivories.) Just re-read that: Glen Rolfson had nothing to do with the fire. Did I write that? Moving on: On the way to the Mesa/Lancer (rare picture below), party at the Zanzibar across South Virginia from the present Peppermill. Owner Tilli Botti, a retired Air National Guard pilot, told me before he died just a few years ago that when the Guard was activated in 1968 he leased out the Zanzibar and never once set foot in it again. [Nor did he the rest of his life.] Or, on the way home from the Mesa, perhaps we should stop for a nightcap at the West Indies (Reno’s West Indies preceded Carson City’s West Indies, just as the Crackerbox on Ryland predated Carson’s Crackerbox.) Or try Tommy’s Big Hat on the corner of Moana and Virginia, [later called Two Guys from Italy, still later called La Vecchia and now called the right turn lane of Moana Lane onto South Virginia Street] with the big white Stetson on the roof, rotated by a war surplus Navy radar antenna motor. Next door was the Moana Coffee Shop, “only five minutes south of downtown Reno.” Try driving that today in your Hudson in five.
Branding Iron or Stirrup Cup?
For some reason I’ve heard from column readers trying to recall a joint on Airport Road, (OK, Gentry Way.) The name Moody’s Lounge must be hard to remember, but it sure did a big late-night business. Confusion also reigns to this day over the Bonanza (no taxes, no cover), then at 207 North Center Street, now north on 395 in what used to be the Branding Iron, [2011: a name that remains alive today in its signature restaurant, the Branding Iron. Good place, by the way…]
International dining: We had it, at the Santa Fe Hotel on Lake Street, “fine French cuisine” (yup, now great Basque family style with a picon or two); here’s an ad for the Chinese Pagoda at 7th and B in Sparks (Sparks’ numbered streets use ordinal numbers, Reno spells them out; go figure.) And that answers the age old question “where was the Pagoda?” (Everybody wants to put the original Pagoda on Sparks’ 4th Street, not 7th.) It later moved to Reno’s West Fourth Street, into the former Circle RB steakhouse – the only Chinese restaurant east of Peking with wagon wheels and stagecoaches on the Formica tabletops. [I think that tidbit’s in a column somewhere else in this book] Better yet, the Chinese Mint Club downtown offers “Chinese food like mama used to make,” and I wouldn’t touch that motto with a nine-iron. West of town on the “Truckee Highway,” once we we called it Washoe., note that period that’s not a typo but an integral part of their name. We used to call it the Glory Hole but in This Week in 1949 it was the Villa Roma, with a cute little hat-check chick named Gloria (now Garaventa!) Now it’s my buddy Curtis Worrall’s wine shop. Further out the Truckee Highway was the popular Stirrup Cup in a picturesque old once-ranch house, now restored to a private home housing one of my faithful readers. Downtown again by the Downtown Bowl at 130 N. Center Street (that Harrah’s later took over for offices) and across the street from the Frisco Club (don’t tell Herb Caen that, who, by the way, I stole this column’s hed from) was The Colombo on Lake Street; Ralph Festina, your genial chef. Ralph would later open Festina’s Pizza, and his wife was only one of two people ever to drown in Virginia Lake, a dubious distinction she shared with a 15-year-old boy who drowned at three in the afternoon on the east shore of the lake, on June 17, 1952.
A bowling tournament was in town at the aforementioned Downtown Bowl and the Reno Bowl on South Virginia by the Tower Theater, still using human pinsetters. Nevada State Bowling Association president Len Crocker, our lifelong friend and Nevada State Journal’s ace sports reporter of long tenure, reported that one bowler rolled a perfect 301 (that’s not a misprint; the pinsetter had a wooden leg.) “This Week” reported that the tournament, in three days, would bring about a thousand dollars in bookings to the area’s 19 motels. The Nugget had Five Great Restaurant : the Round House, the Golden Rooster Room, the Pancake Parlor, the coffee shop, and the Prime Rib Room, (Saturday and Sunday nights only.)
And every business plugged above was represented in that little eight-page flyer. Columns are where you find them; have a good week, y’all, and God bless America!
Here’s how quickly seven ill-chosen words can germinate into a whole column: Walking Virginia Street in a recent column set in 1950, I alluded to “…the recently-renamed Stead Air Force Base”. This elicited several inquiries, all reducible to either “Renamed from what?” or “We’re new here; tell us about Stead.”
Let’s start at the beginning: The facility was commissioned in 1942 as the Reno Army Airport, renamed as Reno Air Force Base in 1948 (when most former Army airbases were ceded to the U.S. Air Force), and finally to Stead Air Force Base in 1951. The Defense Department, in 1949, adopted a policy to name military facilities more after notable people, less after geographic references.
Accordingly, Reno Air Force Base was renamed, not for Spanish Springs rancher/air race co-founder Bill Stead, as many of you thought; rather, for his brother Croston Stead, who crashed on takeoff into the desert on December 16th, 1948 in an Air Guard P-51 Mustang, not too long after the Nevada Air National Guard was commissioned at Reno Air Force Base in April of 1948, flying P-51s. (Croston’s older brother Bill Stead, a hot-stick, high-time World War II fighter ace, died in an air race in Florida in 1965, flying a midget racer. Go figure…). The third Stead brother is Sparks developer L. David Kiley.
The base’s mission over the years was basic aviation training, later rotary-wing training (OK: helicopters), and airport fire suppression – recall the Kaman-built fire-choppers (“Huskies”) with the weird twin “eggbeater” rotors that frequently flew over downtown. There were a few uncontrolled auxiliary airports – patch a better word – around our valley, which were associated with Reno AFB in the early years. I lived in the most northwest corner of Reno in the late 1940s and often hiked to a now-long-gone unnamed satellite Reno AFB strip that was between the present Keystone Avenue and McQueen High School. Two youngish cadets in a Beech D-18 trainer with Army tail markings gave three of us kids a spin around Peavine Peak in a 20-minute ride neither our parents nor the flight-line officer at Reno AFB ever needed to hear about. Some things are better left that way for fifty years or so. Another Reno AFB satellite strip parallels Highway 70 at Beckwourth, in use to this day as the Nervino Airstrip. (The bygone Sparks Airport strip northeast of Pyramid Way and Green Brae – the 1950s spelling – in Sparks was not a Reno AFB satellite.)
Stead AFB conducted desert and mountain survival training, for pilots of all branches of the military, other nations, and even for the early astronauts. Later there was a “SAGE” facility, an acronym for Semi-Automatic-Ground-Environment, or whatever paranoids do all day in a great big ugly four-story building with no windows, something to do with global air defense.
One interesting occurrence that some old-timers may remember was when the Pentagon, in a convincing effort to demonstrate the massive economic impact the airbase had on our community, paid Stead troops one payday in crisp two-dollar bills. Those bills circulated around for years, many emanating from the Grotto Bar at Fourth and Virginia Streets, the Stead airmen’s branch offic. And apropos of probably nothing, I can report that yours truly drove a big bright-yellow, flat-front 66-passenger Cornbinder school bus to the enlisted men’s housing area at Stead, and that Ty Cobb Jr., son of the late RG-J columnist, drove a like bus to the Stead officers’ housing unit. Between the two of us we delivered every single high school student who lived from the Reno city limits north past Stead and all the way to Bordertown, to Reno High School – the town’s only high school until Wooster was built 1961. [And I caught Nancy Howell Spina and Tony Clark’s ire with that: “What was Manogue High, sliced bread?!” Sorry…]. Believe it or don’t, only 132 kids, excluding truants, lived north of town in the early 1960s, and we drove them 36 miles a day for three school years, and never harmed a hair on their heads nor creased a fender. Damn, we were good.
The Defense Department began phasing out Stead AFB in 1963 – actually selling off some of the original 20,000 acres as early as 1958 – and it was finally fully decommissioned by 1966 and acquired by the City of Reno. The renamed Reno-Stead Airport once hosted all airline passenger flights into and out of Reno while our downtown airport, at that time hung with the unpopular name of Reno-Cannon Airport, was closed for a major runway resurfacing. For five weeks the PSA pilots in their DC-9s raced the AirCal Boeing 737 guys around the Reno National Air Race’s 8-mile unlimited-class course pylons at Stead on their way to final approach for runway two-four.