Thanksgiving Day…

cropped-slim Well, I’m in the doghouse again; Dad says I can’t go out and play ‘til I replace that stupid story of the turkeys and the airplanes that’s on the website now for the 20th time. So while my buddies are all across the street in Whitaker Park playing, I’m slaved to this little Remington of my grandmother’s on the front porch of 740 Ralston Street. And my baby sister Marilyn is in her bassinet crying. As usual. How is a six-year-old kid to get anything done?

For some reason all I can think of is winter stuff – ‘cuz winter’s coming. And stuff I’dTypewriter like to write a story about next year. Or some I’ve already written of. People say I should come up with an “index” of what I’ve written, which sounds like a lot of work. There’s a search box where somebody can type in a name or a “keyword” and then scroll to a bunch of stories and find one they like. Or like many people do, just email me (this is 1948!) and I’ll send them a “link” to a story if there is one. Or I’ll write one. But an index? Why turn fun into hard work??

Finch copyOne story I’m trying to get written is of a man named David Finch, who became the principal of Reno High School after it moved out by Idlewild Park from right down the street from my house (if this column’s going to get written I have to suspend time and talk about stuff that hasn’t happened yet.) Finch is like that and I’ll get to him. He was a bit weird but deserves a lot better than he ever got out of Reno. I’ll get there, promise. And on a day like today I think a lot about some other stuff – like the train that got stuck in a snowbank up on Donner Summit for four days and how they got the people off it. That was 1952 but I’ve already written about it. But probably will again. I s’pose I RHS2009ought to start writing down what I’ve already written about before I get 340 columns and can’t remember. One like that is another snow story, in 1948 when the Army Air Corps sent a bunch of C-119s from southern California and ranchers sent hay to airports in Reno, Douglas County, and other little airports in Nevada and all the way east to Denver, really, and the hay was put on the airplanes by all kind of guys like my dad who then flew with the airplanes and kicked the haybales off the 119s’ back doors, to feed the cattle and sheep that were starving with all their normal food buried under snow. That’s a good story; I’ve got some pictures and will have to publish (or re-publish!) it soon in 2020.

50010 iconic cityof sf locoI’ve always written often about trains – they’re kind of part of our Reno history. One column I wrote made a lot of people scratch their head because I wrote that no “Malleys” – named for Swiss engineer Anatole Mallet – went through Reno and Sparks after 1929 because they were so complicated and maintenance-hungry. But the big ‘ol cab-forwards were called Malleys until they quit running. And the other thing that irritated my readers was that the last steam locomotives to go through town IN REVENUE SERVICE was about this time of year in 1949 – next year. I dug that out of the Mighty SP’s records in the Bancroft Library just to silence a detractor who doubted what I wrote. The ones we saw after October 1949 were in helper service. And we never write just “SP” – it’s always the “Mighty SP.” You wanna be my editor and put up with crap like that weekly for 32 years?

Another train story that I can’t find now is of the “Merci Train” – little European SinatraIIboxcars, 51 of them, that were sent after an postwar aid airlift to France and Germany, in gratitude for the life-sustaining effort by Americans. The French boxcars were sent to each state and the D of C, with  gifts to Americans from the French people, many peasants who put clothing and dolls and toys in the cars. The contents of the cars were soon stolen, natch, but the Nevada car was displayed on a flatcar on Commercial Row before being taken to the RR museum in Carson City, where it fell MerciTraininto disrepair. I had lunch every Tuesday at the Liberty Belle with Richard C. Datin, who became the director of the railroad museum, where he kicked ass and took names to get the little boxcar restored. You can see it now on display. But this is only 1948, so I don’t know that yet.

I do know that mom’s going to be steamed when she reads me typing the “A-word” ManoguePowersin that last graf. And I should include that Richard C. Datin, also a Hollywood modelmaker, created the starship Enterprise for the Star Trek TV series.

Here’s a good story that needs to be told: Atop Peavine Mountain (Peak) there’s a Bell Telephone relay station. Some kids we go to school with live there with their families, who stay there all the time and bring the kids down the grade for a  couple of days at a time. They are snowed in right now, can’t get down or up the hill; the phone company doesn’t have Tucker Sno-Cats for another year so the kids have been snowed in for a week. So a bunch of us collected warm clothing, books, fun-food and other stuff to be airlifted to them by a new-fangled “helicopter” from Reno Air Base. And speaking of which, they’re going to rename it “Stead” air base soon. And the City of Reno is going to build a new fire station across Ralston Street from the Jack & Jill Day Care Center that we understand some fraternity – Sigmanoo – bought. Why is this news? Because the Fire Department is going to try to staff it with airmen stationed at Reno/Stead air base. That’s why.

SHMlafranceAnd we don’t know this yet, but in the first big fire after the new fire house – Station 4 – opened (which was the Granada Theater fire, then two weeks later the old YMCA exploded!) the fire chief had to tell the men of Station 4 that English, and not Italian, was the preferred language on the fire department’s radio…. (Often I wrote something unpopular with editors, like that, and of the revelation that Sierra Pacific Power, in league with Southwest Gas in 1964, wantonly destroyed the antiquity-act-protected structure at the entrance to the Sutro Tunnel. The present gates are but a lame effort to restore them. Did they go to jail as you or I would have for wrecking it? Noooo…)

Anyway, there’s a lot left to write about in this burg. I kind of like being the “six-year-old-kid” but having the capability of moving time around. On a downer note, HankPhilcoxthat allows me to mention a lass who attained fame, fortune and notoriety by mowing down a couple dozen fellow citizens on Virginia Street on Thanksgiving Evening, 1980. As an aside I’ll mention as I do occasionally that I don’t run stories of unpleasant stuff, like a full story of the above, I get, monthly, a directive, “You gotta write the story of the lady on Nixon Avenue who awoke with weasels tearing at her flesh and shot her six kids and the cleaning lady……” or some other unpleasant Reno story. I probably know the stories, more accurately, in that case I have the police report and newspaper accounts and have already written the stories for my doomsday trove of such stuff, but prefer to write happy stuff. There’s enough of the other, hashed and re-hashed, in the paper – it was sensational the first time and embarrasses the writer pounding it over and over on slow news days – just let them die. (And it was three kids; the cleaning lady found them. And not on Nixon Avenue.)

Plus I’m only six years old – what do I care?

Stay tuned, return occasionally; this is 1.048 words to the last comma so I’m outta here, Dad; gonna go across Ralston to Whitaker Park and play with Don Hartman, Henry Philcox (above, in the shades), Mike Fischer, the Molini kids, Marilyn Burkham and Trina Ryan. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

Turkey time, already?

Some of my columns have become iconic to a time of year; they were crappy when I wrote them 15, 20 years ago and haven’t become any better since, but maintain misleading, boring, non-factual, ill-researched, plagiarized and generally pathetic information. But, if I don’t run the Wreaths & Shamrocks piece on St. Patrick’s Day or the Squaw Valley 1960 Winter Olympics Opening with every new Winter Olympics, I catch hell: “Hey, it’s Thanksgiving; where’s the turkey story?” Just in case anyone alive hasn’t read this yarn that I stole from somebody in 1988, here it is:

Comet3In the dawn of the transition from propeller-driven to jet airliners – c. 1955 – the British DeHavilland builder of the Comet airliner turned to the Yankee builders – Lockheed, Boeing and Douglas – for insight into fabricating test strikes of aircraft windscreens, caused by planes striking birds at low altitude – takeoff or landing. The three Southern California giants gladly sent information about a rudimentary slingshot, to propel a store-bought 15-pound turkey into a windscreen to guage its effect.

Several weeks later, the Brits sent photographs of a windscreen with a gaping holeFrozenTurkey in it, then photos in sequence of a hole in the bulkhead behind the pilot’s head, the demolished flight engineer’s console behind that bulkhead, a hole in the bulkhead separating the flight engineer’s station from the crew lavatory and the interior of the lavatory, also trashed, with the turkey at rest on a countertop surrounded by glass from the mirror above the counter. The final photograph was of a question mark drawn on the damaged lavatory bulkhead. 

“Next time,” the American engineers wrote, “thaw the turkey…”

Reno–Almost the Hollywood of the Truckee Meadows?

Debbie2Please welcome guest writer Deborah Hinman – a decade behind me at Reno High School, retired from Ma Bell and currently enjoying a second career with the Renown Foundation. Debbie’s the lead writer and researcher for the Historic Reno Preservation Society’s quarterly, Footprints magazine, and now files this story:

Reno—home of a motion picture company? And a studio occupying one city block in the Old Southwest? And an investor/business manager/secretary who bears the same name and well may have gone on to become an Academy Award-winning director? Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Hard to believe but true, at least on two counts. The company did exist (however short-lived) and the business manager (if one and the same) would someday be very famous. The studio was never built but unless it was a case of fake news of 1920, it very nearly was.

On September 23, 1919, Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Washoe CountyCapra Clerk for the Tri-State Motion Picture Company. The incorporators were Miss Ida May Heidtman, a wealthy woman from Los Angeles, W. M. Plank and F. R. Capra. Could this have been none other than Frank Russell Capra (at left) as an unknown 22-year-old? Plank was the driving force behind the company. Of his plans, Plank stated, “We expect to spend $25,000 for buildings, and will erect a permanent Alaskan Village and a permanent Western Village. We will use the villages for pictures produced by our company and will also rent them to other producers of Los Angeles who will come here for snow scenes.”

A full-page ad in the Nevada Newsletter, dated January 10, 1920, details the plans for the studio. Tri-State had purchased property in Arlington Heights. The studio would face Arlington Avenue, bounded by Arroyo Street on the north and Pueblo Street on the south. The rear of the studio would face Catherine Street (today Wright Street). The story announced that ground had been broken and construction would begin immediately. The architectural drawings show an elaborate building with large arched windows on the first floor and many smaller arched windows in the floor above. Steps lead to a massive columned portico with a triangular pediment. The poor-quality rendering attached below at least gives an idea of the grandeur of the proposed building, which was to be supervised by architect Stanley C. Flawn.

MovieStudioI believe it’s accurate to say the studio was never built, and definitely not at this location. In looking at the homes on the 1300 block of South Arlington and Wright Streets, most were built in the 1930s when the city was extending southward. According to the Assessor’s records, the earliest house was built in 1926. A blurb in a 1959 Reno Evening Gazette under “40 Years Ago” reads, “Miss Ann Austin arrived in Reno to take the leading role in two movies. She was to perform in the movies The Pulse of Life and The Ranch of the Wolverines, productions of Tri-State Motion Picture Company. The studio was to be located on the Riley Ranch on Arlington Road.” Ann Austin shows one film credit on IMDB for 1941’s Moon Over Miami.

As far as production, Tri-State’s first five-reel feature is listed as The Pulse of Life. The Nevada Newsletter article says the company expects to complete and release the picture before January 27, 1920. Oddly, a film with the same title is listed in IMDB with a date of 1917. None of the names of production personnel match the Reno crew, Ann Austin is not among the cast and it was filmed at Universal Studios, however. The article also announced that still photos from actual scenes were on exhibit at Weck’s Drug Store on the corner of Second and Virginia Streets. The second picture to be produced by Tri-State was listed as Love’s Scars. There is no mention of Wolverines (Tri-State was no doubt waiting for the Western Village to be built).

The Pulse of Life (Reno production) opened at the Grand Theater on April 25, 1920. Read the newspaper ad, “The first motion picture feature to be produced in Reno. With local players in the cast. A dramatic story that is enacted amid scenes of beauty in the environs of this city.” There were no listings for the other two films which probably never got made. Plank and Capra were shown in the 1920 City Directory as residing at the Overland Hotel but just for that one year. I’m not sure what happened to Plank, but if this was indeed the famous director Frank Capra, he certainly went on to great fame and fortune. According to his Wikipedia bio, as a young man after recovering from a burst appendix, “Capra moved out and spent the next few years living in flophouses in San Francisco and hopping freight trains, wandering the Western United States.” The timing fits and he could well have ridden the Southern Pacific to Reno.

Though Tri-State seems to have been disbanded following its first film and has been lost in obscurity, it’s stories like these that give us a real taste of what 1920s Reno was like, with all sorts of entrepreneurs arriving in our city, trying to make a buck with their grandiose dreams. More than likely, no copy of Pulse exists today but I would sure love to see it, or even the still scene photographs. I’ll keep an eye on Ebay—who knows, they might show up some day!

 

Graphics of Capra and structure courtesy Debbie Hinman

In 1963, Nevada’s tallest building rises over Lake’s Crossing

This column was written a couple of years ago at the suggestion of Bill Thornton – a pillar of our community who passed away on Nov. 5 (pictured below). Much has been written of Biil; this is my contribution to his memory:

ThorntonA near-century after the township of Lake’s Crossing was staked out on the Truckee River, a brand-new building, at 294 feet the highest in the state and located at the financial, retail, social and geographic crossroads of Reno, opened for business on a Saturday afternoon. And thus, on October 26, 1963, a Northern Nevada icon was born. The First National Bank of Nevada, then the state’s “400 Million Dollar Partner,” commissioned the construction of the building to be its statewide headquarters. Curiously, the bank’s former main branch at Second and Virginia Streets, a block to the north, would remain as the preferred branch of the bank’s premier accounts for years to follow, evidence of either the sentimentality of the depositors’ formative days, or of the cachet and clout to be gained from the “94-1” branch number on their checks. But the new 16-story building would from that date forward house the central operation of its commerce on the lower four floors, with the fifth floor and those higher leased immediately to some of the Reno’s most prestigious legal firms and commercial tenants. I was somewhat amused that in spite of the wholesale pilgrimage of the bank’s administrative function to the new tower, their high-speed memory-card-reader/state-of-the-art, whiz-bang behemoth IBM computer remained at the Second and Virginia building, as it was too massive a task to move it. That amusement came as I realized that today, 53 years later, the IT tech who runs that IBM’s replacement with tenfold more capability would probably just haul it the one block south on a hand-truck and plug it back in.

FNB treat

(Photo: Treat Cafferata/RGJ file)

Let’s learn a bit of the tower structure: The name of the bank’s early-1960s president Eddie Questa figures in several sources as the engine behind building a new bank, on a site occupied by another, smaller FNB branch on the same corner, One East First Street. Shareholder approval was gained and deed was done, and the Harding Group engineering firm initiated the task of overseeing the preparation of the site and coordinating the management of construction and utilities to the new building. The architectural firm of Langdon & Wilson, then of LA and now with principal offices in Newport Beach, California, was commissioned to design a bank building. And did they ever; the obsidian glass with bright aluminum window mullions were unique in 1964 and remain so today. The usable floor area of the building is 160,000 square feet, which when including the entry floor works out to about 10,000 feet per floor (like most high-rise buildings, One East First has no 13th floor). The vault, with its 18-ton door, is 18 feet wide by 85 feet long. Inasmuch as the vault’s floor, ceiling and walls are fashioned of two feet of concrete and rebar, it’s a fair assumption that no matter what becomes of the structure, the vault will remain. And here I’ll beat a dozen column readers to what they’re itching to email me — that Parker’s first western store on East Second at Lake Street was also built as a bank with a vault in its basement, which Harry and Mush Parker used as a showroom for Levi’s britches.

The $4.5 million tower construction was a joint venture of the L. E. Dixon Company of San Gabriel, California and the J. A. Tiberti Construction Company of Las Vegas. Both were strong companies with many impressive projects completed on the West Coast. While both firms were domiciled out of the area, FNB took great pride that the vast majority of the subcontractors, suppliers and vendors were locally based. And, like dotting an i or crossing a t, one of the final acts of construction before turning the new building over to the 500 First National Bank employees was the placing of a 42-foot-tall lightning arrester atop the building. A helicopter was employed for this daunting task, an event not lost on the adoring press. By coincidence a set of pulleys, sheaves and a lanyard were attached to the lightning rod. The current Reno City Hall is at left in this view looking north. The Cal Neva parking garage is on the right.  And, by golly, on that autumn day of 1963 Old Glory proudly flew above the Battle Born Nevada flag from that lanyard at the pinnacle of the new building,. A few housekeeping notes remain: Eddie Questa, considered the father of this “head office” building, passed away before the building was completed. A 500-car parking garage was later completed across the alley east of One East First Street. At its grand opening on Dec. 12, 1964, the first parking slot was allotted to FNB president Hugo Quilici; vintage cars from Harrah’s Auto Collection were parked on the upper floors with newly introduced 1965 models occupying the main floor on display. And one final note is imperative, that of the Mapes Hotel across First Street to the south, FNB’s neighbor for 36 years until the Mapes’ demolition in January 2000.

The story of One East First Street cannot be fully told in the context of Reno’s iconic structures without including the Mapes Hotel. In years to follow, One East First Street was acquired by the Club Cal Neva, and thereafter the office tower was sold to the City of Reno for its current occupancy as Reno City Hall. In 2015, the Club Cal Neva sold to the parking garage located a 55 East First Street to City of Reno as the garage is used primarily by the City of Reno, its employees and visitors, and other tenants of the office building. These transactions deserve a column of their own soon when space will permit more information.

What is quite relevant in this column is the activity being planned for a city council meeting next Wednesday, July 20, [2016] at noon, when the architect’s 1964 rendering of One East First Street, a framed image about four-feet square, will be donated to the City by Bill Thornton’s family and the Club Cal-Neva headed by Jeff Siri. The rendering will be displayed in the building’s lobby with an appurtenant description of its creation. It’ll be well worth your trek downtown to see this artwork, in the now-Reno City Hall, the northernmost jewel in the City of Reno’s tiara – the classic Delongchamps post office, the graceful new Virginia Street Bridge spanning the Truckee River, and this iconic bank building-turned-city hall.

read Nettie Oliverio’s tribute to Bill © This Is Reno 

column text © RGJ 2016

Are 17 school districts preferable to one?

cropped-cropped-kfb-bow-tieThe backstory to this is that, for our recent 60-year reunion of the Reno High School Class of 1959, I was tapped as the standby Master of Ceremonies should the first man become unavailable, which was an early possibility. Happily, John Doyle, who was the de facto Voice of the Class for the 60 preceding years, was there so my services were not required. I did, however, prepare a few thoughts in case I was called upon. Not to let them go to waste, I’m posting them here. The theme was, that our class was pivotal in a couple of respects. This week we’ll look at one; another time, we’ll read of early Kindergartens in Reno. The lights at Hidden Valley now dim and here’s what I would have said. Sort of:

RHS2009There were in Washoe County no fewer than 17 separate school districts until May 2, 1955. Reno and Sparks were of course the two bigger districts; north of town were the Bonham, Copperfield, Sutcliff and Spanish Springs. To the west, Verdi and Laughton, (later Lawton); to the south and east of Sparks were Glendale and Wadsworth and the tribal district of Natchez. To the south, Home Gardens, Galena, Brown, Huffaker and Franktown. The seventeenth was “Consolidated,” which I think was administrative, homebound, and what we now call special needs. In some enumerations Brown shows as Consolidated #2. And, I think the Babcock Memorial Kindergarten might have taken on a “district” status. Dunno. The new single county district occupied their vacated schoolhouse on West Sixth Street as its headquarters until 1962. It was green. It was the original greenhouse; where the current nickname came from, I have no idea…

So — what we had in the county were 17 sets of payrolls, buildings, school boards and officers, teachers, inventories to purchase and maintain, applications to the State Board of Education for funds — in effect 17 little businesses, separate yet all pulling in the same direction.

And from the standpoint of readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmetic, inconsistencies abounded. The smaller schools, which constituted the majority of the 17, were one-room school houses, where “grades” tended to lose their identity to age groupings – grades one and two meeting for a couple hours while grades three through eight studied and read, no doubt the older students assisting the younger ones. As the day progressed the teachers would group the older grades by set, through the end of the day, following the curriculum set by that district. And it must have worked, for there were in Reno and Sparks a heck of a lot of locally-educated men and women.

But following WWII, people started to move around, gentrifying the inner towns. A family with a child in Bonham might relocate to nearby Sparks, or another from Galena move into Huffaker. And there find that their curriculums didn’t jibe, and there were duplications of study, or worse, omissions. Another situation that existed after WWII, and we entering Mary S. Doten in 1946 noticed immediately, that a family who lived, say, around Milk Ranch might send their children to a family member or friend in a more urban district for the five-day school week, to then go back to the ranch Friday after school. Thus, many of our school playmates were gone, for weekend birthday parties and outings.

So, by legislative fiat, the 1955 Nevada State Legislature created the Washoe County School District – all assets, debts, real property, school supplies and personnel became the property of this grand new district, which as we’ve seen will make the whole county system operate more smoothly. Yeah…

I included this legislative act as pivotal mostly to our class, because we all came on that bright September morning of 1955, from our former intermediate schools Central, B. D. Billinghurst and Northside – to the great Brickpile on Booth Street, Reno High School – then four years old.

When we arrived and all met in the gymnasium, we discovered that the operation was running as smoothly as corrugated rat shit – no one apparently in charge had a clue what was happening nor where we were going next. But, having matriculated for eight prior years we attributed the cacophony to the first-day-of-school jitters, that would all go away

What we didn’t realize was, that the jitters were in reality the first-day-of-school-in-a-brand-new-school district, with teachers and staff unused to the new system – new rules – new people and faces, not infrequently a new hierarchy, with a once-seniority-blessed teacher now subservient to a person of lesser tenure, a result of the new district. Such beefs were many.

But – we didn’t know any of that – we assumed this fusterkluck was the way of life in our new environment. So life went on and some stability eventually fell upon Reno High School. But – the members of the Class of 1959 were the newbies, and we noticed it more than any, older or following us in later years.

-o-0-o-

The old Reno School District #10 had one rule in particular whch lent itself to this evening’s speech that  I was crafting: That requirement, which I understand dated back to the turn of the 20th century, mandated that a male teacher, prior to taking over a classroom in the Reno District, spend a period of time which I could not determine, teaching in the remote districts in Nevada – let’s say in the Cow Counties. I did learn that this practice was adopted from one which was almost nationwide, a practice that guaranteed that male teachers would occupy classrooms in the various states’ rural areas.

And a strong argument to the system was that these gentlemen, having spent some time, usually a couple of school years, would bring back to their eventual urban postings a knowledge of their respective states – in Nevada, the agriculture, the livestock, the railroads, the mining, and so forth. And it worked.

Here, my words would have taken a new turn…I frankly used the preceding words and fact as a basis for what I wanted to convey all along to my classmates. I described a column reader of many years past, and quoted information she mailed me probably 20 years ago.

This reader wrote me periodically on lightweight vellum paper, using a fabric-Typewriterribbon typewriter – two or three sheets with impeccable grammar and composition, nary an error in the text. I endeared myself to her by responding with two or three sheets of vellum, using my Underwood Standard. She got a kick out of that.

She conveyed that she grew up in Rochester, a little mining community in Pershing County. Her father was a miner; her mother managed the mine company’s employee store. I quote one letter as best as I can remember it (I still have it somewhere):

“One new school year we had a new teacher. We learned that he had graduated last year from Stanford. Someone said that he was on the boxing team. He was quite proper, wore a suit and tie every day and his hair was neatly trimmed. He was friendly but a little stand-offish. He came to dinner often and was very entertaining but never took a drop of whiskey or wine with my parents, and left and walked home soon after dessert. And a few days later we’d always receive a thank-you card in the mail.”

This reader, whose name I never sought permission to use, passed away many years ago. Her family notified me, on, a fabric-ribbon typewriter using vellum paper. I was often asked why I wrote columns in the Gazoo for 31 years for free. Readers like these are the answer…

Finch copyThis post has grown long. Come back in a couple weeks and we’ll learn who the mysterious, well-coifed teacher in Rochester, Nevada was…

 

Added Nov. 7: OK – confession time – this is a two-parter; part II will feature David Finch. MEANT TO INCLUDE THAT I’LL TRY TO WORK IN SOME FINCH ANECDOTES IF THE SENDER RELEASES THEM FOR PUBLICATION IN THEIR TRANSMISSION TO

kfbreckenridge@live.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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