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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