Dec. 13 – still hoppin’ down the Santa trail…

SlimIt’s cold on Ralston Street up by the park this morning, but no snow in sight (kind of like to see the street with enough snow to bring the town’s kids and sleds and toboggans, but not today…)

I need to make a confession to those watching me write this on binder paper with a Ticonderoga #2 pencil, that I possess an ability to look into the future, assemble tea leaves, and own a Ouija board and a crystal ball. If I didn’t have this secret power, I could never be just a six-year-old kid who just moved to town from Richmond after the war, and tear apart the veil that covers the future to see and view the supernal beauty that lies beyond. (I wish I’d have said that first; actually I stole it from a guy who wrote it a hundred years ago!*) But if I couldn’t see into the future for a few years, there wouldn’t be a Christmas story today.

I’ve a whole lot of notes still in my jeans. One’s about Rabbi Frankel of the Synagogue across West Street from old Reno High School. He was a pretty cool guy, and for FordPoliceCarmany years he would, on Christmas Day, show up at the new police station on Second Street and tell Reno’s police chief to go home and enjoy his family on Christmas Day. Then he’d wear a chief’s shirt and hat and badge and stuff around the police station and bring candy canes and doughnuts to the other cops who were working their holiday. And he’d get in one of Reno’s old Ford police cars and ride around with the cops, stopping every once in a while to cheer up a downtown guy. This was a tradition in Reno for many years, practiced by a number of rabbis and chiefs. One year a guy actually died of natural causes on Christmas day and the rabbi said, “Oy Vey, now what the hell do I do?” (I don’t know if he said ‘Oy Vey’ but my little friend David Ginsburg told me that.)

There was a guy named Red Nibert who was a sign painter, out at the end of Mill Street east of Kietzke Lane (Dad said they were going to pave Kietzke someday and make it four lane!). Red worked hard all year painting signs and trucks and stuff but one day he went to a new restaurant out by what was going to become “Plumb Lane” and cross South Virginia, and he painted a bright red and green sleigh and reindeer and a Santa on the restaurant’s window – I think the restaurant was the one at the end of Wells Avenue. The work caught on, and Red painted a couple more windows that year, I think also the big window on the Coca-cola bottling plant where Center Street came out onto South Virginia. Pretty soon they’d make Center one-way so people would quit killing each other at that intersection with Virginia, Mary and Center. Within a few years Red would paint Christmas scenes on over 40 local windows – he could do the whole restaurant in about 10 minutes and move on.

I should tell you about a new friend of mine named Luther, who came to town withLuther his family from Hawthorne when we were little kids. We worked together at the Reno High cafeteria, but he didn’t do too well there. I was supposed to make the cinnamon rolls with him, but all he ever wanted to make were “hamburgers,” he called them. I don’t know what ever became of him. “Ham”burger. Hell, there was no ham in them! (Mom will be made because I wrote “hell.” Sorry, readers…) A drive-by writer used a photo of him in a Santa hat 50 years later and scared the h…, er, the pants off every kid in Reno who saw the Gazoo that morning.

OrnamentA big deal in town came in 1964, which is really long after I started writing this. A big bank put up a building taller than the Mapes Hotel, and that Christmas to everyone’s surprise, a giant Christmas tree that you could see from all over town, was turned on. It was made with a bunch of lights and wires with light sockets by the bank’s maintenance guys, who put up the “tree” on their own. The flagpole, I read in a drive-by writer’s column a few years later, was 42 feet tall above the building, and placed onto the building with a helicopter. That’s a pretty good story, someday I tell it.

Not to be outdone, Harrah’s new hotel tower, which was taller than the bank building, one Christmas put up a “necklace” of golden lights around the top rail of their building, and a tree on their flagpole like the bank’s. So there were TWO Christmas trees downtown!

Downtown Reno was a pretty scene in the winters; the City put up holiday lights above the Truckee, and played Christmas music on the speakers on downtown telephone poles. The best scene in town was from the Holiday Hotel’s Shore Room when the hotel opened in 1957, looking west up the River with all the lights. The City’s Christmas tree was in Wingfield Park, and every year there would be a lighting celebration with over 2,000 people coming downtown to watch. “Tink” SantaFrostyTinkham, and later my classmate Glenn Little, conducted the local musicians and singers from the University, the high schools (Reno and Manogue!) and the casinos in Christmas carols. A guy named Rocco Youse gave the City his huge statues of Frosty and Santa that used to be in front of his house on Fireside Circle. He was moving to a gated community and wouldn’t need them anymore. My friend John Trent reminded me of that…

Store windows were fun to view, with the storekeepers putting their best into Christmas displays. I’ve written of this before, and always forget, and am then reminded that the little mechanical cobbler in the window of Spina’s shoe repair shop on Sierra Street, always got dressed in Christmas clothes and a Santa hat at Christmas time! (There. I wrote it.)

BudweiserI’m getting pretty tired and Dad says I have to do some work for him around our house. (Mom doesn’t know it, but he bought two tennis rackets from Sears Roebuck’s catalogue store and they’ll be here by Christmas, so we can go play tennis in the courts across the street in Whitaker Park.) So – I promised I’d write about some local Santas in the stores around the town, and I see some stores opening south of town we’d better write about. C’mon back one of these days!!!!

(* I stole the passage from editor Francis P. Church who wrote that in “Yes Virginia There is a Santa Claus” in the Sept. 21, 1897 edition of the New York Sun)

 

 

 

An old-time staff party


scrambleWhat ho — a new tradition once appeared on the Reno skyline: a Christmas tree standing two stories above the top of the brand-new Harrah’s Hotel, and ringing the hotel’s parapet was a new necklace of gold. The brightly-lit Frosty and Santa — donated to the city by Del Chemical’s wanne-be bad-boy kingpin, the late Rocco Youse — stood ten feet high on Belle Isle. The City of Reno, Sierra Pacific Power and Bell Tel crews were putting up candy canes on the streetlamp poles downtown and stringing colored lights across the Truckee. Alongside the candy canes: loudspeakers with songs of the season. (If this Sunday morning daydream were taking place in 1955, a flood two days before Christmas Day would take out those strings of lights and half of downtown with them.)

The genius behind this column and the wind beneath my wings — our researcherkarlatwhitaker CarmineGhiaCarmine Ghia   (left), with photographer Lo Phatt (left below), typist Ophelia Payne, our driver Ashton Martin, proofreader Text Writter and all the other staffers — are looking forward to our annual staff party, preferably in a candlelit room, embers glowing in a fireplace and a hot-buttered rum nearby. (That’s me on the right in a 1946 Bud Loomis photo in Whitaker Park with the Eichbush house in Lo Phatthe background.) In years past we’ve gone to Siri’s on East Fourth and the Christmas Tree up Mt. Rose highway, whose name 50 years later would be changed in order to remain politically correct. The Circle RB on West Fourth, named for singer Reno Browne and later to become the Chinese Pagoda and finally Micasa Too, has a great party room. Just west of that, we went once to the old Villa Roma. You can call it the Glory Hole or you can call it Washoe, now you can call it my buddy Curtis Worrall’s Whispering Vines Wine. But whatever, it was a great place for revelry. And even further west, one of the grandest party rooms ever was at Lawton’s Resort, rebuilt, but now just a huge pile of kindling. The El Cortez Hotel had the Squire Room and the Trocadero Lounge. One of the prettiest night views in Reno has perennially been the view westward up the Truckee from the Holiday Hotel’s Shore Room. (Still is, from the Siena, or whatever it’s called now.)

Some of my staffers suggested we hire a van to take us out to Hagel’s Villa in ElCortezWashoe City, or to the Lancer (or is it the Mesa?) across the Mt. Rose highway from the present Galena High School. We could go high-end to the Waldorf downtown, with (the now late) Jack Joseph at the piano. I digress for an anecdote: I once wrote of “ … Jack Joseph, tickling the ivories at the Waldorf … ” Jack called me the next week, said “Karl, I never played the piano!” I told him he’d been warming that piano bench for 25 years, and he responded, “Yeah, but I never played the thing. I never learned how … ” Who’da thunk it? Or we might book the private room off the Mapes Sky Room. Or trek down Truckee River Lane to the River Front to the west, oft-confused by holiday revelers with the Bundox within the River House to the east. Different places.

Still downtown, the venerable old State Building in Powning Park — too big for our little group, but pleasant. We’ve written about it here before. Vario’s has a private room, as does Eugene’s — the “Gypsy” room. But if we’re going that far south of town on South Virginia, all the long way out to the present Peppermill, we might as well go to the Supper Club or The Willows. In college we might have booked our party at Bish’s Game Farm away out of town by the swamp on the present Longley Lane, or maybe at Flindt’s barn, where one more or less bullet hole in the ceiling never really merited too much attention, but we’ve matured vastly beyond that behavior. Sort of. Always a favorite: the California Building in Idlewild Park. Lots of parties were held at the Darrel Dunkle American Legion Hall on Ralston Street or the little Masonic hall upstairs above Statewide Appliance on North Virginia just north of Fourth Street/Highway 40 (easy parking on Sewell’s parking lot). That new-fangled Silver Legacy would change all that in 1995.

OK, the Casa de Amor (bet you’ve all forgotten that name!) later renamed the Cove and finally just Miguel’s at the south end of town on South Virginia by Mt. Rose Street, if you can stomach a reindeer chimichanga. Even further out, we can try to book the Continental Lodge, either their Central Park Lounge or the private room in the south end of the restaurant. The Doll House out South Virginia has a good dance floor, but our staff can’t ever go back there because we booked Snoshu Thompson’s dance band a few years ago and our staff grammarian Persephone did the hootchie-kootchie on the bar with the guy I hired to play Santa Claus.

We could go east on East Fourth Street almost to the Sparks city line and try for the Gay-Nor Room in Ray’s Big Y or the private room in the back of the Chuck Wagon down the street. But every time we go to Sparks Joe Mayer, the Stockwell twins and Geno Martini crash our parties. We’ve tried for the Nugget’s once-convention center-later-Trader Dick’s on the north side of B Street in Sparks, but it’s always a pretty popular venue. Anyway, the Sunday Our Voices Column Christmas Party will be a doozy, if and wherever somebody will have us. And make it a good week; buy a kid a warm jacket for the Salvation Army’s barrel and God bless America.

photo El Cortez Hotel Hilary Swift RGJ – 1954 photo Mapes scramble system  uncredited

“Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist” headlines the men of the Black Bear Diner’s epic Christmas extravaganza…!

six_singers
Once again, the men of the Black Bear Diner, in their ongoing effort to elevate the level of culture in the Truckee Meadows, are hosting a concert at the diner (their names are Carbon, Wassenberg, Kittell, diner owners O’Looney and Mavrides, the Reid/Reed boys Mike and Tom, Duhart, Felesina, Breckenstein, Cloud, Mastos, Lauren House with his incredible tenor voice and Hinxpeeps with his double-bell euphonium), and with any luck at all they may feel the electric thrill that Professor Harold Hill once enjoyed when Gilmour, Liberati, the Great Creatore, Pat Conway, W. C. Handy and John Phillip SOUSA all came to town on the same historic day, with Lida Rose Quackenbush, the only female bassoon player west of River City in tow.
The doors will open at 7 A.M. with the concert beginning an hour later. Parking is available west of the diner, admission is a dollar in advance, and free at the door.
The program shall be:
  • Hansel and Gretel and Ted and Alice,
          an opera in one unnatural act
  • Fanfare for the Common Cold in Ab Minor*
  • Birthday Ode to “Big Daddy” Bach
  • The Abduction of Figaro, a simply grand opera
  • 1712 Overture (often mistaken for a later work)
  • Toot Suite for calliope, five hands
  • Suite No. 2 for Cello, All by Its Lonesome
  • Perviertimento for Bagpipes, Bicycle and Balloons
  • Shepherd on the Rocks with a Twist
  • Oedipus Tex, and Other Choral Calamities
  • Music for an Awful Lot of Winds and Percussion

An element of the concert will be a brief discussion of two Lo Phatmusical events, VanVinikowmoderated by Reno’s own Van Vinikow, Supreme Being of the String Beings, [pictured left] whose string-based ensembles have been enjoyed by many local people for many years. Also on hand will be Wenxiu Wlodarzyk [at right], the director of music history at Manhattan’s prestigious Julliard School, discussing another element of contemporary music.

 Mr. Vinikow will speak of the creation of a musical key, cited above in the popular “Fanfare” and its origin in our own nearby Comstock Lode. The backstory is that Mssrs. SteinwayMackay, Fair, Flood and O’Brien were hosting a fête on the lower stopes of a mine in their lode for which they were lowering a Steinway concert grand piano, purchased only recently at Sherman Clay in San Francisco and brought up Geiger Grade by a team of Clydesdales, into the mine shaft. The cable supporting the piano broke and the piano landed on an unfortunate employee of the mine. Thus the key of Ab Minor came to be known, the key of A flat miner.

Mr. Wlodarzyk will reveal that a recent contest was adjudicated at Julliard, whose rules were that contestants, working in groups, were to write, record and publish the most annoying, repetitive song ever written; a tune which would make people wince in pain when its first few bars were heard, and moreover, a song that would emulate a song three- to five-hundred years old.

TwelveDaysThe names of the student contestants who triumphed were wisely withheld, but the winner, using the term loosely, was held out unanimously to be a groaner titled “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” about which one of its lyricists was heard to exclaim, “Let’s submit this bullshit and see if anyone will ever believe it!”

Regrettably, some took the song seriously and it has achieved a certain amount of notice.

This concert, of course, is also pure B.S. and should not be placed in your “things to do” folder…just funnin’ around

photo credit six singers Richard Termine for The New York Times. some text from The Music Man, other stuff from Peter Shickele

Reno’s Music Men (and a couple ladies…)

JohnnyFeverThe Gazoo was conducting its fifth annual roundup of local musicians. In some haste I called Lauren House (right), this column’s director of music and cultural affairs, who in my opinion happens to be one of the longest-tenured and the best musician and tenor voice in Reno, cutting his musical molars in the basement of the storied Emporium of Music on Sierra Street when Ike was still in the White House. “What Lauren Houseare we to do?” I asked him. “They want all this stuff from a bunch of local music guys who don’t have email, think Dick Tracy invented the cell phone and don’t know a CD from an IUD.” I left out that most of them are deceased as well. But their stories need to be documented. My mind went to he who may be the best musician that ever hit Reno from faraway New York, whose name was Joe Battaglia (left, below). Joe romanced and wed a local lady, Orene Budge, after World War II, moving then to Reno. He was involved in most of the musical groups in Reno, the church choirs, a solo tenor with the Reno Municipal Band and performed in more annual presentations of the Messiah than one could reasonably Handel. Joe organized many chorus groups, notably the Men of Renown, a group of 16 local men with great pipes. Lauren battagliareminded me his comedic stock-in trade was entering a downtown restaurant costumed as a waiter carrying a silver covered entrée dish while a singer was performing, crashing to the floor with his tray and disrupting the entire room, then joining the singer onstage with a beautiful rendition in his powerful tenor voice. Such was Joe. We’ll send in a CD with a video of this fine and popular man. OK, there’s one entry in the “Best of” contest. We now traverse from the Golden Hotel and Joe Battaglia across the Truckee to Newt Crumley’s Holiday Hotel after it opened in 1957, where a fixture in the music scene was cueing up his five-man house orchestra – his name was Charles Gould, the conductor of the Satin Strings, who performed nightly at the Holiday in the Shore Room or its cozy little lounge. Few Reno homes didn’t have a copy of his albums, (round, black things with a holes in the middle that a machine would spin 33 times a minute) and bring to life Gould’s soft renditions of some of the best music then being written, primarily from Broadway, Cole Porter or Duke Ellington. One could nudge Gould and his men along with a few pictures of dead presidents and they might appear at your child’s wedding reception at Hidden Valley or the 20 Century Club or the Shore Room. And if you could score Battaglia to join the Satin Strings, you were in high cotton, musically speaking. A well-established Texas lounge singer came to Reno by way of Ravazzathe Venetian Room at San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel, in what I recall as 1952. He announced during a show at the Riverside Hotel’s showroom that he’d like to become a Nevadan and buy a few cows and wear snap-button shirts and sing with a drawl. Word got out that he was a’lookin’ for a spread outside Reno, and Carl Ravazza, with his wife Marcie bought a chunk of the Rhodes ranch by the Geiger Grade and made Reno their home. He continued to sing and made quite a few albums. Not at all a country singer, he’s known best for his song “Vieni Su,” which is still heard around retro showrooms. A nice man, sang at most of the rooms in Reno and the west coast, and was for a time an entertainment consultant, if not director, at John Ascuaga’s Nugget – Carl and John became friends. I don’t know that he ever twanged any cowboy stuff but he made a lot of friends locally, was a hell of a golfer, and passed away in 1968. Lauren and I need to send the RGJ CharlesGouldone of his vinyl albums. Tony Pecetti and his sqeezebox at the El Patio Lounge – got a column here once – “Swing and Sweat, with Tony Pecett!”) 

Many in the education field had a great impact on local music and young budding musicians. Leading that pack might be a man I know only from reputation who must have been a mighty man with a tune – his name was Theodore Post, who ran the University of Nevada’s music program for many years. And did a little composing along the way – he wrote the melody for Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s “Sweet Promised Land of Nevada.” That’s a sure winner in the paper’s “best of” segment. Anybody remember John and Ruby Tellaisha? John was the bandmaster and music teacher at Reno High when high school marching bands were in their Meredith Willson heyday and considered a rock star by those of us who played in his bands. Ruby, as did many other local musicians, played the organ at many churches in Reno. Glen Terry, at Northside andPacetti Wooster, a great guy. Roland Kneller at Central Junior High. Looking at the word counter I realize that I’ve bitten off more than I can chew on one column, but I’ll keep gnawing away for a paragraph or two. Now, of three ladies who sang a cappella and beautifully at weddings, bar mitzvahs, fashion shows, private parties, afternoon teas at the 20 Century Club, goat ropings and Christmas parties when we could still write “Christmas.” Their names were Virginia Sawdon, Elizabeth Crouch and Betty Ohrmann, accompanied by Betty McLean tickling the ivories. They sang only infrequently and were generally considered a plum to book for a really swell party. We have to include the man who played the Harolds Club calliope as well as the Kingston Trio who honed their skills in the 1950s at the Holiday Hotel before KingstonTriogoing big-time. Frank and Jan Savage, and Bob Braman for sure; Tennessee Ernie Ford in his salad days on Cactus Tom’s KOH radio show. Bob Herz, an attorney with a phenomenal voice for a special friend’s wedding or retirement. Ted Puffer, who brought legitimate opera to Reno. Ron Williams at the university. And others. Friends who deserve an entire column in the near future: the Lenz family, the first name in local music. Nettie Oliverio and Jody Rice. Gilmour, Liberati, Pat Conway, the Great Creatore, W.C. Handy, Lauren House, and John Phillip Sousa, who all came to town on the very same historic day. To use a musical term, stay “tuned!”

Have a great week and God bless America. 

This appeared as a ©  column  a while ago in the RGJ…