A friend asked about Stead AFB – here you are…

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 “Recinchombrenamed 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.

            Just kidding…

• •

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Eugene’s – computer busted, look for new material Wednesday July 17!!

Eugene Jarvis turned a classic old ranch house a fur piece south of Reno into an elegantly appointed restaurant after the end of World War II.  He might have called it “Jarvis’s” but owing to either caprice or the awkward apostrophe, he elected to go with “Eugene’s” thus bestowing one of the most instantly identified and enduring names in Reno’s heritage.

Eugene'sJarvis picked the name, but it took two young men who met in New York at the 1939 World’s Fair and journeyed – separately – to Reno, to get the restaurant underway.  Joe Patrucco was the affable bartender at the Riverside Hotel’s well-known Corner Bar, while Gilbert Vasserot had opened the Moulin Rouge restaurant on Sierra Street.  Their youthful careers were interrupted by a world war, but they rejoined and in 1947 bought the restaurant from Jarvis, retaining the Eugene’s name and assembling a world-class staff that would give Reno a restaurant that would rival the finest in cosmopolitan San Francisco.  (Eugene Jarvis, possibly to create confusion for 50 years to follow, would open a second Eugene’s on a promontory above Lake Tahoe’s Crystal Bay.)

      Gilbert, a Swiss culinary artiste trained in Europe, donned the chef’s toque, a hat he would wear six nights a week for years to follow, while Joe handled the “front” duties – also six nights a week.  And Joe greeted all equally – Eugene’s had the local reputation that a guest was a guest and none were treated better or more quickly than others; that all would receive old world hospitality be they Dennis Day sneaking in for dinner before his show in the Mapes Sky Room, or the local couple taking their daughter out to dinner on her 16th birthday. 

  • • •

The town embraced Eugene’s with civic pride, and eleven years after it opened in Eugene Jarvis’ ranch house, local architect Frank Green was commissioned to design a new restaurant building. 

        Premier local builder Allan Gallaway finished the new restaurant on a spot now near the domes left over from the Century Theater south of the Peppermill, and Gilbert and Joe reopened Eugene’s on May 14th, 1958 (a great photo of Joe and his wife Lucia, and Gilbert with his Lucienne, taken on the steps on opening night, will magically appear on my website soon…) [Lucienne passed away shortly after this column appeared.]   The original ranch house restaurant had been moved a few hundred feet to the west to free up the site for construction.  That structure burned a few years after the new restaurant opened.  And it wasn’t the old James McKay house, as I and many others originally believed; the McKay home was a long block to the south.

What a place the new restaurant was!  A classic bar with a beamed ceiling, leaded glass windows and thickly padded leather banquettes, and a bartender named Cliff Challender who prided himself on committing regular diners’ cocktail preferences to memory (Gilbert points with great pride at his sommelier – wine steward, to some of us – well-remembered by many as Antoine Balducci, who handled the patrons’ wine orders with uncanny knowledge, freeing up the waiters to provide better service.)

        The main room was quiet and open, with rich paneling and more leather – chairs and banquettes – and chandeliers with bulbs hand-painted by Gilbert himself for just the right effect. Pianist Del (few knew his last name was Dellaquadre) could be heard around the room, subtly, but less subtly when somebody would roll in with a party of eight and no reservations.  Del would break into La Vie En Rose, to some a charming love song, but to Joe Patrucco, somewhere out in the room greeting guests, a code to come to the front pronto and deal with a problem.

        One didn’t hear La Vie En Rose too often at Joe and Gilbert’s…

  • • •     

The bill of fare rivaled any fine dinner house in America, garnering Holiday Magazine Five-Star awards year after year when fewer than 75 were conferred in the whole country.  In 1960, Eugene’s hosted the City of Reno’s welcoming luncheon for the International Olympic Committee during the Squaw Valley Winter Olympics.  Business soon came from one interesting market, the airlines. United Air Lines, three words in the 1960s, began with meals for two flights a day to solve a logistical problem and found that the food was so popular on those runs that they eventually selected Eugene’s to prepare meals for twelve flights a day.  Years ago the rumor was that United changed their schedules just to use food from Eugene’s.  Bonanza Airlines also served Eugene’s fare enroute to Las Vegas.  Gil and Joe did take-out judiciously; for a good customer a little under the weather, a Broiled Langoustine Eugene’s or a Filet of Sole Meuniere, with Foigras du Perigord or Zabalione might appear on their sickbed tray.  Or, for Charles Clegg and historian/raconteur Lucius Beebe’s St. Bernard – all three fairly frequent diners — a nice dish of Skippy a la Comstock for the beast.

There’s too much on the menu here to cover in one week.  Soon, we’ll name names: the long-time employees who bought it from Joe and Gilbert in 1961; about photographers Gitta and Jimmie Smith, old-world names like Madalaine Chamot, Annie Creux, Walter Zhand, Rene Jacquemin, Raymond Capitaine, Sergé Nussbaum, Don Richter and Dave Blakely (Richter and Blakely?  Well, not all of them were old-world…) I’ll include some anecdotes from a recent visit with Gilbert Vasserot, some more from the late Joe Patrucco’s daughter Linda, about Eugene’s guests, staff, and great times in a Reno landmark, and finally about Joe and Gilbert’s Continental Lodge.

And now, dessert…

In a recent column, we spoke of what I boldly labeled the finest restaurant that ever graced local nightlife – Eugene’s – and I braced myself for a spate of e-mail pointing out a few other classy places, of which there are many in town.  That argument never arrived (a lot of agreement did, however.)  On the other hand, I heard from all 1,704 people, to listen to them, who had dined in the old house out by the present Peppermill that housed the original Eugene’s on the night owners Joe Patrucco and Gilbert Vasserot closed it in 1958.  And all of the 3,214 first-nighters when the restaurant reopened in the new building across the parking lot on May 14th the same year.  [Sarcasm herein missed by some readers – the new place sat about 130 diners.]  Gitta was there that night and took many photos of the diners, as she did almost every night, trundling off to her studio downtown to process and print them and return before her subjects left for a nightcap at the Riverside.

I promised in that column that in this sequel I’d name names and here we go, with little regard to sequence or grammar:

        It’s hard to think of Eugene’s without thinking of Gil and Joe, then almost automatically of the tall, ethereal waiter-turned-host-turned-owner, who approached Joe Patrucco in 1946, he looking for a job as a waiter, Joe then in the process of buying Eugene’s from Eugene Jarvis.  His name was Walter Zhand (still is) and this “skinny kid,” as Joe described him once in a letter to his daughter, became synonymous with wonderful service and food, first at Eugene’s, then at the Continental Lodge that Joe and Gil opened in 1963 (that’s a column for another Saturday), and later when he built the Galena Forest restaurant on the Mt. Rose Highway.  (Walter, with Raymond Haas and chef Raymond Capitaine, bought Eugene’s in 1971 and operated it into the early 1980s.)  Walter still walks from his home by Virginia Lake, ramrod-straight, still a great guy.

        Many readers wrote of their favorites: Angelo Buccalari tended the bar in the earlier years; Cliff Challender, of the masterful memory for patrons’ favorite drinks, took over later.  Armand was the wine steward of long standing; Raymond Haas was originally a waiter, becoming the lead wine steward when Antoine Balducci, who took over from Armand, retired.  Sergé Nussbaum, Walter Dixon, René Jacquemin, and Carmen.  Waiter Heinz Sauer’s name came up, as did a chef named Mel, and another named Steve LePochat.  Here’s a surprise: Retired Carson City dentist Tom Horgan, who bussed tables while in school. Ingo and Uwe Nikoley, they were there…

  • • •

The patrons were myriad and far-flung to Reno from around the world: During the Squaw Valley Olympics, Joe and Gilbert hosted Lillian Crosa, the figure skater from Gilbert’s native Switzerland, her coach Annie Creux, and ladies downhill contender Madelaine Chamot.  During the filming of The Misfits, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and most of the cast made

Eugene’s their home-away-from-home for dinner (a photo in Gilbert’s scrapbook which he so kindly loaned me depicts our own Betty Stoddard in a page near the Misfit cast, and most people I’ve shown the scrapbook to at first see Betty as Marilyn.  Their 1960 resemblance was amazing…)

        It should be noted that the inspiration for this column came from two fronts occurring within a week of each other: the first, the aforementioned Betty Stoddard sitting with Bob Carroll in a Bonanza Inn TV commercial chatting about great old restaurants – the Lancer, Vario’s, Eugene’s, etc.  Almost simultaneously a lady e-mailed me about a restaurant that her father co-owned, out South Virginia by the Peppermill, a long time ago.  Might make a good column.  “Yeah, I’ve heard of it once or twice,” I answered Linda Patrucco Doerr, and I was off and running.

        Gilbert’s book contains dozens of other neat photos, most from Gitta, Reno’s pre-eminent nightlife photographer, a few from Jimmie Smith and a few more from Don Dondero.  One is of Reno mayor Len Harris and his wife, another of Mike Mirabelli, the music man and state treasurer, one of my old friend Dave Ginsburg and his parents, yet another of Eddie Questa, Jordan Crouch, and a few other First National Bank honchos who I can’t recognize.  And one real treasure: How many people remember Reno’s first TV news anchorman?  I picked him out of a shot, when others couldn’t: His name was, and remains, Durward Yasmer, the voice of KZTV. [later KOLO-TV.]

  • • •

Finally, the guys who parked the cars.  There were a few, I’ll name two old fraternity buddies: Don Richter, who prided himself on lurking around the restaurant watching for a party to get ready to leave, then bringing their car to the door as they walked out (he used his free time to dump the ashtrays and wash the windshields, and reportedly later took three years in the insurance business to get his income back up to what he made in tips at Eugene’s.)  A later valet was Dave Blakely, whose late parents Bill and Maryalice were steady diners at the restaurant.

        I’m indebted to many for the background for this yarn; to Gilbert Vasserot, who with Joe Patrucco – who passed away in 1994 – set the standard against which local dining class and elegance will be measured for years to come.  To Joe’s children, Linda Patrucco Doerr and her brother Bob (and Wendy) Patrucco.  And to Josette Jacquemin, Christiane Markwell, Denise Haas Hastings, and Carmen Buccalari Borges, for their reminiscences.

  • • •

(this column originally appeared in the RGJ on June 23rd, 2001)

July 13 – A letter from a friend!

A day or so ago I wrote of the Sparks SP railyard in our youth, and this reponse arrived from my ol’ childhood/upper Ralston Street playmate Don Hartman, now living, using the term loosely, in the Sacramento environs. His post is so good and well-written I just cut-and-psated it into this space! Enjoy, and thanks, Don…

DonHartmanSparks was SP and the SP was Sparks. Sparks, back in the day, was a true railroad town. My dad took me to the roundhouse (he, too, worked for the Mighty SP until he went into gaming at Harolds Club). The roundhouse was scary to a 10-year-old. There were the big cab-forward engines and the large conventional rear-cab articulated steam engines. I climbed up on the “cow-catcher” of the cab-in-rear monster and was amazed that the “front porch” was as big as my whole bedroom on Ralston Street! The cab-in-rear articulated locomotives were used on the Modoc line – Sparks- Fernley via Pyramid Lake and then all the way to Alturas and Klamath Falls, Oregon.  The roundhouse was so big and there were signs on the roundhouse walls stating, “Do Not Lean On Walls”….my dad said the SP did not want grease and oil- covered workers to get the roundhouse walls dirty from workers’ clothes if workers leaned on the walls!

I remember the roundhouse was freezing cold in winter. The big turntable was so neat to watch as it spun the giant locomotives around. I loved watching the turntable and never forgot an alarm bell would ring just before it started to turn.

My grandmother lived by the old Sparks High School. When I visited her as a young kid, it was neat to hear a loud, shrill whistle blow at high noon at the SP yard so the workers in the roundhouse could go to lunch. That whistle could be heard all over Sparks at 12 noon and again at 12:30 p.m. and also beginning and ending of the shifts in the roundhouse. The newer building next to the roundhouse you mentioned is where my grandfather worked. That building scared the pants off me when my dad took me in there. It is where heavy-duty machine work took place and where parts for locomotive repair were forged. Very, very loud machine noises…large, heavy-duty drop-forge hammers, sparks and fire from machines everywhere; hot, loud banging pipes and big locomotive wheels, glowing-white-hot locomotive parts, grease and oil and puddles of water everywhere. I do not see how Grandpa Dondero could work in that building eight hours a day, six days a week for many years. OSHA would have a field day!

Side note…my dad took me to the roundhouse one Indian-Summer day, October 1953. While there, we saw my uncle who was a brakeman for the SP. My uncle got me (unauthorized) into the cab of a diesel locomotive and I was allowed to sit in the fireman’s seat and ring the bell at road crossings all the way to Fernley where my dad met us. The SP line followed the Truckee River and it was a beautiful Nevada-Autumn day….golden-yellow cottonwoods, ducks on the Truckee…

[In a separate response]: Karl, you may want to add this: Looking back at my visit to that SP building so many years ago, it is amazing the conditions my grandpa and other workers toiled under in that hot, noise-filled building. Boots, bibb-overalls gloves, flannel shirts, period. No eye protection,..no ear protection…no hard-hats…..and they could not even lean against the walls to rest…

Thanks again, Don; good words…

 

July 10 – Raising the railyard in Sparks

SP Sparks roundhouse

It is difficult to believe that in nine consecutive columns, nary a one has alluded to the Mighty SP railroad, a topic that ranks right up with schools and teachers in reader popularity. Well, 10’s the charm, and this morning we’ll touch on the SP, actually when it was the Central Pacific.

While some towns lower their train tracks, others raise ‘em:  In 1903 E. H. Harriman completed the purchase of the Central Pacific Railroad from the Big Four and immediately started to re-engineer the CP tracks to get rid of some awkward grades and curves to accommodate a new, heavier generation of locomotives and rolling stock. The main line at that time ran down Prater Way, and engineers decreed that the better route would be south of Prater with a major yard in a lowland area just south and east of the Sparks Nugget’s present location. It was then known as the Mary Wall ranch.

The area south of the present Nugget was low and therefore flood prone, but did afford room to expand the train yard, build a first-class roundhouse and locomotive shop, and relocate Southern Pacific’s branch operation from Wadsworth to the west, closer to the east threshold of the Sierra and Donner Pass. No sweat; a large community of Chinese laborers were available, the toughest in the world, whose fathers gained experience in creating the landfill Marina/South of Market areas of San Francisco in the 1840s, later in the Comstock mines, their descendants in the Donner Pass railroad tunnels and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad’s mountainous right-of-way, and were by 1902 looking for work.

They laid railroad tracks from the present Sparks rail yard along the route of the present Highway 40 to a spot near the present Stoker Drive. As many as 300 laborers, according to the Sparks Heritage Museum’s railroad expert John Hartman, took earth by pick and shovel to the gondola cars and offloaded it at the site of the new railroad yard. The work continued under torchlight night and day for 13 months until Sparks’ new railyard had been elevated and then compacted, adding a compacted elevation of nearly two feet.  Incorporating almost 80 miles of switching track, it was dead level, and it’s never flooded. The early engineers knew what they were doing.

A roundhouse servicing 36 tracks was begun after that, and the shop was completed after the yard was laid in 1904. The PFE Icehouse came relatively later, go here for some information about that operation.And if you’re a real glutton for punishment, here’s a yarn about the engine shop east of the original shop that was built during WWII.

I don’t know about you but I’m tired of reading about choo-choos. See ya tomorrow for Day 11 of the Artown Challenge!

roundhouse photo ©  SP Railroad

 

Swing and sweat with – oh, you know…

JohnnyFeverIt’s alway nice to start the day, as I did yesterday, with an email wishing me a Happy New Year, on the 8th day of June. I don’t know if seasoned-contributor Bud Holland sent it early for next year or the thing’s been banging around in somebody’s computer for five months plus. But it was pleasant and I’ll now share it. It’s Sunday morning now and I’m in a cantankerous mood so I’ll post Bud’s letter and the postcard without his prior permission while giving attribution to none – that’s just the kind of guy I am. And I hope he will send those pictures he refers to toward the end of his note – maybe by the Pony Express or some carrier that will get them from Tacoma to my home in several days – I’m no spring chicken and these five-month transmittal times are killers! In sincerity, I’m grateful to Bud for this info….

“Happy New Year Karl (aka: Ol Reno Guy!),
   First, I have sure enjoyed reading your updates since chancing upon 
your site last year. I went back through some of the archives and found 
the article on Reno homes with a reference to Tony Pecetti’s home on 
Wonder Street. I have attached a scan of a 1942 postcard for ‘Tony’s El 
Patio Ballroom.’

TonyPecetti

“There are some notes on the back that the ballroom was located on Commercial Row & Chestnut Street [Arlington Avenue] and that Tony was a part-owner of the “El Rancho Drive-In Theater” at the Sparks “Y”. As you can note the appearance of Ina-Ray Hutton was filled in in purple ink and has smeared over time or going through the USPS as it was sent to a Rural Route in Lodi, California.
   “Keep up your good work and if it meets with your approval, I will 
periodically scan some of my late 1890s and early 1900s photos for you 
to view and share if you so desire .. oh, a few of the snapshots I’ll 
need help on exact locations.”

   Sincerely,
   R. Bud Holland
   Tacoma, Washington

Here’s another piece about Tony Pecetti

the Sparks Southern Pacific engine shop addition

From the dark reaches of our choo-choo file we find an old photograph taken inside the addition to the Southern Pacific locomotive repair shops, still standing just west of the tank farm in Sparks. This wartime steel addition to the old brick loco shop is here seen inside, the windows are those seen from the freeway.

 

sp_shopThe lettering on the picture indicates “lifting first locomotive in new erecting shop – Sparks, Nev. – Feb. 9, 1944”  Loco 4046 was brought in from the turntable serving the roundhouse near the south dead end of present Pyramid Way. Separated from its tender, it was backed through the old brick loco shop and into this new building, where it was lifted clear of its axles, wheels and cylinders, for a complete tear-down and service.

Here’s a link to an old story about what work was done in the loco shops in Sparks. You may have already read it. It opens in a new window.

Below is an aerial view of the Sparks S.P. roundhouse looking northeast to southwest, note B Street/Victorian Way diagonally to the lower right, 8th Street/Pyramid Way just to the right of the uppermost white building on B Street. The locomotive shops with the later 1944 addition are seen to the east/left of the roundhouse and turntable (the roundhouse was razed in 1959). The Sparks Nugget is now located near the grove of trees to the upper right corner of the picture. The Pacific Fruit Express icehouse, later housing the original Harrah’s Auto Collection,  is seen to the upper left in the photo. Both photos © Southern Pacific Railroad, pleasesp-sparks-roundhouse

Happy New Year to all!

LittleKarlOur editorial staff last evening, New Years Eve, played hooky from our bounden duty to readers of updating this site, and instead streamed a classic: “Smokey and the Bandit” – the Bandit, Snowman, Fred the Basset, the Frog, Beaufort P. Justus, still ranking up there with Butch and Sundance and with Igor and Frawnkensteen for the three greatest shit-kickin’, no-brainer, New Years Eve flicks ever made!

Thanks for coming back and viewing – as in the past 12 years, the site in 2019 will be no cropped-cropped-kfb-bow-tiedifferent – poorly-written and -edited notes about God-knows-what, arriving on your screen with little or no forethought nor schedule – this year with hopefully a bit more reader participation, wherein I’m downplaying the “comments” feature of the site in favor of including my email address below and inviting everything from a short squib about a past column to your submission of a complete new column, that I can post for all to see. Don’ worry about the gramer or speling – I’ll fix that for you. Photos are welcome and encouraged with releases and accreditation, and no downer stuff – this remains an upbeat, non-political place to visit and relax.

On that score, I encourage newer readers to utilize the WordPress “search” function in the box below. Type in a keyword and then click the box and scroll down. You may just find what you’re seeking. If not, email me and I’ll try to help. There are over 420 posts on the site and I don’t know myself what’s posted here! But if it’s somewhere we’ll find it, or maybe just write a new one for all to enjoy.

Now – it’s the kickoff day to a great year, the sun’s out – let’s make a dandy!

KarlBreckenridge490@gmail.com (a new address for column/website traffic; don’t panic, the old live.com address still works. Usually.)

Of Buffalo and the Perils of Historical Research…

cropped-kfb-bow-tieThis eve following Christmas I’m pleased to welcome old friend Debbie Hinman to the website, demonstrating one of her many skills, e.g. writing a column. Debbie is the editor of the Historical Reno Preservation Society’s Footprints newsletter, and one of the better researchers and writers in our valley – some can write, others can research but a person that can do both is rare indeed.

ArtistMeeting

The column, rich in the history of Reno and Idlewild Park, belongs in Footprints but she elected to let me have it for the Ol’ Reno Guy. I asked her for her photograph but she declined, so I dug up an old one I had of her addressing a joint meeting of the Nevada Historical Society and the State of Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. While there are several other people in the photo, I’ll just say that it was a warm, sultry afternoon and Debbie came dressed for the occasion so I needn’t ID her in the shot.

Debbie writes now, the first of what I hope will be the first column of many in the future!

While historical research is for the most part very intriguing and well, just plain fun, there is always that chance that you will discover something you never wanted to know.  This happened to me recently at the Nevada Historical Society library.

I was scrolling through microfilm, engrossed in a story about testing amphibious Buffalojeeps at Virginia Lake, when my eye caught a fuzzy photo of a couple of jocular-looking fellows armed with rifles hamming for the camera.  And what was that in the background?  I zoomed in to try and get a better look.  There appeared to be two buffalo standing behind them, in some sort of enclosure.  Then I noted a reference to Reno’s Idlewild Park.  Now several years ago, I did a bit of research on Idlewild for a Truckee Meadows Parks Foundation project.  I had heard there was a zoo at the park in the early days and fascinated, I began collecting articles on the various animals contained there.  

As background, the zoo began in the very early days of Idlewild Park, circa 1924.  The first residents were birds and the initial plan was to include only “non-meat eaters.”  By December of that year, the bird population included four large bald eagles and a desert raven.  But the donation of a wildcat kitten and a fox by a local trapper began to change the face of the zoo.  By September of 1925, there were also elk, antelope, deer and—buffalo.  In 1927 there were enough buffalo at the park that Mayor Roberts negotiated a trade with the Sacramento Zoo: one buffalo calf for two monkeys, two swans, three raccoons (raccoons, really?  All they had to do was check the storm drains in the Old Southwest) and an assortment of other birds.  At any rate, by early 1931, the zoo population had soared to 167 assorted creatures. 

The denizens of the zoo were always fodder for appealing newspaper stories and the buffalo were no exception.  A very heartfelt obituary for Chief Shaggy Buffalo was printed in 1925.  “Chief Shaggy,” whose real name was Bos Bison, was apparently a children’s favorite.  Park officials believed he was poisoned but had yet to identify the assassin.  The obituary stated that Chief Shaggy, who left a widow and two sons, Nickel, 5, and Jitney, 6 months, would be sorely missed.  Saddened, I continued following the buffalo throughout the years, finding a second obituary for “Old King,” who at fifteen and fifteen hundred pounds, passed on to the Great Beyond in 1936.  I was more philosophical about this passing; King after all had a long, cushy life being fed and watered in attractive surroundings, adored by his local fans.

Reverting to the 1945 photo of the armed men and buffalo that caught my attention, I read the caption and was properly horrified.  True, these men were not actually shooting at the buffalo (which in a penned area in a park would be a true fish-in-a-barrel situation), but the buffalo were slated to be slaughtered for — a barbecue hosted by the Lions Club, likely attended by the very same children who visited them regularly at the zoo!  They didn’t go peacefully, however.  Reported the Reno Evening Gazette:  “Vigorously displaying his resentment at losing two of his herd, the 1800-pound bull at the park felled one of the ‘hunters,’ Paul Mathews, and the park employee escaped only by crawling to a water hole in the corral.  Pitchforks, lassoes and considerable footwork on the part of the wranglers were required before two 800-pound heifer calves were finally loaded in a truck for their last ride to the Nevada Packing Company.”  A suggestion was made to include the troublemaking herd leader in the barbecue but it was argued that his meat would be too tough.

True, the barbecue was for a good cause, to thank locals for buying war bonds and perhaps the buffalo herd needed to be thinned for space considerations, but barbecuing and feasting on zoo animals just outside their former sanctuary still sticks in my craw.  I’m just glad Chief Shaggy and King didn’t live to see that day.

Thanks, Debbie – send reader comments or recollections to kfbreckenridge@live.com , and include your permission to publish them!

Meeting photograph Jerry Felesina family photo

 

Flicks & Quickies – just some loose text to update the outdated column…


KFB bow tieI’m often too embarrassed to let a dated column stay alive, for example the preceding Thanksgiving dinner column. But, I’m also too lazy to write a new one, as I am this morning. Thus, I go into the laptop’s disc and find one that hasn’t run lately, like this piece that was  mostly updated from a 1997 column and hasn’t been seen since 2002 about some folks, the University’s missing ceremonial mace, a mother’s shamrocks from the Emerald Isle,  old theaters and some darn good trivia. Here it is, unedited, and copyrighted by the RGJ under the hed
Flicks & Quickies:

How in the world would I know that Walter Baring worked at McMahan’s Furniture as a salesman in the very early 1950s if one of someone didn’t call me?  [This following a “why did you leave Walter Baring’s name out?” of McMahan’s on Commercial Row during a downtown text “walk”].   Baring was a dandy, went to Washington in 1956 as our Representative in Congress, our only one in those days as Nevada had only one seat.  “No one likes Baring except for the voters,” was the accepted mantra in Nevada politics – he served us in a long series of two-year Congressional terms until 1972, when he had a cardiac problem only days before the primary election.  And true to form, Baring didn’t hush it up.  He got beat by a relative nobody in the primary by playing off his formidable incumbent’s health problem; the nobody in turn got beat by another nobody in the general election.  Baring could have covered it up, won both elections and remained Representative until today, (notwithstanding the fact that he died in 1976, but as we see in the CNN sound bytes of several dinosaurs every evening – presence of pulse, respiration and temperature are not necessarily requisites of congressional delegates.)  The one-time furniture salesman got a major street named after him in Sparks, and in retrospect, he was a hell of a Nevadan.

            A reader a recent column about downtown Reno took umbrage that I didn’t mention Fenwick’s (art supplies) on Sierra Street just south of the tracks – I pointed that store out in a column last summer but I don’t mind saying it again: Fenwick’s was a wonderful store, and Jerry Fenwick remains today a northern Nevada history buff and the keeper of an extensive bygone day-photograph collection, and who, like historian Neal Cobb, is happy to let the community enjoy the old photos and has arrived in the 21st Century ahead of most of us – computer-wise – and is hard at work digitizing old local photos.

Or, you might like this one – this firsthand from Clayton Phillips during our many “Tuesdays with Clayton” before he passed away: Two popular Reno couples, Virginia and Clayton Phillips, and Nevada and Sessions (Buck) Wheeler, were sitting around a campfire in northern Washoe County many years ago – four late Nevadans who knew our state like the backs of their weathered hands, and loved every acre of it.  They dreamed up an icon that night: a baton, embodying all the elements of our state.  Over time, they found a suitable piece of native mountain mahogany.  Onto it they bonded some Carson City-minted cartwheels, some gold, silver, copper and other ores that Nevada produces; they affixed sprigs of sage and pine and fauna indigenous to our state and a host of other souvenirs embodying Nevada, like chips from some old casinos.

            They presented the mace to the University of Nevada, where annually University Provost Alessandro Dandini, a legend in his own mind, raised it with great aplomb just as Professor Post cued the orchestra to begin Pomp and Circumstance and start the graduates in their processional.  Count Dandini then carried the mace on high as he led the graduating classes onto the Quad for Commencement, as did Rollie Melton in the years to follow.  At Clayton’s memorial service a few years ago, where the featured music was Home Means Nevada, natch, the question was asked several times: Where is the mace now…? 

Next time you’re stop-and-going along Kietzke or Longley Lane, remember that either the guy behind you or the one in front of you, or both, aren’t trying to go north nor south, but in reality to the east or west, but have to get around that great big long airport runway that a young Realtor named Karl Breckenridge (the Elder) wanted to tunnel under when the costs were still minimal.  Ol’ Dad about got a net thrown over him for irresponsible babble like that – how ridiculous!  A tunnel or trench?

            And the moral is that some ideas are wonderful, but become less so as the infrastructure grows and costs skyrocket.  End of trench commentary, no position taken.  [For now]

            On the Saturday nearest St. Paddy’s Day each year we usually run the story of a shamrock – this year we’ll abridge it a bit to give it a rest.  The shamrock in question arrived yearly from Ireland just before March 17th, to be placed on the grave of a young Irish U.S. Air Mail pilot who crashed in 1924, while trying to drop a Blanchfieldwreath at Air Mail mechanic Samuel Gerrit’s funeral service in the cemetery behind the present ATΩ fraternity house. The leaf was mailed until the war years from the Emerald Isle by the pilot’s mother. After a number of years the shamrock quit arriving, but the tradition was resurrected a score of years ago by northwest Reno resident Barbara Rabenstine, who will journey tomorrow [written March 16, 1998 ] to Mountain View Cemetery to place a shamrock on the grave of William Blanchfield [pictured left].  Barbara, a friend and fine lady, has the dubious distinction of being a resident – three years old at the time – in the home that Blanchfield’s DeHavilland mail plane crashed into.  By the luck of the Irish, Barbara, her sister Betty and her family were away from the home at the moment of the crash on that hot August afternoon.

            Next time you’re riding about up by Whitaker Park, check out that home at 901 Bell Street, the only residence in America built by the U.S. Government, appropriated following a debate that took place on the floor of Congress.  The solons concluded that since a federal airplane wrecked the home, the feds should rebuild it, and so they did.  If you’re in that neighborhood, we’ll point out another home with a story, at 752 West Street, a home designed by Death Valley Scotty’s architect and later the residence of a University of Nevada president.

[Yes, the U.S. Air Mail airport by the present Washoe Golf Course was named Blanchfield Field in his honor, to be officially shortened in years to follow to the more obvious Blanch Field.]

A recent column “killed” the YMCA too early, in the words of Neill (two-ells) West. The boiler blew and the 1911 Delongchamps building was razed by the ensuing fire three years after our 1950 walk, which I meant but wasn’t what the text conveyed.  Neill was an Alpha Tau Omega fraternity pledge in 1952 and was working in the building, where he probably met Les Conklin the Younger, while Les was lifting weights when the building exploded.  (No doubt buffing up for a career selling heavy fur coats a block to the west for 40 years.)  Les questioned the date too, and I thank them both.  (Too many notes – I was researching our walk downtown and the fatal Greyhound building fire at the same time, a fire that did in fact predate 1950 by two years.  And I’m too old for multitasking.)

We’ll throw this out to get the pot boiling a little: Realtor Paul Crooks supplied a 1958 photo of Crooks Bros. Tractor Co. on two-lane Glendale Road, which he reported to be the first building ever built by real estate magnate John Dermody (and I suspect was actually constructed by McKenzie Construction.)  It’s still visible as the core building of mighty Cashman Equipment, your local Cat dealer.

• • • 

And now, to the flicks:

To hear from three favorite correspondents in one week is a thrill, and this week Pauline Carpenter, Neill West [text preceding] and Nevada history heavy-hitter Richard C. Datin all checked in.

            Richard is a gentleman.  A historian and prolific writer, and a nationally regarded authority on Nevada’s railroads, he’s more entitled than most to derail meWigwamCafe for an error, but only pleasantly nudges me that “…the Reno Theater you mentioned last week as being next to the Wigwam cafe, was actually just south of the Overland Hotel on the east side of Center Street.” He’s right, of course; an old photo at the Nevada Historical Society shows the “Nevada” theater, not the “Reno”, next to the Wigwam Café, from 1942 to 1948, when it became the “Crest”.  Mea culpa. 

            About 22 of you all claimed to have the neat clock, the one that we all remember over the fire exit of the Crest with the white hands and blue-neon rim, hanging in your dens.  Several people recalled never, ever sitting under the massive chandelier in the Majestic Theater.  (That chandelier’s featured in  1920s brochure about the Delongchamp’s rejuvenation of the Majestic.)  Several readers mentioned the wide seats – about a seat-and-a-half/three buns) – on the ends of alternating rows in the Tower theater, so that no seat was directly behind another.  Those who would neck in public places, the Pagans, generally grabbed those wide seats first.

             I mentioned that the Granada had no loges in 1950, prompting Pauline Carpenter to scold me for forgetting that the Granada had loges and balcony seating until a 1953 fire trashed the inside of the theater, when it was refurbished with no upper deck.  And I never argue with any lady who was a head Granada usherette during her senior year at Sparks High School (maiden name Pauline Keema).  Nothing escapes you readers…

And then I wrote: Sarah Bernhardt would be hopping mad: The tiny 3,800 square-foot office building in Sparks that Joe Mayer and I eke a living out of has four handicapped parking spaces, with two or three usually in use.  The new art museum on Liberty at Hill Street?  Four handicapped parking spaces.  Go figure…

And that’s the way it was, Spring of 1998. “God bless America” didn’t appear at the end of my columns until the Saturday following 9/11.

August 17, 2018 – A new school for the six-year-old kid!


LittleKarlWell I’m back in school – Central Jr. High now, which was the old Reno High School until the new Reno High opened out on Booth Street west of town this summer of 1951. Dad says I gotta quit doggin’ it and get to writing – I’m no longer on Ralston Street and if I go another summer without writing no one is going to care what or if I write. But I’d still like to meet the moron that changed the school-start day from the day after Labor Day to a couple days into August.

RenoHigh1912

Our new school opened in 1913 as Reno High School. [Here, I’m going to insert the reminder I received from retired WCSD teacher  and my kindergarten classmate at Mary S. Doten Elementary, that our school was known as “Central Intermediate” when we were there, and  it had just been converted. The “Jr. High” designation came later. But changing it in this tale is laborious, and I like Jr. High better anyway. The Beach Boys never sang of an “Intermediate” school…!] Back to work: It was on the north side of the alley between Chestnut Street and West Street, facing West Street (the Temple Emanuel was directly across the street). A bunch of old apartment houses were on the south side of that alley, separating the school from the Lincoln Highway – West Fourth Street. The Lincoln Highway became Reno’s apartment row in the 1920s and ‘30s, with some of the nicest apartment houses in town on that stretch of the road.  One-by-one they were torn down, mostly to make motels, and the last one that most remember was the Frandsen Apartments on the south side of the highway. The apartment houses on the alley were eventually razed and the land became a playground for Central (I should mention that a home on the Lincoln Highway was donated to the Reno School District, and became a music/band area for the school!)

The new Reno High School was a pretty snazzy building – it was designed by the same architect who did the “Spanish Quartette” elementary schools I told you about a while back – Mary S.  Doten was one of them, only three blocks away to the west on Fifth Street.  The new Reno High was quite similar to the Spanish Quartette – or Four Sisters – George Ferris designed them all – picture two of the four that would remain in town for many years, McKinley Park on the Truckee River or Mount Rose School on Arlington, but with one more story, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Reno High looked like. They got rid of some of the better features like the balconies on the third floor when it became Central Jr. High last summer, but some of it stayed – the flagpole that was a gift of the VFW after World War II remained. That flagpole would be placed in front of another high school named “Wooster” many years later, but of course I can’t see into the future so I can’t really say.

The old Reno High – now our Central – was a neat place with a lot of nooks and crannies and stairwells. It had a big room downstairs with some built-in bleachers lining both sides, and a stage, with a full set of lights of different colors and a “fly” with curtains that would raise straight up, and a main curtain to draw side-to-side. It had a hatch to open big hole in the floor so an actor could jump in to fake a getaway. My own father shot a man on that stage in 1931, he did – he shot a classmate named Ralph Menante and his pistol backfired, damn near took his finger off! (This was all in a student play, by the way ….. they remained friends for a lifetime to follow.)

The ROTC had a shooting range in one wing of the building’s basement – the ceiling of that range was all screwed up from 40 years of kids – soldiers – misfiring Garand M-1 rifles into the air. [See Hank Philcox’ letter below…] Upstairs was a big gym that was a lot brighter than the assembly room of the same size directly below it. It had windows and was quite bright. Back in my crystal ball mode, I’ll write of the electric scoreboard for basketball games that hung in that gym – the scoreboard later went to a school that would be called E. Otis Vaughn, and is still there as you read this. I have, with the usual luck anyone has with the school district, tried to save  that unused scoreboard and have it donated to the Reno High’s alumni center but the school district doesn’t give a rat’s ass about its heritage so the scoreboard will probably eventually be dumped. Too bad.

Speaking of school districts, I should probably write that when we started at Central Jr. High and until 1955, Reno School District was only one of 18 districts in Washoe County. No wonder things worked.

The food was good at Central Jr. High. We had a big lunchroom in the basement with good, cheap lunches. Most of us took turns bussing tables. In the colder winter days we enjoyed the “noon movies” – mostly fairly new Hollywood movies, comedies, some drama, some Westerns – usually split into three segments and they showed Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.  A good sound system and a bright Bell & Howell projector – a pleasant way to spend a lunch hour!

Upstairs in the south wing was the library, and we at Central were the benefactors of an almost total updating of the Reno High library when the high school relocated to Booth Street. The lion’s share of the books were left in the “new” Central, and we had this wonderful asset upstairs, Miss Thomas presiding over it, and came to really enjoy it [See Anna Siig’s  comment below].  A wood-shop downstairs, a home-ec suite upstairs. Dropping names, Chauncey King was our principal, Chet Green, one of the best teachers I ever had, was the vice-principal; John Gonda, Ted Furchner and George Getto became good friends, and in the fifth-grade slot, a new teacher named Fran Trachok! Mrs. Howard was the school’s secretary, a lass not hard for a fifth-grader to behold.

Frandsen ApartmentsWho went to Central? Well, if you lived north of the Truckee River and west of Virginia Street, we were probably classmates (the alternatives were Northside, east of Virginia Street, and B. D. Billinghurst, south of the Truckee in the sparsely-populated area of town) [see Eric Nummela’s comment below]. We were starting to see more kids from the air force base north of town that had just last year been renamed “Stead” from Reno Air Base. I’ve written before of the children of ladies, and a few men, living temporarily in Reno seeking a divorce; since most of their housing was in the upper-Ralston area, they came to Central while in Reno. A lot of kids lived west of town along the Truckee in the power company’s hydroelectric plants, and the only school bus I remember brought them in to class each day.

Anyhoo, it was a great school, comfortable, with good teachers, sports and facilities. I’m sure that the same could be written of Northside and B.D. The 1950s were good years to be a kid.

Oh – on a sadder note – Central Jr. High suffered a fire in 1966, which didn’t do a great amount of damage, but Darrel Swope Middle School was open in a populous area southwest of the new Reno High, and Central was razed…