Jan. 29, 2018 – the Hancock mansion by Virginia Lake

Baffert

Well, when I rode my bike from Ralston Street to California Avenue last week and watched the men pull the mansion down Plumas Street to make way for Mr. Ramos’ drug store, which would later become the Cheese Board, I kind of screwed up. The house wasn’t going to Virginia Lake, that was another one. I knew I was in trouble when I rode out again last weekend with my Brownie Hawkeye camera to take some pictures for you. There was no way they could get that big house down any of the hills at Country Club Drive or Mountain View, and it was too big to take along Lakeside Drive. So they left it at the southwest corner of Mt. Rose and Plumas Streets. My little buddies Dee Garrett and Rosie Voyles wrote me, and said it was haunted. (And it’s not the recording studio-turned-law office that’s on that corner now.)

 

                          photo 2301 Lakeside Drive © Karl Breckenridge 1975

So, I have to admit that – but – since we’re out by Virginia Lake anyway I’ll tell you about another house that was built eight years ago, in 1941. It was finished the same year that Virginia Lake first filled to its rim. I stopped at the house at the corner of Audubon and Lakeside Drive, at the bottom of the hill down Country Club Drive. There was a nice man standing by this big house, and I got talking to him.

It turns out that his name was Luke Hancock. He was pretty rich, Dad said, and had formed the Hancock Oil Company and sold it years ago to the Pure Oil Company. He came to Reno before World War II and spent some time at the Country Club on Plumas Street before it burned. He told me that he stood on a barren bluff overlooking a big hole in the ground a mile around watching WPS crews planting trees by the dirt road ringing what would soon be Virginia Lake. 

He had planned to move to the Holmby Hills of Los Angeles County, but immediately came to like Reno more. He had his architect in San Francisco change the house he was going to build in LA, to suit this site. Although his five children were mostly out of the house in 1940, he built this big six-thousand square-foot house anyway.

Luke invited me in to see his house. Even though I was only eight, a lot of things stuck out in my mind – a mansion with a grand staircase winding up to three huge bedrooms. (The little oval Arabesque window in the master bath fascinated all those who strolled around the lake until the home was totally remodeled in the early 1980s.) It had a big kitchen on the west side of the house with an adjoining “butler’s pantry” with all the dishes and stuff. Those rooms opened up to a breakfast room with a curved wall on the south end of the house. From there, was a huge dining room. And the walls of both rooms had what he called “fresco” art. He said that he had hired an artist to come from France to do the fresco walls – a dark woodgrain with some hanging plants in the dining room, and a bright scene of a bayou in Louisiana from a photo he had taken, of a shadowy bayou with sunlight radiating through Magnolia trees with Spanish moss hanging from them. The artist came to America in 1940 and did this house and a few others in Los Angeles for an architect named Paul Revere Williams.  Pretty cool.

The living room had a big window that looked out over Virginia Lake, where the trees were now five or six years old and looked pretty nice. It was a large room with an egg-and-dart coving around the ceiling and what Luke called “parkay” hardwood floors. I looked the word up later last night and it’s parquet but that doesn’t look right. A big front door opened to the front porch, and a driveway that went from the bottom of the hill to the front, around the side of the house and out to the street. I asked Luke why the peephole in the door was so low; he told me that it’s because he and Mrs. Hancock were both quite short, and they designed the house with the peephole, the basins and the counters and the clothes hanging rods in the closets, all low so they could use the easier.

We went down to the basement, which was a real treat – the big southeast room was just a fun room with all kinds of stuff in it, but what was really neat was the collection of dolls – Mrs. Hancock collected dolls and had over a hundred dolls from all over the world, from Europe and China also, and had a lady seamstress almost full-time to make clothes for the dolls, which were from a foot to three-feet tall. The room would have been pretty weird to be in at night! (I learned later that when Mrs. Hancock passed away, and she outlived Luke, that a collector would buy her dolls for almost a million dollars. Some of them were pretty rare…)

We went up two flights of stairs to the bedrooms – three rooms, all good sized bedrooms each with its own bathroom and tub and shower. There was a sitting room up there too, and two rooms had private balconies out over the lake.

The coolest room in the house was the library, which was on the main floor. Luke had a lot of pictures, and books, and maps, and many of them on display. A huge fireplace comparable in Reno only to the fireplace in the adjacent living room.  Beveled- glass, beam trusses resting on ornamental iron corbels to the cathedral ceiling. The walls were rich, brown wood like walnut or oak, with a lot of brass fixtures and lamps and a ladder on wheels to roll around and reach books on the upper shelves. Luke reached around a cabinet and got a crank, a long handle with a loop on one end. He said, “Watch this!” and hooked the crank around a concealed hook on one of the top bookshelves. He turned the crank, and the glass ceiling, which was kind of a green cut-glass with flowers and stuff in it, started to open. First an open hole in the center, then opening further like the iris in your eye, opening larger with each turn, until finally the sun started to beam into the room through the roof. Pretty neat. And I can write that he and Mrs. Hancock passed away and the house sat for a long time, until only this seven-year-old kid even knew it was there! No lie – I showed in the early 1970s this sunroof, to a couple of grownups, who didn’t know anything about  it. But this is 1949 and I don’t know anything about that now either.

Luke and I went out into the yard, into a garden house with a whole lot of stuff stored in it. He touched a button, just for a second, but it was long enough to start a generator that he had in the little shed. It was built by Koehler, now Kohler, and ran on propane. It had enough power to light the minimum of lights in the house, to operate the elevator (which would be dismantled I 1974), to run a couple refrigerators and the bomb-shelter which was built in 1952.

Having made friends with Luke, I returned to the house several times until he passed away. In 1952 he converted one of the three bays in the garage to a bomb-shelter, during the height of the Cold War. It had several beds, a water supply tank that was constantly being re-circulated to keep it fresh, a forced-air filtration system, a propane heat source, basins and a tiny shower and lots of books and stuff to read. He stocked it with food, which still had the labels of Washoe Market and Sewell’s Market on them. And a classic Zenith Transoceanic long/short wave/AM battery-or-AC radio – state of the radio art in 1951 and for many years to follow.  The door was double – one looking for all the world like a jail-door with bars, the other a heavy, metal airtight door. Luke said they built this way because when the Russian bombers were enroute, the jail door would be closed to keep panic-struck neighbors from crowding into your shelter and eating all your goodies, but would allow the concussion from an atomic blast to blow over the shelter and not collapse it. After the blast had occurred, the air-tight door would then be closed to keep the death rays out.

Hey, I’m seven years old. It all makes sense to me….

Anyway, that was my meeting with Luke B. Hancock at his Mediterranean-villa home at the southwest corner of Virginia Lake – the home and the lake each in its infancy (pretty neat writing for a seven-year-old, huh?!) I went back many times until it sold out of the family (they had five children!) in 1974. It sold, by the way for $205,000…

And I got in a lot of trouble for taking the aerial picture with my Brownie Hawkeye and awakening half of 89509 as I buzzed over too low on a Sunday morning. I say this because it’s copyrighted, I suppose, but this 2018 internet posting is the first time it’s ever been published so if you steal it, give  attribution, please (the year is 1975).

So that’s my bike ride for today; it’s a long haul back to 740 Ralston Street but come back later and we’ll have another adventure!!!

 

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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 a pre-1944 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 sans the later 1944 addition are seen to the east/left of the roundhouse and turntable. The Sparks Nugget is now located near the grove of trees to the upper right corner of the picture. The Pacific Fruit Express icehouse  is seen to the upper left in the photo. Both photos © Southern Pacific Railroad, pleasesp-sparks-roundhouse

Some shots by Cal Pettengill taken June 14 of the Virginia Street Bridge demolition progress. Note photo #2 demonstrates vividly how much of that bridge was earth within the shell of concrete!

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Here’s some shots that Cal Pettengill took with his Brownie Hawkeye earlier this Flag Day. One is of the drained pond at Idlewild; the others are of the progress of the removal of the Virginia Street Bridge. That pond in Idlewild was Reno’s first municipal swimming hole!

Thanks, Cal! The torture continues at AT&T Park – After Brandon Crawford made two errors on one play I decided the time to post had arrived. White Hats stuff is in the mill. Don’t ask me what the “Sierra Street exit” is, must be a GPS thing

Teutonic Marketing 101

German sign<

Here’s a sign on the west reaches of Victorian Way in Sparks, still known by most of my readers as B Street, that’s amused me for many a year. If I owned a motel and was catering to German tourists, I’d probably put sprechen sie deutsch on my sign.

But what do I know about tourism…?

Happy Turkey to All, and to All a Good Night. (Wait, that doesn’t sound right…)

PS if you’re looking for the flood story try this

Banking on Heritage

Heritage2Heritage Bank

A while back, we posted a little story of the reconstruction of the old Union Federal Savings building on South Virginia Street, across from the Black Bear Diner, (which was Lyon’s Restaurant when the Union Federal Building was built in 1972); we noted at that time that the bank building was built entirely of Legos, which of course was bullcrap. There was some sheetrock in it somewhere, maybe some asbestos.

Work continues on the reconstruction, and we here offer a picture taken this morning from the Black Bear Diner, where the Black Bear Diner Gentlemen’s Coffee, World Dilemma Solutions, Laudable Opinions, If-a-rumor-is-not-heard-by-9:00 a.m.-sharp-start-one, and Other General BS as may properly come to our attention, group meets with great regularity.

The building, as may be seen, is coming along handsomely with its new beams breaking up the former ridiculous wall treatment. We will keep readers apprised of this progress.

A readers’ note: This is being placed on Facebook, to try to get enough people reading the Ol’ Reno Guy to make its preparation and research worthwhile. You may see some problems, between WordPress, the host website, between Facebook and its antics, and my own shortcomings with computers. Bear with me for a week or two.

The Harolds Club mural

mural4During this rodeo week in Reno, a few references have been made to the Harolds Club mural (and I should note here that Pappy Smith, who owned Harolds Club, named for his son, didn’t like apostrophes and that’s good enough for us!) Therefore, it’s probably appropriate to scribe a few words about that mural.

It was commissioned by the club in the mid-1950s, and a picture painted by Theodore McFall of Pacific Grove, Calif., was chosen. McFall knew that the mural that was to be created from his picture would be huge – 38 feet high and 78 feet wide – pioneers at a campsite that could be Crystal Peak to the west or the shore of the Truckee to the east – a campfire burning, azure-blue water falling in the background. He also knew that the farthest away a viewer could get from the mural was about a hundred feet – from Harolds Club across Virginia Street to Southworth’s Cigar Store on the west sidewalk – so he created the picture to look proportionate from any view, absent a parallax from looking up, or crosswise at it.

Deal was made and deed was done for the newish casino to buy the rights to the photo, and the process of taking an oil photo to a mural capable of withstanding weather and beating sun then began. It was decreed that it would be of steel, with color porcelainized onto the steel and fired (the mural consisted of many small squares of artwork.) But who could do such a process?

A man was located, an interesting artist named Sargent Claude Johnson, a New Englander by birth who later spread his time between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. He was a sculptor, and a mosaic artist (his works can be seen as a mural on George Washington High School in SF, in some sculpture still in place on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, where it was placed for the 1939 World Exposition, and mosaics in the veranda of the Aquatic Park Museum in SF, and in that same building’s entrance in the form of intaglio. Most other works are on private property, and one is in storage, a scene similar to the Harolds Club mural created for a Las Vegas casino, acquired by the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, and now in storage.)

Curiously, I first wrote of Johnson and the mural in a February, which is Black History Month, because Johnson was half black, and elected to live his life in the black communities of LA and Oakland. He was a member of the Communist party during his adult life.

He undertook to create and fire the mural in 1948, and it was ready for presentation to the City of Reno by Harolds Club in 1949. It was trucked to Reno in many pieces, and suspended on a steel frame affixed to the Harolds Club building, and here Neal Cobb and I differ; he thinks it was for the Fourth of July; I, (while I remember the hoopla attached to its creation) found references to later in that year, and maybe it was partially erected for the Fourth with the balance following later – I dunno, won’t argue the point herein, but simply write, 1949.

In its original form, the waterfall “fell,” sort of like the lights in a Wurlitzer jukebox, and the campfire “burned.” The waterfall’s cascade and the fire’s flickering flame were allowed to fall into disarray at the advent of the Hughes acquisition of Harolds Club. And some of the artwork on the lower part of the mural, primarily the snake that appeared poised to bite the lady pioneer’s butt, were covered by some signs spelling out the casino’s name. The legend atop the mural was attributed to Harolds Club’s genius adman Thomas C. Wilson, Dedicated In All Humility to Those Who Blazed the Trail.

Sadly, a home for the mural could not be located in downtown Reno when the club’s structure was demolished in 2001, and was in storage for a decade until the Reno Rodeo Association, with some help from other local people and entities, made it possible for it to be re-erected on a building at the Reno Events Center on Wells Avenue.
Well done, Smith Family, artist Theodore McFall, sculptor Sargent Claude Johnson, and the Rodeo Association!

I just knew this would happen…

NealJerry

Two of my lifelong friends brought out a book a few years ago. Their names are Jerry Fenwick and Neal Cobb, and together they are to Reno what the Bettman Archives are to the US of A and Matthew Brady was to the Civil War – the two of them have this city on celluloid, cold.

The book was a tremendous success, photos of today contrasted against the same scenes going back in time, for comparison. Big, clear photos. I knew the book would be a winner, and that it would just encourage them. And it was, and it did. Now they’re doing a second book. And they’ve asked me to write another Foreword for the new book, as I wrote for the original. And I said I would.

I nicknamed them the “Grumpy Old Men.” Their opinions differed from time-to-time over the archival photos’ placement within the book, the description of the newer views, the dates that the older views were taken on film (many taken by their parents, who were all in the art and photo business in Reno before and shortly after WWII.) They differed on the occupants of buildings depicted within the book, on east vs. west, on 1909 vs. 1910, on whether the pizza on our work nights would be pepperoni, salami, garbage, pineapple, anchovy or just plain. On whether it would be Reno Now and Then, or Then and Now, and a sky blue cover or a dove grey cover. They differed on who would get top billing, Cobb vs. Fenwick, Oscar vs. Felix, on whether we’d listen to Benny Goodman, the New Christy Minstrels, Broadway, the SF Giants, jazz, Mario Lanza or the Chipmunks as the book was being crafted. They were indeed the Grumpy Old Men, and I swore that if I ever, ever got mixed up with them again, individually or collectively, jointly or severally, that I would have my head examined.

I’m getting used to my new brick home down here on the Truckee; the people who work here are friendly enough and let me wander the grounds at will, babbling aimlessly. They have allowed me my old favorite IBM Selectric III and some paper, and I am once again crafting a Foreword for the Grumpy Old Men’s second book, while they differ on the title, Reno Now and Then II comes to mind but I wouldn’t bet on it.

But it will be a hell of a book, mark my words, with wonderful old scenes of our picturesque town, some never seen publicly before, many with a running dialogue of little known, and often fun facts and anecdotes about our beloved hamlet, the Tough Little Town on the Truckee; The City of Trembling Leaves. (I can tell I’m getting very near to scribing a Foreword; I’m already plagiarizing John Townley and Walter Van Tilburg Clark!)

Publication date: The first. (The first chance they get.) But right now if I were loose in Reno I’d hold off on my Christmas shopping to ensure that my friend(s) will get a heck of a good book under their Christmas tree(s). Watch this space; the Ol’ Reno Guy will keep you posted.

If they let me keep my Selectric…

Ol’ Reno Guy gets a Sunday off…

Red T-Bird

It’s Sunday; the Giants are beating the Padres in AT&T Park, it’s Earth Day, all is right in the world so we make a light-duty post just to keep the streak alive. We’ve  extolled the virtues of staff photographer Lo Phat. Here is a shot he took over the back fence of the Ol’ Reno Guy global headquarters onto Allen Street, a dead bird under tow from a ’57 Chevy tow truck.

    Actually, the T-Bird and the tow truck are each about four inches long, seen sitting on top of the fence, and now back in their place in the cabinet in the headquarter building. How does he do it, with that old pre-war Speed Graphic?

     Have a good weekend. Go Giants,

Update: Giant won, shutout

Under-the-radar local artwork

MotelSignsRanchoSierraMotel

Here’s a few little treasures that have been around since the early 1950s, when the Lincoln Highway, Highway 40 and West Fourth Street – same street – rolled through our town. There’s a sign evocative of the ol’ west, all different, on every unit door in the motel like the two seen here.

These iron signs have been on the doors of the motel since then, crafted back in the days well-before they could be done by a water-jet steered by a computer, or plasma welding as it would be done today.

They’re neat. I’m always surprised as I drive by the motel at 411 West Fourth, north side of the street, that they’ve survived the ravages of time and aren’t in somebody’s back yard now. Maybe I shouldn’t even post this – I might endanger them. But our readers are pretty upstanding folks, and will just drive by and enjoy seeing them.

Who did them, and when? God only knows. I’ve tried to find out to no avail. But, I’m all ears if a reader knows…

A walk around Virginia Lake

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Some columns have a theme that holds them together; this one doesn’t. Today’s pièce de résistance – one of the few phrases I know that contains both an accent acute and an accent breve (é and è) respectively, but I don’t know a lot of phrases – is of Virginia Lake, and was composed in my head while I was walking around it a couple of times earlier this afternoon. Lord knows, I think, that I’ve written ad nauseum about Virginia Lake since growing up in its proximity in the mid-1950s, (2230 Watt Street) but today my brain just kicked out of gear as I walked, with stuff that really should be conveyed…

The picture I took to prove I was really there shows the last (hopefully) vestiges of snow on Mt. Rose, and at that juncture I point out that anywhere you see Mount Rose, Mount written out, is written by a person not from around here, for it’s Mt. Rose, everywhere but the elementary school, which for reasons unknown is Mount Rose School. Here we see the mountain with gentle fields of snow, scarred by the Hawken Fire of 2007. We’ll burn it down yet, I fear.

If one looks closely at the photograph, it is evident that my buddy Gordon Zimmerman, that’s Dr. Gordon Zimmerman of the University of Nevada, retired, maybe even emeritus, is in the picture dead on a line with the camera and beyond the island in the lake. Now that island’s an interesting little piece of local real estate. In my early years I was told by no less than Ed Pine, Sr., that the island on Virginia Lake, together with the migratory bird sanctuary on the south east corner of the lake, and the then-fish hatchery, now-off leash dog park on the south side of Mountain View Drive, were all federal properties, in ransom for the Department of Interior’s contribution to the CCC and WPA in construction of the lake. And I can also tell you that somebody should be ashamed of the condition of that island; at one time it was a focal point of the lake, and indeed the city.

I’ve written about the house with the turret on the southwest corner of the lake – on Lakeside and Country Club Drive. That 6,000 square foot beauty was built by Luke Hancock, founder of Hancock Oil Company, one of the major oil companies in the nation in the pre-WWII years. He built it in the late 1930s, and it was completed in January of 1941, which coïncided with the “official,” by many accounts, completion of Virginia Lake.

And while I’m boring you and myself with an English lesson, not that I slipped a diaerisis into coïncided above, which tells you that in those two consecutive vowels, the second one starts a new syllable. You won’t see it anywhere in modern usage except The New Yorker Magazine and Ol’ Reno Guy.

• • •

Did anybody ever drown in Virginia Lake? Yes, they did, two Reno residents – one a teenager who drowned near the east shore of the lake just south of the Cochran Ditch outlet structure, ‘nuff said, and a lady, the wife of Ralph Festina, also known as Mrs. Festina, who was walking along the northeast corner of the lake and fell in – accounts vary as to whether she had a heart attack and fell in and drowned, or fell in and it triggered a heart attack, but in the final evaluation she gained the distinction of being the first person and only woman to drown in the lake, to go with an earlier distinction of being ½ the team in Reno who brought us “Pizza,” for the Festinas were chefs in the Colombo restaurant downtown and legend says they created pizza out of the leftovers of the food from the night before.

You read it first in the Ol’ Reno Guy

Now – up Lakeside Drive we go, up being north to the house at 1900 Lakeside Drive. It was one of the earlier structures around the new lake, and was built with the express purpose of being a rural casino and tavern. The problem was, the citizenry didn’t want a casino and tavern in the proximity of their new civic jewel of a lake, so it never came to be. Nice try.

While walking the lake which I do with some regularity, I’m always taken with the house on the northwest corner of Wildrose Drive and Lakeside Drive – it’s a Tudor of grand proportions. Now, after you’ve checked it out, look at the house at 2230 Watt Street.

They were originally identical houses in 1951, the Watt Street house remaining as-built. Sid King built them, as he did many of the homes around the lake and the Watt Street, Sunset and Sunrise Drives, Country Club and Morningside – quite a builder. I lived in the Watt Street house, and watched the owner of the Lakeside Tudor re-engineer it for that steep pitched roof and virtual rebuilding. Just goes to show that money, in sufficient quantities, can do just about anything, not always with the intended consequences.

• • •

This yarn is starting to grow to a ridiculous length so we’re now going to wrap it up and look at a few of the events and uses the lake and its park were put to. Not the least of which was an automobile race, sports cars, in 1952; out Lakeside Drive to Moana, west on Moana Lane to Plumas Street, (the “pits” were on Plumas, about by the present tennis courts) north on Plumas to Morningside, around the lake and back out Lakeside Drive was a lap. Cool.

We had sailboat racing at Virginia Lake for a time, attorney Thomas Cooke, now deceased (and this is not my buddy Tom Cook, the attorney, Sigma Nu, raconteur, first-nighter, boulevardier, who is, or at least was alive ’til yesterday). Cooke organized the sailboat races.

The Reno Municipal Band, “Tink” at the baton, performed every summer on Wednesday night at the Virginia Lake Park, ending each night’s show by leading the kiddies around the park to Stars & Stripes Forever. My compadre the late Glenn Little continued the tradition for many years thereafter. The muni band back then played Virginia Lake in July, and the University Quad in August. Or vice versa, depending on the whim, but in any case the parking was a lot better than when some genius decided to put the muni band downtown with no parking, signalling its near-demise.

This piece is long enough. We’ll do it again. And we’ll run a full column about the sports car races, as soon as I find my pictures of the Jag XK-120s, Healeys, and MGs. And others, like the Army test-floating, or test-sinking, some amphibious Weasels in the lake. And the year the lake was drained. And the bounty-hunt for cormorants, a buck-a-beak – not a bad idea today. We’re not done yet.