This is a fine how-do-you-do? Dad took off with Mr. Blakely and Mr. Corica to work at the Reno Rodeo, which is always on the Fourth of July. And I’m home with my baby sister and my mother on Ralston Street. But not for long! I’m takin’ off down the hill with my buddies Hank Philcox and Don Hartman to see what’s going on downtown this holiday weekend with all the people in town for the rodeo! HA!
So Dad, while you’re opening beer cans for the Jaycees at the rodeo grounds in the heat and the dust, I’m off. Walking down Ralston Street I can really see a lot of cars, more than usual, on West Fourth Street. Most of the better motels built after the war are either east or west of town. I got to stay In one a couple weeks ago when my Aunt Isabel came to Reno from Petaluma, down by the San Francisco Bay where Mom grew up. She stayed at a motel with a swimming pool and that was the first pool I ever swam in. I’ve swum in the Russian River by Guerneville but the pool is pretty neat too.
I walk toward downtown and get to Virginia Street, where the rodeo parade is starting to march. There’s a big truck down by the railroad tracks with a loudspeaker on the roof. Some of the gasoline companies, and the Auto Club, or Three A or whatever dad calls it, have these trucks and send them around the country to rodeos and parades and stuff where somebody wants to talk to a bunch of people. I cross the highway at Virginia Street, the busiest intersection in Nevada. I better go home before I catch hell for sneaking off.
Many have accused me of dogging it this Fourth of July weekend because I haven’t written anything new. C’mon, I’m only a little guy and it’s a holiday and it’s hotter than a bride’s breath so I’ll post soon, soon, soon….beside, I’m trying to listen to a New York Giants baseball game on the radio – everybody says that some day it will be on a “television” set right in our living room but today it’s on KOH, live from Detroit. Hard to write and watch at the same time.
I was asked what’s around the bend on these little walks we’re taking. Well, I can tell you – I want to get Dad to take me down to Harold’s Club – note that as I write this in the 1940s it’s still using an apostrophe in the name. In a few years it will go away. If we can walk down on a Saturday morning between 10 o’clock and noon, Mr. Smith closes the second floor of the casino so that kids can go in. I want to see the “Roaring Camp” stuff that Mr. Smith bought from Mr. Stagg and all the old guns and saddles the blue Buick station wagon with the steer horns and stuff. There’s supposed to be a bar with silver dollars in the bar. I’ll tell you all about that soon.
Another story is going to be about learning to swim in Reno. I’ve received a lot of letters from readers at our home on Ralston Street, asking me to write about old swimming places like Reno Hot Springs and Lawton’s west of Reno (pictured), Idlewild Pool in Reno (the new one, not the big pond on the west side of the park that was the first community pool). And Baker’s Stables a long way south of Reno and Deer Park in Sparks, that only opened right after the war. And I also have some notes about the people who gave us swimming lessons, like Marcie Herz, Rick Burgess at that new pool at the Riverside Hotel and some of our friends like Billy Berrum who show us about swimming at Moana Springs. Billy’s a good guy, only a little bit older than me, maybe ten years old. (And in a few years Mrs. Conrad would slap me for writing “older than me” when it should be “older than I” but I’m too young to get hung up on grammar.)
Dad still goes down to Sparks a lot in his business, and one day got me in to the railroad’s locomotive shop. I got to climb up onto a cab-forward steam engine. They were working the shaking tank in the shop and I got to see (and feel!) that. And they’re starting to tear down the roundhouse at the south end of 8th Street in Sparks, (later they’d call it Pyramid Way). Writing is funny, in Reno it’s written “Eighth Street” which is up by the University but in Sparks it’s written “8th Street”. I’ll never make a very good writer.
Dad’s friend says that we should take a good look at the old steam locomotives because pretty soon they’ll all be those boring streamliners. I didn’t know it then but the last steam engine that would roll through Reno and Sparks on a revenue basis would be pretty soon – late October of 1949. After that we only saw them in the winter pushing plows or pulling heavy trains over Donner Summit. I’ll try to find a picture of one for you.
We got out to the new airport a while ago and Dad drove right out onto the runway so we could watch the Nevada Air Guard land a couple of P-51 “Mustangs” – little fighter planes. And we watched a United Air Lines DC-3 take off for San Francisco. And we went up into the “control tower” on the second floor of the United terminal and hangar. That was pretty cool and I’ll try to write it down.
We had a little excitement in Reno and western Nevada last winter – it got really snowy and the cows and sheep couldn’t get to their pastures to the Army Air Corps brought in a bunch of huge freighter airplanes that had doors in the back, and all the men of Reno and Sparks met out at the airport to load hay into the planes to drop to the livestock. We’ll read about that. Dad got to go on a couple of their flights.
Yeah, Idlewild Park, for sure. I’ll write about the zoo at the park, and our class going to the Old Home Dairy across the street from the park, where we get a lot the milk around Reno. And the fishing derby. Virginia Lake has a new park too. We’ve gone to some Reno band concerts out there in July, in August they’ll all move to the “Quad” at the University where we can walk from our house. Dad and Mom know some people who play for that band. And we get watermelon during the show and get to march to a Sousa march around the Quad with Mr. Tinkham the bandleader. And the grownups – can’t sing worth a darn but they end with “Home Means Nevada.”
Got to go to the neighbors’ for some hot dogs. Fireworks tonight at Mackay Stadium, Joe Battaglia and the Men of Renown will do the National Anthem as usual. Sorry to bail on you early but the game’s tied at 3-3 and the barbecue’s starting.
Be safe out there, come back once in a while….
If you came here looking for the story about Ronald Reagan and the Fourth of July at Edwards Air Force base click right about here
The following was written by Penelope…:
A day too late for Fathers’ Day, but I think of my dad every day; so here is a slightly amended version of what has become an annual tribute:
My dad, Brendan Jennings, at right, left Ireland with his brother Jack
when he was just 17 (1927). He and Jack made their way to San Francisco, where their older brother, Owen, a pharmacist, had established his business. Dad studied to be a pharmacist as well but opted to take a job with McKesson & Robbins, Inc. where he met my mother Dorothea.
He joined the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor and was sent to China (via Newfoundland, the Azores, across North Africa and India and finally over the Himalayas) in 1945 as part of a Special Forces/OSS mission to liberate the Japanese civilian internment camps there. Because he had an eidetic memory and could easily pick up just about any language, he stayed in China for a period of weeks to support repatriation efforts. In 1946, he was awarded the Special Breast Order of Yun Hui (Order of the Cloud and Banner).
pictured at left, brothers Brendan (l), Jack, and Fr. Michael (r)
below right, Brendan and Dorothea
My parents were divorced when I was just two, so I didn’t really get to know and appreciate my dad until I was in my thirties. He never lost his Irish brogue, quick wit, and sense of humor and remained true to his Irish Catholic faith. A lifelong Democrat, avid reader, historian, poet and writer whose editorials were frequently published in the SF Examiner and Chronicle, he often wrote to President Kennedy and Robert Kennedy to offer his advice and enjoyed a long-term correspondence with SF Mayor George Moscone. He had a beautiful tenor voice as well. I was hoping to restore or at least be able to listen to some of those old recordings of his (Bakelite 78’s) that I found a couple of years ago, but sadly, they are beyond repair.
When I first visited Ireland with my son in 1998, only one of Dad’s seven siblings, younger brother Gerard, was still living. Uncle Gerry (an artist, accomplished landscape and scenery painter, and co-founder of the Kilbeggan Players, among other things) had some wonderful memories to share including a story about how my dad could write backwards without a second thought and would trick Gerry into believing that it was a form of ancient Greek code.
I learned much more about my dad [color photo above left in 1988], his family home in Mullingar, and my Irish family on our trip to Ireland last October, and have included a few additional photos.
Yr. Editor requested from Penelope her permission to publish the above story, which originally appeared Monday on a social network; her response follows, and I’m taking the liberty of including it with the above:
[At left, Penelope at work, SF Symphony, mid-1980s] Demetrius arrived in San Francisco with his many boxes of books and the clothes on his back three days before the Great Earthquake in 1906. He lost everything in the quake but went on to open the Athens Cafe (on Third Street, I think) and later, Malamis and Company. The family home was on Clement Street. My great aunt Margo (my grandmother’s sister) was married to Dimitrios Kappatos. They owned and operated the Almond Blossom Cafe on the corner of Geary Boulevard and Van Ness Avenue (a central meeting place for the Hellenic Society, local, mostly Democratic, politicians, and opera attendees, after the War Memorial Opera House was built a few blocks away), which they sold to Tommy Harris in 1947. It’s been Tommy’s Joynt ever since. Their beautiful home [above right] where my mother and father are pictured – also where I fell in love with San Francisco at the age of 3), was on Singingwood in St. Francis Wood. Theirs is another story I have been planning to post for a while. Here are a few pics: the Almond Blossom in 1925; Tommy’s Joynt today; Aunt Margo with her second husband, Stavros, on the steps of their home in St. Francis Wood [pictured below].
Thanks, Penelope – a lotta your work and love went into that post! KB
He showed us some drawings in his valise including his pen-and-ink drawing of the building, which through a circuitous path came into my possession 50 years later. I still have it, along with a dozen 11×17″ photographs of the site prior to and during its construction, with some trees that were donated to the U.S. Post Office downtown.
These photos I offered to the Theater Coalition c. 2002, but they were refused: “Mrs. Lear is the only person who gets her name on the building.” Oh.
The First Church of Christ, Scientist occupied the building quietly for over 60 years. Twenty years following its sale, an amount of donated money, some say $10 million, others peg it closer to $17 million, but in any case it’s a large amount of money to account for, for a decaying building that still can’t be occupied by the public.
I read some years ago that the building was turned over to the only operator in town who could possibly abuse an asset more than the Theater Coalition had, and just shook my head. At this juncture I’ll voice disagreement with my ol’ buddy Randi Thompson, who asserts that the community deserves better that what they’re receiving. Twenty years ago the community probably did deserve better. But time has passed; funds have been poorly accounted for, and there is no bright spot on the horizon for the property.
The building’s sparkle is gone, and with that its Paul Revere Williams cachet. As is a maritime custom, it seems preferable for the sea to reclaim a vessel when it’s otherwise strong and viable, laying it on the ocean floor through the will of mariners recognizing that its journey is done and scuttling it on purpose with its ensign flying. As opposed to going down in defeat. as the church/theater will surely do.
I’ve written often of the Truckee’s Treasure, an appellation I gave the building in a 2002 column. I remain like a family member of the surviving grandchildren of the lady who located and hired Williams, and who endowed the construction of the church. None of these grandchildren reside in Reno. Now, through disuse, decay and an element of distrust by the public, and I’m probably the last person who should advocate this, but, my vote would be for an intentional razing of the asset, with an element of honor.
I’ve used a few words today that He wouldn’t want to hear on the Sabbath, but I think the site is dialed in OK now – what remains is now to reload it. Nothing has been removed; the “search box” at the bottom of this page will help,
Stick with me – my laptop’s old and i’m older, but pretty quick we’ll have a blog again about ol’ Reno!
Knowing as I have learned that on St. Patrick’s Day, the entire readership wears green and expects to see the tales of the Wreaths & Shamrocks and of the Smilin’ Irishman, Harry O’Brien. I aim to please; the links to both are herewith, click away! (The posts open in a new window; use your back-browser to get back here…)
At the crack of four ayem in Fort McDermitt near the Oregon border all the kids are roused from the arms of Morpheus to dress, dine and dash to the waiting school buses. But the bleary-eyed parents meet little resistance – these kids are off to the circus! A similar scene is being played out on this August Saturday morning in four Nevada counties, and tykes from ages six to 14 are hitting the decks – in Humboldt House, Tungsten, Paradise Valley, Battle Mountain, Valmy, Unionville, Getchell Mine and Imlay. By car and school bus they’ll make their drowsy way to Winnemucca, and board the Western Pacific passenger train, destination Mackay Stadium, because the Shrine Circus is in town – all aboard!
They’ll find on the train a bunch of clowns, played out by Shrine members and Western Pacific employees and led by the head clown for the day, who in real life resembled the late District Judge Merwyn H. Brown of Winnemucca. Brown was a popular and celebrated Nevadan, and former Shrine Potentate. He was instrumental in putting this day together in 1949 and shepherding it along for the six years that it lasted. In an August 19, 1953 interview for the Nevada State Journal he cited the tremendous cooperation that the Shrine received from the Western Pacific Railroad. Who else would virtually donate a 24-car train and help the Shriners stock the center two baggage cars with box lunches, milk, ice cream, soda pop, peanuts, popcorn, Cracker Jack and other goodies? (Four thousand bottles of soft drinks, all donated by local businesses, were consumed on the 1953 run.)
And who would dress up one railroad and one Winnemucca doctor and a contingent of nurses like clowns to help out with the 1,200 kids who would eventually board, as the train chugs out of Winnemucca with stops along the way picking up even more kids in Sulphur, Jungo and Gerlach in Nevada, and (over the California border briefly) Herlong? Who? And here’s a fun one: who would buy special water-based paint so that Winnemucca children, and those along the way, could “decorate” the Pullman cars with graffiti telling the world about their adventure? And, on the side of safety, place men with “stop” signs along the train’s route to forestall a vehicle collision in rural Nevada… who?
The Western Pacific Railroad, that’s who – the Feather River Route guys. OK – we’re rolling into Reno, how will we get to the circus in the old Mackay Stadium, which was closer to Virginia Street than the present one? (Somewhere on campus there’s a plaque marking the center of that old classic’s football 50-yard line.) Well, let’s take the train, since all 1,200 of us are already on one. We’ll use the same tracks that the circus and the elephants and tigers and the Big Top arrived on – the tracks that run down Evans Avenue behind the campus. That way we won’t have too far to walk. And how do we stay together? Aha – Judge/Clown Brown and his band of merry men have a rope, a rope long enough for 1,200 kids to hang on to, walking side-by-side from the train to the stadium (where the clowns secured the gates just to prevent one of the older, bolder passengers from walking down to the Wigwam for some hot apple pie.)
The clowns had fun, but safety was paramount for the day. Those who let go of the rope would be fed to the tigers. It was that simple, a harsh word was never uttered, it was great fun for all, and best of all, they never lost a kid in six years. And all saw a real-deal first-line Ringling Brothers circus; the Shriners had brought it to Reno initially in 1947, appearing then on South Virginia Street on the former site of the El Reno Apartments (later to be Washoe Market and now an antique store.) It would move to Mackay the next year. And our excited kids from outlying Nevada joined us locals, to see Victor Julian and his 21 (count ’em) trained dogs with two rhesus monkeys; to see Brigit Hadnig, direct from Munich, who wisely changed her name to Lalage the Unicyclist; to see Amielo and Elvira Sciplini’s six world-renowned chimps, and the Flying Palacios – Lola, Raul, Jose and Lalo, and from a careful perusal of the program’s photo I would surmise that it would take all three of the brothers plus a couple chimps to catch the Flying Lola once she let go of the trapeze – a ballerina she wasn’t.
But heck, it was a great time and most of the kids got to pet an elephant and have a tiger shriek at them. Rumor has it that they slept like little logs on the long choo-choo ride home. They had indeed been to the circus – on a day that they’d never forget, thank you Winnemucca Shrine Club and Western Pacific Railway.
Times have changed; no tracks go near the Livestock Events Center where the Shrine Circus performs now. And few of the excited children of all ages under that Big Top came to Reno by train, having left Winnemucca at this morning’s sunrise, nor clung to a rope to stay with their buddies all the way to the show, but let’s hope that all will have as much fun as these 1,200 children did, some of whom are probably reading this column and taking their grandchildren to the circus. If their memories of this great time in local history reach me by e-mail, well, we might all just read them right here on some otherwise-slow day!
Credit where due on this one goes to Mike Maher at the Nevada Historical Society, now retired. I knew this story existed, but while I was poring over railroad, circus and Shrine files, Mike went right to a Nevada Highways & Parks magazine. He’s a pro… (The photos are courtesy of that magazine.)
If you rode the train, lemme know at kfbreckenridgelive.com ; release your text and name so I can post it here…..
And here’s one now from Mike Mentaberry (at right): “We came from the Mentaberry family’s Washburn Creek Ranch outside McDermitt the weekend prior to the trip to the depot in Winnemucca to paint the cars.
Broker Salesman/Property Manager
There was a time in this great land when a function that was vital to the populace would find itself on the ropes, financially, possibly, and rather than boo-hooing to state legislatures or Facebook and selling out to the federal system, or hyping up a shaky stock offering or pruning down their loyal employees’ wages, they would roll up their sleeves and do something about it – with dignity, honor, and a little bit of fun.
And that’s the way it was in the late 1940s at a little business down at the corner of Mill and Kirman Streets – the original brick building built in 1904 can still be seen amid the sprawl. The Washoe County Hospital has roots back to 1876, when 40 acres of the Hatch ranch were purchased for a hospital and a poor farm. At mid-century its fiscal pulse, respiration and temperature were approaching Code Blue – the (three, then) County Commissioners were noodling with the eventuality of closing the whole thing down.
A knight in shining scrubs rode into town from Arizona – his name was Clyde Fox – and he took over as the hospital’s administrator. One of his first acts was to create a body that had been successful for him in other hospitals: an auxiliary, composed of community ladies and doctors’ wives. His auxiliary rapidly grew to 500 members and old newspaper clips include the movers-and-shakers of our towns. I was surprised to see my own grandmother in a newsclip, shaking her ancient booty in some hen party at the Twentieth Century Club, all in support of the Washoe Hospital Ladies Auxiliary.
“We shall raise money,” they decreed, and in the year fuzzily identified as 1951 they gathered on a sunny Saturday in Pickett Park across from the hospital, and held a rummage sale. The name was “Tombola Day” – I’ve references to tombola as some sort of salsa bingo game, and/or a Central American fiesta. Tents were set up for the merchandise, the hospital brought some grub over and they had a few booths for kiddies – a “Wheel of Fortune” sort of thing, a Fortune Teller and a Wishing Well. They went all day, sold out, made a few bucks for the hospital and had a ball.
Well, next year, it’s going to be a little different, someone said, and it was. The rummage had a little greater variety, the children’s games were expanded a bit, and a school and a church were brought in to provide a few tunes. Someone brought a barbecue, and recall if you will an outdoor grill was not an amenity in everyone’s home in the early 1950s – most were homemade from 55-gallon drums with little ostentation. But – they had hot food. And here I’ll run a few years together from newspaper accounts: Each year brought a little more entertainment – for the kids and the adults. At some point a barbecued lamb became a fixture at the event and remained so for many years – the late John Iratcabal arriving the night before, digging a pit and starting the little creature’s journey to between two slices of bread the following afternoon (the lambs on several occasions, maybe more, were courtesy of John Ascuaga or Bill Harrah.) And, the piece de resistance of every Tombola Day was a raffle for a little house, an A-Frame of about 10 by 10 feet square and 10 feet to the roof peak, complete with plumbing and electricity, ready to be occupied as a hunting cabin or backyard playhouse. Washoe Med’s (its later name) maintenance crew, headed by superintendent Edin Sontag built the little houses and they’re still collectors’ items seen occasionally around town.
Tombola Day grew, few in town didn’t visit it, and what a show – great parking, food, entertainment from schools, churches, the University, Tink’s Municipal Band, an early Day with Lash Larue and the Singin’ Cherokees, later whoever was playing downtown in an impromptu visit (a youthful Bill Cosby sticks out in my mind, I’d guess this in the early ‘70s, and no kid went home without a snapshot of him or herself and the Cos, often on his shoulders – what a terrific friend he is to kids of all ages.) A couple of Harrah’s museum cars showed up one year including a fire truck with a Dixieland band; not to be outdone by all that was John Ascuaga, who dispatched Bertha & Tina, hoisting a few Nugget showgirls and some bolder volunteer celebrants with their trunks. Reno Fire Department parked a couple of engines for the kids to climb all over, and Bill and Moya Lear, who were among the strongest supporters of the hospital and the League, delighted all by landing a LearAvia medivac helicopter for ground tours. (This in 1974, a joint venture with Reno’s Aids Ambulance. The semipublic Careflight air-evac service would come seven years later.) Some thought the helicopter looked a lot like a French Alouette III, but Bill Lear liked to put his own name on things.
Tombola was Reno’s big summer show, akin to the Harrah Swap Meet with many similar attractions – both bespoke a great time in our town, when kids were safe riding bikes on their own to Pickett Park and none, rich or poor, went without a hot dog, coke, and cotton candy; a tour of a fire truck, touching the snoot of one of the Nevada White Hat riding team’s palominos, ringing the bell at the Strongman Hammer booth and leaving with a Hartford Insurance fireman’s helmet – local businesses’ participation grew steadily over the years.
And for the adults? Lash Larue and the Singin’ Cherokees, can’t beat that. A fashion show from Eve-Lynn’s bevy of beauties. Great food and company; a late-afternoon hoedown, I think a cold brew or two might have found its way onto City property, and a sense of getting something done for the community.
Tombola Day went away about 1984. It was a point of municipal pride for three decades. Could we carry off another one in theses times? Maybe.
This note cannot go unpublished: On July the second of 1974, a bold step was taken at Washoe Med: Smoking was banned on the entire fourth floor, staff, visitors and patients alike, no exceptions, said Maida Pringlr.
Fire truck photo © Harrah’s