Dec 18 – The Six-year-old kid: “Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus!”

SlimYes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus … by editor Francis P. Church, first published in The New York Sun in 1897.

 

Dear Editor—I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus?  Virginia O’Hanlon

“Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the scepticism of a sceptical age. They do not believe except that that they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds.”

34thStreetOK, back to reality now, from 1897 to 1948 – I’m hangin’ out around town, with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head, whatever a sugar plum is. We’re already planning Christmas dinner with the Salas from next door on Ralston Street, with that cute little red-headed daughter, her baby brother Mike and my sister Marilynn who’s now hell-on-wheels all over the house.

SleighRideDad got us a Christmas tree from the Lions Club downtown, brought it home on the roof of the Dodge and got pitch all over the car. We’re putting it up this afternoon later. He got six boxes of lights from Nevada Machinery & Electric downtown; he said that it’s taken a few Christmases after WWII to get any Christmas decorations and lights and stuff. We’re putting up a tree in our classroom at Mary S. Doten School – I hear tell that a day is coming when we can’t even say the word “Christmas” at school but this is 1948.

lightboxThere are only a few weeks left until Christmas; we get out of school for a couple of weeks before and after the day, through New Year’s Day. We’re all making Christmas cards for our classmates. I’m lucky because my neighbor Margaret Eddleman is a pretty cool artist and she’s helping me. A bunch of guys from a “fraternity” up the street got in trouble for putting a red nose they made out of a tennis ball on one of the buffalo out at Idlewild Park and took it downtown saying it was “Rudolph,” or some such name, and the thing got loose in a bar on Sierra Street and nobody could catch it! (Who was “Rudolph,” anyway…?)

We like to go to the downtown library in the State Building downtown, and next PeterWolfweekend some musicians are coming and a man named Darrell Cain is going to read a poem called “Peter and the Wolf” by some guy named Sirgay Prokophife or something like that he wrote before the war, and the musicians are going to play their weird horns – trumpets, piccolos, oboes, saxophones, bassoons and such – each instrument representing a character in the story. It’s supposed to be pretty cool. They did it last year also kind of a Christmas tradition that I hope hangs around. A friend of mine named Gene Aimone who lives around the corner from us on Nevada Street is reading the part of Peter. My friend named Lauren House gets to play his French horn, which I think is the duck in the story but I’m not sure. It’s a neat morning; no grownups allowed!

CookingI wrote a letter to Santa Claus, but I haven’t heard LionelTrainback yet. Mom said he isn’t very good at answering his mail. I asked him for an electric train but I’m still pretty little for that. The little red-haired Sala girl next door wants an oven and some cooking stuff so she can cook like her mother Chetty does. Girls – yeecch – I’ll never understand them….

Dad brought home a couple boxes of records from his friend Mr. Saviers’ store on Second Street. There are about eight records in each box; each one has one song on it. The neatest one is by a guy named Bing Crosby – that’s a funny name – how would you like to go BingChristmasthrough life with a name like “Bing”? But he’s a pretty good singer. Dad got a record player when we moved up to Reno. It’s pretty big and noisy but you can put about 12 records on it and it will play for two or three hours. He got one of some group from a “Tabernacle” that’s pretty heavy singing. The “Men of Renown” singing group goes downtown every night from now to Christmas and sings carols while people shop on Virginia Street and at Gray WhiteChristmasReid’s. Dad’s friend Mr. Battaglia organized that group. My friend Billy Crouch’s mother organized a group of four ladies who also sing around town. I heard that a famous group came to the New Gym at the KingstonTrioUniversity of Nevada, and a local drive-by newspaper columnist called them “Fred Waring and the Blenders” and not one soul, including the genius editor, knew that  their actual name was the “Pennsylvanians.” But that was 50 years after today so I can’t really write about it yet. But they were good singers.

The evening newspaper the “Reno Evening Gazette” is running a contest for outdoor decorating for Christmas, with categories (pretty big word for a six-year-old, huh!?) for businesses downtown, for private homes and one for kids-only decorating. Last year Reno people weren’t happy because a kid from Sparks named SantaFrostyBobby Warren won it for decorating his parents’ home on B Street at 4th Street. (I want to learn to write someday, but stuff like “4th Street” in Sparks, but “Fourth Street” in Reno is already making me crazy.) Nobody is using any light bulbs yet. The first outdoor lighting anybody in Reno remembers was done in the mid-1950s by the president of the power company, Mr. Fletcher, on a home on Skyline Drive just before the street ended at Moana Lane. It was just a simple five-pointed star. My playmates Linda and [the late] Jon Madsen lived there much later.

MormonChristmasI’ve got a lot more notes for stuff to write about – Santas at the 20th Century Club and the YMCA downtown and the Elks Club on Sierra, and a lot of other stuff, but this is getting pretty long so I’m going to “post” it, whatever that means. Come back here on Christmas Eve and we’ll re-do Cactus Tom’s perennial favorite “Smokey Joe” then the Ol’ Reno Guy is going for a long winter’s nap…. 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

An old-time staff party


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a great week and God bless America. 

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

Thanksgiving Day…

cropped-slim Well, I’m in the doghouse again; Dad says I can’t go out and play ‘til I replace that stupid story of the turkeys and the airplanes that’s on the website now for the 20th time. So while my buddies are all across the street in Whitaker Park playing, I’m slaved to this little Remington of my grandmother’s on the front porch of 740 Ralston Street. And my baby sister Marilyn is in her bassinet crying. As usual. How is a six-year-old kid to get anything done?

For some reason all I can think of is winter stuff – ‘cuz winter’s coming. And stuff I’dTypewriter like to write a story about next year. Or some I’ve already written of. People say I should come up with an “index” of what I’ve written, which sounds like a lot of work. There’s a search box where somebody can type in a name or a “keyword” and then scroll to a bunch of stories and find one they like. Or like many people do, just email me (this is 1948!) and I’ll send them a “link” to a story if there is one. Or I’ll write one. But an index? Why turn fun into hard work??

Finch copyOne story I’m trying to get written is of a man named David Finch, who became the principal of Reno High School after it moved out by Idlewild Park from right down the street from my house (if this column’s going to get written I have to suspend time and talk about stuff that hasn’t happened yet.) Finch is like that and I’ll get to him. He was a bit weird but deserves a lot better than he ever got out of Reno. I’ll get there, promise. And on a day like today I think a lot about some other stuff – like the train that got stuck in a snowbank up on Donner Summit for four days and how they got the people off it. That was 1952 but I’ve already written about it. But probably will again. I s’pose I RHS2009ought to start writing down what I’ve already written about before I get 340 columns and can’t remember. One like that is another snow story, in 1948 when the Army Air Corps sent a bunch of C-119s from southern California and ranchers sent hay to airports in Reno, Douglas County, and other little airports in Nevada and all the way east to Denver, really, and the hay was put on the airplanes by all kind of guys like my dad who then flew with the airplanes and kicked the haybales off the 119s’ back doors, to feed the cattle and sheep that were starving with all their normal food buried under snow. That’s a good story; I’ve got some pictures and will have to publish (or re-publish!) it soon in 2020.

50010 iconic cityof sf locoI’ve always written often about trains – they’re kind of part of our Reno history. One column I wrote made a lot of people scratch their head because I wrote that no “Malleys” – named for Swiss engineer Anatole Mallet – went through Reno and Sparks after 1929 because they were so complicated and maintenance-hungry. But the big ‘ol cab-forwards were called Malleys until they quit running. And the other thing that irritated my readers was that the last steam locomotives to go through town IN REVENUE SERVICE was about this time of year in 1949 – next year. I dug that out of the Mighty SP’s records in the Bancroft Library just to silence a detractor who doubted what I wrote. The ones we saw after October 1949 were in helper service. And we never write just “SP” – it’s always the “Mighty SP.” You wanna be my editor and put up with crap like that weekly for 32 years?

Another train story that I can’t find now is of the “Merci Train” – little European SinatraIIboxcars, 51 of them, that were sent after an postwar aid airlift to France and Germany, in gratitude for the life-sustaining effort by Americans. The French boxcars were sent to each state and the D of C, with  gifts to Americans from the French people, many peasants who put clothing and dolls and toys in the cars. The contents of the cars were soon stolen, natch, but the Nevada car was displayed on a flatcar on Commercial Row before being taken to the RR museum in Carson City, where it fell MerciTraininto disrepair. I had lunch every Tuesday at the Liberty Belle with Richard C. Datin, who became the director of the railroad museum, where he kicked ass and took names to get the little boxcar restored. You can see it now on display. But this is only 1948, so I don’t know that yet.

I do know that mom’s going to be steamed when she reads me typing the “A-word” ManoguePowersin that last graf. And I should include that Richard C. Datin, also a Hollywood modelmaker, created the starship Enterprise for the Star Trek TV series.

Here’s a good story that needs to be told: Atop Peavine Mountain (Peak) there’s a Bell Telephone relay station. Some kids we go to school with live there with their families, who stay there all the time and bring the kids down the grade for a  couple of days at a time. They are snowed in right now, can’t get down or up the hill; the phone company doesn’t have Tucker Sno-Cats for another year so the kids have been snowed in for a week. So a bunch of us collected warm clothing, books, fun-food and other stuff to be airlifted to them by a new-fangled “helicopter” from Reno Air Base. And speaking of which, they’re going to rename it “Stead” air base soon. And the City of Reno is going to build a new fire station across Ralston Street from the Jack & Jill Day Care Center that we understand some fraternity – Sigmanoo – bought. Why is this news? Because the Fire Department is going to try to staff it with airmen stationed at Reno/Stead air base. That’s why.

SHMlafranceAnd we don’t know this yet, but in the first big fire after the new fire house – Station 4 – opened (which was the Granada Theater fire, then two weeks later the old YMCA exploded!) the fire chief had to tell the men of Station 4 that English, and not Italian, was the preferred language on the fire department’s radio…. (Often I wrote something unpopular with editors, like that, and of the revelation that Sierra Pacific Power, in league with Southwest Gas in 1964, wantonly destroyed the antiquity-act-protected structure at the entrance to the Sutro Tunnel. The present gates are but a lame effort to restore them. Did they go to jail as you or I would have for wrecking it? Noooo…)

Anyway, there’s a lot left to write about in this burg. I kind of like being the “six-year-old-kid” but having the capability of moving time around. On a downer note, HankPhilcoxthat allows me to mention a lass who attained fame, fortune and notoriety by mowing down a couple dozen fellow citizens on Virginia Street on Thanksgiving Evening, 1980. As an aside I’ll mention as I do occasionally that I don’t run stories of unpleasant stuff, like a full story of the above, I get, monthly, a directive, “You gotta write the story of the lady on Nixon Avenue who awoke with weasels tearing at her flesh and shot her six kids and the cleaning lady……” or some other unpleasant Reno story. I probably know the stories, more accurately, in that case I have the police report and newspaper accounts and have already written the stories for my doomsday trove of such stuff, but prefer to write happy stuff. There’s enough of the other, hashed and re-hashed, in the paper – it was sensational the first time and embarrasses the writer pounding it over and over on slow news days – just let them die. (And it was three kids; the cleaning lady found them. And not on Nixon Avenue.)

Plus I’m only six years old – what do I care?

Stay tuned, return occasionally; this is 1.048 words to the last comma so I’m outta here, Dad; gonna go across Ralston to Whitaker Park and play with Don Hartman, Henry Philcox (above, in the shades), Mike Fischer, the Molini kids, Marilyn Burkham and Trina Ryan. Happy Thanksgiving to all!

 

Turkey time, already?

Some of my columns have become iconic to a time of year; they were crappy when I wrote them 15, 20 years ago and haven’t become any better since, but maintain misleading, boring, non-factual, ill-researched, plagiarized and generally pathetic information. But, if I don’t run the Wreaths & Shamrocks piece on St. Patrick’s Day or the Squaw Valley 1960 Winter Olympics Opening with every new Winter Olympics, I catch hell: “Hey, it’s Thanksgiving; where’s the turkey story?” Just in case anyone alive hasn’t read this yarn that I stole from somebody in 1988, here it is:

Comet3In the dawn of the transition from propeller-driven to jet airliners – c. 1955 – the British DeHavilland builder of the Comet airliner turned to the Yankee builders – Lockheed, Boeing and Douglas – for insight into fabricating test strikes of aircraft windscreens, caused by planes striking birds at low altitude – takeoff or landing. The three Southern California giants gladly sent information about a rudimentary slingshot, to propel a store-bought 15-pound turkey into a windscreen to guage its effect.

Several weeks later, the Brits sent photographs of a windscreen with a gaping holeFrozenTurkey in it, then photos in sequence of a hole in the bulkhead behind the pilot’s head, the demolished flight engineer’s console behind that bulkhead, a hole in the bulkhead separating the flight engineer’s station from the crew lavatory and the interior of the lavatory, also trashed, with the turkey at rest on a countertop surrounded by glass from the mirror above the counter. The final photograph was of a question mark drawn on the damaged lavatory bulkhead. 

“Next time,” the American engineers wrote, “thaw the turkey…”

Reno–Almost the Hollywood of the Truckee Meadows?

Debbie2Please welcome guest writer Deborah Hinman – a decade behind me at Reno High School, retired from Ma Bell and currently enjoying a second career with the Renown Foundation. Debbie’s the lead writer and researcher for the Historic Reno Preservation Society’s quarterly, Footprints magazine, and now files this story:

Reno—home of a motion picture company? And a studio occupying one city block in the Old Southwest? And an investor/business manager/secretary who bears the same name and well may have gone on to become an Academy Award-winning director? Hard to believe, isn’t it?

Hard to believe but true, at least on two counts. The company did exist (however short-lived) and the business manager (if one and the same) would someday be very famous. The studio was never built but unless it was a case of fake news of 1920, it very nearly was.

On September 23, 1919, Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Washoe CountyCapra Clerk for the Tri-State Motion Picture Company. The incorporators were Miss Ida May Heidtman, a wealthy woman from Los Angeles, W. M. Plank and F. R. Capra. Could this have been none other than Frank Russell Capra (at left) as an unknown 22-year-old? Plank was the driving force behind the company. Of his plans, Plank stated, “We expect to spend $25,000 for buildings, and will erect a permanent Alaskan Village and a permanent Western Village. We will use the villages for pictures produced by our company and will also rent them to other producers of Los Angeles who will come here for snow scenes.”

A full-page ad in the Nevada Newsletter, dated January 10, 1920, details the plans for the studio. Tri-State had purchased property in Arlington Heights. The studio would face Arlington Avenue, bounded by Arroyo Street on the north and Pueblo Street on the south. The rear of the studio would face Catherine Street (today Wright Street). The story announced that ground had been broken and construction would begin immediately. The architectural drawings show an elaborate building with large arched windows on the first floor and many smaller arched windows in the floor above. Steps lead to a massive columned portico with a triangular pediment. The poor-quality rendering attached below at least gives an idea of the grandeur of the proposed building, which was to be supervised by architect Stanley C. Flawn.

MovieStudioI believe it’s accurate to say the studio was never built, and definitely not at this location. In looking at the homes on the 1300 block of South Arlington and Wright Streets, most were built in the 1930s when the city was extending southward. According to the Assessor’s records, the earliest house was built in 1926. A blurb in a 1959 Reno Evening Gazette under “40 Years Ago” reads, “Miss Ann Austin arrived in Reno to take the leading role in two movies. She was to perform in the movies The Pulse of Life and The Ranch of the Wolverines, productions of Tri-State Motion Picture Company. The studio was to be located on the Riley Ranch on Arlington Road.” Ann Austin shows one film credit on IMDB for 1941’s Moon Over Miami.

As far as production, Tri-State’s first five-reel feature is listed as The Pulse of Life. The Nevada Newsletter article says the company expects to complete and release the picture before January 27, 1920. Oddly, a film with the same title is listed in IMDB with a date of 1917. None of the names of production personnel match the Reno crew, Ann Austin is not among the cast and it was filmed at Universal Studios, however. The article also announced that still photos from actual scenes were on exhibit at Weck’s Drug Store on the corner of Second and Virginia Streets. The second picture to be produced by Tri-State was listed as Love’s Scars. There is no mention of Wolverines (Tri-State was no doubt waiting for the Western Village to be built).

The Pulse of Life (Reno production) opened at the Grand Theater on April 25, 1920. Read the newspaper ad, “The first motion picture feature to be produced in Reno. With local players in the cast. A dramatic story that is enacted amid scenes of beauty in the environs of this city.” There were no listings for the other two films which probably never got made. Plank and Capra were shown in the 1920 City Directory as residing at the Overland Hotel but just for that one year. I’m not sure what happened to Plank, but if this was indeed the famous director Frank Capra, he certainly went on to great fame and fortune. According to his Wikipedia bio, as a young man after recovering from a burst appendix, “Capra moved out and spent the next few years living in flophouses in San Francisco and hopping freight trains, wandering the Western United States.” The timing fits and he could well have ridden the Southern Pacific to Reno.

Though Tri-State seems to have been disbanded following its first film and has been lost in obscurity, it’s stories like these that give us a real taste of what 1920s Reno was like, with all sorts of entrepreneurs arriving in our city, trying to make a buck with their grandiose dreams. More than likely, no copy of Pulse exists today but I would sure love to see it, or even the still scene photographs. I’ll keep an eye on Ebay—who knows, they might show up some day!

 

Graphics of Capra and structure courtesy Debbie Hinman

In 1963, Nevada’s tallest building rises over Lake’s Crossing

This column was written a couple of years ago at the suggestion of Bill Thornton – a pillar of our community who passed away on Nov. 5 (pictured below). Much has been written of Biil; this is my contribution to his memory:

ThorntonA near-century after the township of Lake’s Crossing was staked out on the Truckee River, a brand-new building, at 294 feet the highest in the state and located at the financial, retail, social and geographic crossroads of Reno, opened for business on a Saturday afternoon. And thus, on October 26, 1963, a Northern Nevada icon was born. The First National Bank of Nevada, then the state’s “400 Million Dollar Partner,” commissioned the construction of the building to be its statewide headquarters. Curiously, the bank’s former main branch at Second and Virginia Streets, a block to the north, would remain as the preferred branch of the bank’s premier accounts for years to follow, evidence of either the sentimentality of the depositors’ formative days, or of the cachet and clout to be gained from the “94-1” branch number on their checks. But the new 16-story building would from that date forward house the central operation of its commerce on the lower four floors, with the fifth floor and those higher leased immediately to some of the Reno’s most prestigious legal firms and commercial tenants. I was somewhat amused that in spite of the wholesale pilgrimage of the bank’s administrative function to the new tower, their high-speed memory-card-reader/state-of-the-art, whiz-bang behemoth IBM computer remained at the Second and Virginia building, as it was too massive a task to move it. That amusement came as I realized that today, 53 years later, the IT tech who runs that IBM’s replacement with tenfold more capability would probably just haul it the one block south on a hand-truck and plug it back in.

FNB treat

(Photo: Treat Cafferata/RGJ file)

Let’s learn a bit of the tower structure: The name of the bank’s early-1960s president Eddie Questa figures in several sources as the engine behind building a new bank, on a site occupied by another, smaller FNB branch on the same corner, One East First Street. Shareholder approval was gained and deed was done, and the Harding Group engineering firm initiated the task of overseeing the preparation of the site and coordinating the management of construction and utilities to the new building. The architectural firm of Langdon & Wilson, then of LA and now with principal offices in Newport Beach, California, was commissioned to design a bank building. And did they ever; the obsidian glass with bright aluminum window mullions were unique in 1964 and remain so today. The usable floor area of the building is 160,000 square feet, which when including the entry floor works out to about 10,000 feet per floor (like most high-rise buildings, One East First has no 13th floor). The vault, with its 18-ton door, is 18 feet wide by 85 feet long. Inasmuch as the vault’s floor, ceiling and walls are fashioned of two feet of concrete and rebar, it’s a fair assumption that no matter what becomes of the structure, the vault will remain. And here I’ll beat a dozen column readers to what they’re itching to email me — that Parker’s first western store on East Second at Lake Street was also built as a bank with a vault in its basement, which Harry and Mush Parker used as a showroom for Levi’s britches.

The $4.5 million tower construction was a joint venture of the L. E. Dixon Company of San Gabriel, California and the J. A. Tiberti Construction Company of Las Vegas. Both were strong companies with many impressive projects completed on the West Coast. While both firms were domiciled out of the area, FNB took great pride that the vast majority of the subcontractors, suppliers and vendors were locally based. And, like dotting an i or crossing a t, one of the final acts of construction before turning the new building over to the 500 First National Bank employees was the placing of a 42-foot-tall lightning arrester atop the building. A helicopter was employed for this daunting task, an event not lost on the adoring press. By coincidence a set of pulleys, sheaves and a lanyard were attached to the lightning rod. The current Reno City Hall is at left in this view looking north. The Cal Neva parking garage is on the right.  And, by golly, on that autumn day of 1963 Old Glory proudly flew above the Battle Born Nevada flag from that lanyard at the pinnacle of the new building,. A few housekeeping notes remain: Eddie Questa, considered the father of this “head office” building, passed away before the building was completed. A 500-car parking garage was later completed across the alley east of One East First Street. At its grand opening on Dec. 12, 1964, the first parking slot was allotted to FNB president Hugo Quilici; vintage cars from Harrah’s Auto Collection were parked on the upper floors with newly introduced 1965 models occupying the main floor on display. And one final note is imperative, that of the Mapes Hotel across First Street to the south, FNB’s neighbor for 36 years until the Mapes’ demolition in January 2000.

The story of One East First Street cannot be fully told in the context of Reno’s iconic structures without including the Mapes Hotel. In years to follow, One East First Street was acquired by the Club Cal Neva, and thereafter the office tower was sold to the City of Reno for its current occupancy as Reno City Hall. In 2015, the Club Cal Neva sold to the parking garage located a 55 East First Street to City of Reno as the garage is used primarily by the City of Reno, its employees and visitors, and other tenants of the office building. These transactions deserve a column of their own soon when space will permit more information.

What is quite relevant in this column is the activity being planned for a city council meeting next Wednesday, July 20, [2016] at noon, when the architect’s 1964 rendering of One East First Street, a framed image about four-feet square, will be donated to the City by Bill Thornton’s family and the Club Cal-Neva headed by Jeff Siri. The rendering will be displayed in the building’s lobby with an appurtenant description of its creation. It’ll be well worth your trek downtown to see this artwork, in the now-Reno City Hall, the northernmost jewel in the City of Reno’s tiara – the classic Delongchamps post office, the graceful new Virginia Street Bridge spanning the Truckee River, and this iconic bank building-turned-city hall.

read Nettie Oliverio’s tribute to Bill © This Is Reno 

column text © RGJ 2016

Are 17 school districts preferable to one?

cropped-cropped-kfb-bow-tieThe backstory to this is that, for our recent 60-year reunion of the Reno High School Class of 1959, I was tapped as the standby Master of Ceremonies should the first man become unavailable, which was an early possibility. Happily, John Doyle, who was the de facto Voice of the Class for the 60 preceding years, was there so my services were not required. I did, however, prepare a few thoughts in case I was called upon. Not to let them go to waste, I’m posting them here. The theme was, that our class was pivotal in a couple of respects. This week we’ll look at one; another time, we’ll read of early Kindergartens in Reno. The lights at Hidden Valley now dim and here’s what I would have said. Sort of:

RHS2009There were in Washoe County no fewer than 17 separate school districts until May 2, 1955. Reno and Sparks were of course the two bigger districts; north of town were the Bonham, Copperfield, Sutcliff and Spanish Springs. To the west, Verdi and Laughton, (later Lawton); to the south and east of Sparks were Glendale and Wadsworth and the tribal district of Natchez. To the south, Home Gardens, Galena, Brown, Huffaker and Franktown. The seventeenth was “Consolidated,” which I think was administrative, homebound, and what we now call special needs. In some enumerations Brown shows as Consolidated #2. And, I think the Babcock Memorial Kindergarten might have taken on a “district” status. Dunno. The new single county district occupied their vacated schoolhouse on West Sixth Street as its headquarters until 1962. It was green. It was the original greenhouse; where the current nickname came from, I have no idea…

So — what we had in the county were 17 sets of payrolls, buildings, school boards and officers, teachers, inventories to purchase and maintain, applications to the State Board of Education for funds — in effect 17 little businesses, separate yet all pulling in the same direction.

And from the standpoint of readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmetic, inconsistencies abounded. The smaller schools, which constituted the majority of the 17, were one-room school houses, where “grades” tended to lose their identity to age groupings – grades one and two meeting for a couple hours while grades three through eight studied and read, no doubt the older students assisting the younger ones. As the day progressed the teachers would group the older grades by set, through the end of the day, following the curriculum set by that district. And it must have worked, for there were in Reno and Sparks a heck of a lot of locally-educated men and women.

But following WWII, people started to move around, gentrifying the inner towns. A family with a child in Bonham might relocate to nearby Sparks, or another from Galena move into Huffaker. And there find that their curriculums didn’t jibe, and there were duplications of study, or worse, omissions. Another situation that existed after WWII, and we entering Mary S. Doten in 1946 noticed immediately, that a family who lived, say, around Milk Ranch might send their children to a family member or friend in a more urban district for the five-day school week, to then go back to the ranch Friday after school. Thus, many of our school playmates were gone, for weekend birthday parties and outings.

So, by legislative fiat, the 1955 Nevada State Legislature created the Washoe County School District – all assets, debts, real property, school supplies and personnel became the property of this grand new district, which as we’ve seen will make the whole county system operate more smoothly. Yeah…

I included this legislative act as pivotal mostly to our class, because we all came on that bright September morning of 1955, from our former intermediate schools Central, B. D. Billinghurst and Northside – to the great Brickpile on Booth Street, Reno High School – then four years old.

When we arrived and all met in the gymnasium, we discovered that the operation was running as smoothly as corrugated rat shit – no one apparently in charge had a clue what was happening nor where we were going next. But, having matriculated for eight prior years we attributed the cacophony to the first-day-of-school jitters, that would all go away

What we didn’t realize was, that the jitters were in reality the first-day-of-school-in-a-brand-new-school district, with teachers and staff unused to the new system – new rules – new people and faces, not infrequently a new hierarchy, with a once-seniority-blessed teacher now subservient to a person of lesser tenure, a result of the new district. Such beefs were many.

But – we didn’t know any of that – we assumed this fusterkluck was the way of life in our new environment. So life went on and some stability eventually fell upon Reno High School. But – the members of the Class of 1959 were the newbies, and we noticed it more than any, older or following us in later years.

-o-0-o-

The old Reno School District #10 had one rule in particular whch lent itself to this evening’s speech that  I was crafting: That requirement, which I understand dated back to the turn of the 20th century, mandated that a male teacher, prior to taking over a classroom in the Reno District, spend a period of time which I could not determine, teaching in the remote districts in Nevada – let’s say in the Cow Counties. I did learn that this practice was adopted from one which was almost nationwide, a practice that guaranteed that male teachers would occupy classrooms in the various states’ rural areas.

And a strong argument to the system was that these gentlemen, having spent some time, usually a couple of school years, would bring back to their eventual urban postings a knowledge of their respective states – in Nevada, the agriculture, the livestock, the railroads, the mining, and so forth. And it worked.

Here, my words would have taken a new turn…I frankly used the preceding words and fact as a basis for what I wanted to convey all along to my classmates. I described a column reader of many years past, and quoted information she mailed me probably 20 years ago.

This reader wrote me periodically on lightweight vellum paper, using a fabric-Typewriterribbon typewriter – two or three sheets with impeccable grammar and composition, nary an error in the text. I endeared myself to her by responding with two or three sheets of vellum, using my Underwood Standard. She got a kick out of that.

She conveyed that she grew up in Rochester, a little mining community in Pershing County. Her father was a miner; her mother managed the mine company’s employee store. I quote one letter as best as I can remember it (I still have it somewhere):

“One new school year we had a new teacher. We learned that he had graduated last year from Stanford. Someone said that he was on the boxing team. He was quite proper, wore a suit and tie every day and his hair was neatly trimmed. He was friendly but a little stand-offish. He came to dinner often and was very entertaining but never took a drop of whiskey or wine with my parents, and left and walked home soon after dessert. And a few days later we’d always receive a thank-you card in the mail.”

This reader, whose name I never sought permission to use, passed away many years ago. Her family notified me, on, a fabric-ribbon typewriter using vellum paper. I was often asked why I wrote columns in the Gazoo for 31 years for free. Readers like these are the answer…

Finch copyThis post has grown long. Come back in a couple weeks and we’ll learn who the mysterious, well-coifed teacher in Rochester, Nevada was…

 

Added Nov. 7: OK – confession time – this is a two-parter; part II will feature David Finch. MEANT TO INCLUDE THAT I’LL TRY TO WORK IN SOME FINCH ANECDOTES IF THE SENDER RELEASES THEM FOR PUBLICATION IN THEIR TRANSMISSION TO

kfbreckenridge@live.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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