March 5 • the El Tavern – our first dinner out in Reno!

 

Go the first installment in this series

eltavern2Well, we’ve been in Reno for five days now and have been pretty much camping at 740 Ralston Street. It’s time for a square meal, maybe the first since we left El Cerrito a week ago!

Dad heard of a place out the Lincoln Highway, actually not too far beyond Vine Street, which is about the last street west on West Fourth Street. Beyond that on the road, are a dozen motels, among the nicest in Reno, all built before WWII. But, there aren’t many places for a family to go for a dinner out, anywhere in Reno in 1946. So we’ll give this one a try; it’s called the El Tavern Motel, but it’s also a truck stop, also one of the few in Reno or Sparks.

We piled into the Chevy, a 1941 coupe that had a back seat; many coupes like this just had a flat deck behind the front seats, they called them “business coupes” and they were pretty much the norm. We rolled down the Ralston Street hill, a stop sign at West Fifth Street, then to West Fourth Street – the Lincoln Highway. Dad did a right turn and1941_chevvy we were off. There were no stoplights in Reno, as we had in El Cerrito and Richmond. The only one I remember on Fourth Street was hung on a wire that crossed Fourth and Virginia Streets – the busiest corner in northern Nevada for 20 years after the war. But we just rolled on westward. Dinner sounded good.

I could make several pages of  notes about the trip but I’ll save that for another visit – right now we just passed Vine Street and are beyond Reno’s city limits – a big ice plant, for many homes in Reno still had iceboxes. A brick factory. Motel after motel on the right, north side of the two-lane highway. In the distance on either side of the road, a large number of trucks, big highway jobs with trailers. All stopped. Their drivers are having dinner in the El Tavern Motel’s coffee-shop, a trucker’s favorite. The motel was a typical Reno motel, U-shaped with small units along the inside of the “U” and an office/coffee shop in the center area.

oldtruck2It turned out that my father knew, or knew of, the owner of the coffee shop that was in that motel’s office. His name was Bill Parker, a friendly guy. I learned that he was a hard-rock miner in central Nevada during the years before WWII, his youth, and with the war effort he was able to keep his job as an “essential war effort worker” during the war. He had mined ore, as most youthful miners had done, while he was still working. Most of the ore that he had unearthed was gold and silver, and I hope you’ll remember that for a while. Gold, and silver.

We enjoyed our dinner at the El Tavern, in a typical coffee shop booth with my sister, now only a few months old, in a bassinet on the seat bench. It was the first time we had had a square meal since we got to town, a week ago! My mom was tired, hadn’t shopped nor unpacked the kitchen utensils and dishes. This place had a nice menu, with stuff for kids like me.

Our waitress was a nice older lady, probably 50 or so, and why I’d remember her name 70 years later I don’t know, but it was Mrs. Dietz. She was the only waitress I can remember. The place had all the stuff that a coffee shop is supposed to have, with a juke box and Chism Ice Cream signs in many places and  big bright clock. One was really neat: It was a “Model Dairy” sign made out of glass tubing that lit up, “Open” when the coffee shop was open. First time I ever saw a “neon” sign. We’ll walk some more places in the days and weeks to come and see some more of these neon signs.

oldtruckThe truckers – probably about a dozen of them – hung out in the west end of the coffee shop and were pretty nice guys (in later visits to the El Tavern, of which there were many, I got to go up into the cabs of a few trucks!) Their trucks weren’t much by the standards of what trucking would become in the next 70 years, but they were big and tough and smelly and noisy. A trucker showed me the transmission levers – only one on the Chevrolet of my dad’s, but two levers on the big trucks – Marmons, Whites, Diamond Ts – one main one and one “Brownie” – for the Browning secondary transmission. I don’t remember a real sleeper unit, ‘cuz most of these were driven by one guy. But there sure were a lot of them out in front on the highway.

Going out for dinner was a real treat in 1946. We went to the El Tavern. We went out South Virginia Street about halfway out of town, to the “Q-ne-Q” which was a real honest stainless-steel diner a block south of Dick Dimond Dodge, where my dad soon bought a Dodge sedan that I’ll tell you about some night. Dimond Dodge was about at the end of California Avenue where another friend of my dad’s, Mr. Maffi, had a Signal Oil service station where we bought gas. His partner was Mr. Lyons.

There weren’t a lot of “family” restaurants in Reno after the war, plenty of nightclubs downtown we’ll visit here someday, Tony’s El Patio Ballroom where all of our parents went once a month. The families often went to the Toscano Hotel’s restaurant, on Lake Street between Second and Commercial Row, where the grownups would take one little private room and the kids got another, separate. A couple times I got to have dinner with that little red-headed girl I’ve mentioned before. Dad in the months to come would go down Second Street a few blocks by the Presto-Log factory and meet his friend Brickie Hansen at his family’s grocery store. Someday I’ll tell you about “Brickie’s”! And, there was a nice place in Sparks, a few miles east of Reno. It was a Chinese place – the Chinese Pagoda. I learned later in life that all the best Chinese restaurants on the west coast, and maybe everywhere, were in towns where there was a lot of railroading going on 50 years before I was born!

Much left to write about, downtown, restaurants, automobiles – come back in a few days or a week and we can all wander somewhere else in Reno in 1946.

 contact the six-year old at kfbreckenridge@live.com

NOTE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE BLACK BAR BELOW, A CLICK TO

TAKE YOU TO THE NEXT POST IN THIS SERIES…

 

 

The Lancer Restaurant and its grapes

Lancer

I no sooner post a TBT of the Lancer Restaurant on the Mt. Rose highway, than my buddy ol’ Chuk Thomas gives me the authentic recipe for the famous Lancer grapes, the highlight (or at least one highlight) of their menu.

Both images are c. 1965; the Lancer, which prior to that name was the Mesa, burned on July 30, 1971. Yeah, I know, it’s “Chuck,” but Chuk is an old nickname. Here’s the recipe, somebody lemme know how it came out!LancerGrapes

The Famous Flaming Swan Dive at Lawton’s, 1931

 Swan_DiveFollowing several weeks of inclusion in my columns of some bygone swimming holes in Reno, the time is upon us to speak of some events which brought short-lived fame to a couple of Reno youths, at one of the local plunges that we studied, the one at Lawton’s Resort west of Reno.

          Our source for this narrative is unimpeachable, and he will be identified at the conclusion of this tale. The story he told follows now, and we here turn back the calendar to 1931. In that year, two years following the Great Depression, my father, Karl the Elder, was graduated from Reno High School. He then, and together with his close friend of equal age who grew up in Tonopah and whose name was Jack Douglass, sought employment here in Reno.     They were successful in securing positions as busboys at the popular Lawton’s, who served high-end dinners around poolside during summer evenings.

          Jack and Karl worked diligently during those warm summer nights attending to the tables and the swells who patronized Lawton’s restaurant. And, my source reports, that as youthful busboys will do on warm summer nights with soft live music in the background and being called upon to bus cocktail glasses as well as dinner plates and silver, drained the last sip out of the glasses until as the evening hours grew later, they remained albeit quite functional at their task yet were, in a word, pleasantly toasted.

          All the while they were working, on Friday and Saturday evenings from early June on, they looked over their shoulders at the magnificent diving tower adjacent to the poolside deck where the dinner tables were placed. A beautiful edifice it was, Mission Revival style, with diving platforms set one meter, three meters, and ten meters – almost 40 feet, above the still water in the pool. Karl – Dad – was a recreational diver of some note, known to be quite adept off the boards of Reno and the rocks surrounding nearby Lake Tahoe. They worked, bussed, sipped, and looked at that tower. All during June and July of 1931.

          Early in August, according to my source, they showed up to work in their crisp white shirts and duck trousers, but with a bag containing something in hand. They bussed and sipped and their courage grew with each departing party of diners who hadn’t quite finished their cocktails. During a lull in their duties, they adjudged the time to be perspicacious. They scrambled to the top of the stairs, to the vaunted 10-meter tower. Karl – Dad – whipped off his shirt, shoes and white ducks, down to a bathing suit that he was already wearing. Jack pulled from the brown paper bag a glass bottle of – white gas. A product that we’d call kerosene today. A gallon of white gas. My God, what were they doing?

          Jack raised the bottle and as if it had been rehearsed, he dumped a gallon of white gas on Karl, from the shoulders down. And as the last drop of the liquid emptied from the bottle, he took a wooden match and struck it to several places on his friend, who immediately caught fire and emitting an unearthly jungle scream, dove from the platform in what the source described as a perfect swan dive, to the pool below garnering the surprise and admiration of the many diners poolside, who scarcely believed what they had witnessed.

          Jack was already back at his labor before his absence had been noticed, and in the confusion and adulation, Karl, who had employed the confusion to leave the pool and return to his clothing, which Jack had scurried down 10 meters of stairs to place by the tower’s access door.

          And the buzz started around Reno – did you see the flaming swan dive last night at Lawton’s?, the fine folks all bandied around the town.

          That was on a Friday night, early in August as my source told me. Saturday night would be no different. All at dinner,LawtonsTower the diners, the wait staff (who had only guessed what might have happened, it all took place so fast then returned to normal so quickly), the others around the pool, were all atwitter about the flaming swan dive.

          And just when all poolside least expected it, for no one foresaw it happening again, the night sky was rent by a Tarzan-like howl and all looked to the sky to see a human form falling in a perfect layout swan dive, arms outstretched, legs ending in pointed arches, the shape of all of it masked in a blueish-orange flame that disappeared smoothly into the still body of water.

          Yikes! It happened again, and as it was the night before, no one saw Jack exit the tower’s access door, nor Karl rise to the water’s surface, climb out, duck into the tower and return in his crisp white uniform.

          Now the town was really buzzing. Two nights in a row. Would it happen again next week? “Let’s go out and have dinner, and see,” quite a few said.

          And it did happen again, according to my source, who looking back I’m not sure that he wasn’t party to this hijinks.

          The following Friday, which might have been the second weekend in August, and then Saturday, the flaming specter would come flying out of the high platform in mid-evening. And, speculated the source, witnesses were one-by-one starting to catch on – two busboys would disappear, one would beat the other one back to their duties a half-minute ahead of the other, one looked like his hair was still damp – little signals that this was unraveling.

          Speculation was also rife that the Laughton family who owned the resort (and finally grew tired of correcting all who spelled it Lawton’s and acceded to the popular spelling) were on the horns of a dilemma. The flaming mystery death-diver, the justification of death unclear, as no one had died, was good for business and making Laughton’s, or Lawton’s, a household word in the valley and causing diners to flock the two miles out the Lincoln Highway to see it happen. However the down-side remained among the grownups that if these shenanigans continued unabated, with the assumption that they were being conducted by youthful busboys (who of course denied any involvement), that a diner was going to get conked on the head by a falling busboy or that a busboy was going to wind up alive and medium-well.

          As all good things must, the Famous Flying Flaming Death-Dive came to its end, on what most remember as the third weekend of its world premiere, most say a Saturday (I cited one source to be named soon, but as I was still a bit incredulous about it I spoke to others of his vintage and they substantially confirmed that it was mostly true, where there’s smoke, there’s fire, so to speak.) The consensus was, or is, that the management of Lawton’s raised hell with all possible divers on a Friday night but not quite enough, and the Flaming Swan Dive again occurred to the great applause of the diners. Alas on Saturday, good sense overtook the raising hell and threatening, and someone simply locked the door to the tower, effectively bringing down the curtain on this chapter of early entertainment in Reno, improving the quality of table-bussing at Lawton’s, and preserving the local supply of white gas. And I would presume that Karl the Elder and Jack covertly raised a toast to each other with a couple of leftover cocktails.

          My source for this information I’ll now reveal, was a classmate of my dad’s, who most of us knew and thought the world of, Ralph Menante, yes, the Goodyear tire guy. My dad, Karl the Elder, died in 1971, curiously in a swimming pool, not of self-immolation but rather by high-voltage. Ralph lived on for many years, and recalled this tale to me in the years to follow. I followed up with others who knew him, and yup, it’s (mostly) true. Dad and Jack Douglass (and my uncle John) shipped out a couple years later as oilers on an American President Lines steamer and from accounts of that trip one wonders how we still have an embassy in their ports of call, China, the Phillipines, Guam and the Hawai’ian Islands. Jack would later be regarded as one of the more popular and successful men in the gaming community, with ownership interests in the Comstock and Cal-Neva. He mentions my dad liberally in his book Tap Dancing on Ice, published in 1997 by the University of Nevada Oral History Program.

          And that’s the way it was, two miles west of Reno, in 1931.

© Karl Breckenridge 2015

More faded menus…

Liberty Belle

I used to save reader correspondence for a rainy day but am now of the opinion that saving for a sunny day might make as much sense. Our intrepid researcher Carmine Ghia and loyal assistant Persephone have a couple things in the mill for the next few Saturdays, but for this morning, so much good stuff has come in from a number of readers that we’re going with a Liberty Belle Farewelle wrap-up with a few more faded menus. Discarding grammar to make a little more space, we’re off to a few old haunts:

            My RHS buddy Russell Kuchler nominated a few; downtown on Virginia Street we find Tiny’s Waffle Shop, identified in a past column as Ty Cobb the Elder’s favorite after he’d filed his Cobbwebs column. Russ and several readers nominated Miguel’s, in both its locations, and Miguel Ribera’s earlier incarnation The Cove. Russ and others also nominated the Spudnut Shop on West Fourth at Ralston, and agreed with Hannah Satica that the Big Y drive-in in Sparks, at the big Y of Kietzke and B Street should be on the list. Hannah offered Dug’s West Indies in Carson City, and agreed with primo barbershop tenor Lauren House that the Moulin Rouge, on Sierra just north of West First is a definite honoree (Gilbert Vasserot owned the Moulin Rouge, closing it to partner with Joe Patrucco and open Eugene’s on South Virginia.) Lauren also threw Siri’s on East Fourth into the mix, and a few others joined him in reminding me of the Shore Room at the Holiday Hotel.

            In that restaurant-in-a-hotel category – yikes; now this thing has categories!? – we can’t forget the Trocadero Room in the El Cortez, later to be operated by Bill Fong of the New China Club, included in the earlier column. A favorite reader named the Troc but won’t let me use her name. Len Crocker, in his day another legendary sportswriter alongside the above-mentioned Ty Cobb Sr. at the Gazoo and the Nevada State Journal, swears that he saw Chico Marx one night at Johnny’s Open Door on Moana Lane – a joint that brought a lot of “Why-didn’t-you-mention-its” after the last column. And touched off a beef over some knowledgeable-but-daft readers whether Johnny’s was in the present Yen Ching across from Moana ballpark, or in another building that burned, and was replaced by the grocery store that later became Yen Ching. I’m flummoxed to say for sure, but it was quite a popular place. Johnny’s last name was Ross, by the way. Nan Spina sent a photo of Bishop Manogue’s first school bus.Bishop Manogue Bus copy

            Whoop, wrong file.

The Lancer came in a couple times from anonymous phone callers (leave your name and a number if you call; I’ll never use it without your permission.) And, the Lancer, which burned on July 30, 1971, was originally the Mesa, as several reported. Janet Blakely Horen, from faraway Washington state, recalls her grandmother Anna Frandsen Loomis taking all her grandkids to John Petrinovich’s Grand Café downtown for Sunday dinners, French lamb chops the specialty. I’ve mentioned Mrs. Loomis as a favorite lady from my childhood and as the lady who endowed the Christian Science Church and hired Paul Revere Williams to design it. I took Jan to the Mapes Coffee Shop for a milkshake while in high school but she didn’t mention that night in her e-mail. How soon they forget…

Several folks mentioned a few more places, and I pulled out some old menus to refresh my memory: Ray’s, between Reno and Sparks; owner Ray Saake named the restaurant’s Gay-Nor Room for his kids, my contemporaries Gaye and Norman. A buck-and-a-quarter for a Club House san. Cool. How ‘bout the Rice Bowl on Glendale in Sparks? It brought a half-dozen contacts, and at $2.35 for dinner for six I’m not surprised.   Mimi’s Hideaway, later the Truckee River Yacht Club on South Virginia Street, where Kenny Etter and I met faithfully to study for our real estate exams. The Central Park Lounge, Cork Proctor at the mike, in the Continental Lodge.

The Homefinder Faded Menu list goes on; I wish I could use more names of nominators, and I thank you all. And, thanks to the many who sent the recipe for Lerude’s Wigwam Apple Pie. It’s on the saving-for-a-sunny day topic list, and I can’t run it soon enough.



We say goodbye this morning to a pair of readers, old friends all. Helene Aldaz was once the only girls’ counselor in the only public high school in Reno, but her influence and great personality transcended to Reno High’s boys and girls alike. “Peach” and her husband Eddie, an insurance man who passed away four decades ago, became original residents of Westfield Village and never moved out – my dad sold them their house for about eight grand – and now I’m going to stick my neck ‘way out and say that when she passed away a fortnight ago she was the last original homeowner in Westfield.

            Dale Darney left us a week ago today. Dale was a wonderful family guy and one of a trio of honest, serious historians of local railroads, the S.P,, Carson and Colorado, and his long suit, the Virginia & Truckee. He spent countless hours pulling together data from the California and Nevada Railroad Historical Societies and libraries, and the Bancroft Library at the University of California. He was of invaluable help to me, and to other scribes, and we send the readers’ best to Lynn and his family.

            FountainWe journey next Tuesday to stand at o-dark-thirty near Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street in San Francisco, wherefrom Enrico Caruso serenaded the survivors of the San Francisco Earthquake, one hundred years ago that morning. And we’ll cable an account of the centennial proceedings for next week’s page 10. Until then, have a good week and God bless America.

April 10, 2006

© RGJ 2006

A hometown Duncan Hines and faded menus…

 

Eugene'sLast Saturday’s elegiac paean to the Liberty Belle, as predicted, provoked a near-unprecedented stream of memories, running the gamut from hilarious to poignant.  All are saved; nothing goes to waste in the ol’ writer’s garret and they’ll be trotted out soon – when I can get them all into one pile.  Er, file.

            There arrived among these contacts some peripheral restaurant notes not associated with our Belle Farewelle specifically, in these cases memories of other favorite now-bygone restaurants, or their signature dishes.  I’m reminded of two 2001 back-to-back columns – merged into one in my earlier “Mapes” book – about Eugene’s restaurant, a Reno classic that closed two decades before.  Following those columns I was accused by not one but three, which approaches all, readers of writing-for-food, which is to say, “Write something nice about a restaurant and then pick up a free dinner in return.”  These readers were probably unclear on the concept that for a columnist to realize a freebie meal out of any joint, which I’ve never done in 24 years, it’s mandatory that the joint be open for business at the time of publishing the compliment.  These three readers have since moved on to the RGJ’s Contract Bridge or the fascinating “Patents” column that appears in the main news section,, both of which use large-print and single-syllable words, just for them.

            Ergo, I will not receive a free meal in exchange for a gratuitous mention from Della’s Coach and Horses. Nor from the Big Hat, at the southwest corner of Moana and South Virginia when that intersection was the south end of Reno (and no, it wasn’t called the White Hat; I’ve been taken down that path before.)  Ahh, the Jubilee, at the north end of the grade starting up Washoe hill heading for Carson City, or Hagel’s Villa – known by a host of names but mostly Hagel’s –  in Washoe City, east side of 395 just north of Winters Ranch.  Great suburban dining when parties were more prone to get out of town a mile or ten for a cocktail.  Within that category and I’m surprised no one nailed it this week, was the Christmas Tree – now politically correctly-but-stupidly renamed to “Tannenbaum” by new out-of-town owners here now to help us local-yokels out, gastronomically speaking. [It’s now a banquet affair with BYO food.] They have asked me for a plug, but won’t get it.

Chop Suey on a Cowboy tabletop   

The Chinese Pagoda got a few votes, down on the north side of B Street in Sparks at what I’ll wildly guess was 4th Street.  It later moved to Stoker Drive and into the former Circle RB restaurant, named of course for Reno Browne, where the Pagoda served Chop Suey on Formica tables still with the Circle RB wagon wheel and branding iron pattern.  True international dining.  Or try the Toscano, on Lake Street for a Sunday family dinner – many were the nights three or four families’ kids went in one private booth for their minestrone soup while our folks had a little red wine in another.  Or one could go next door to Columbo’s for Reno’s first pizza, Ralph Festina and his charming wife in the kitchen. [And I heard about the “charming…”] By the way, that Colombo’s was indeed downtown on Lake Street, not the one later on the river (Truckee River Lane) nor the even later one that’s now a Black Bear Diner.

The coffee groups sound off, gastronomically

Signature dishes?  The Seven Ayem Senior Moment Krispy Kreme & BS Kaffeeklatch, led by Red Kittell, started a list and George Twaddle took it to his Lions Club where it was lengthened.  Kittell, a City of Reno Historical Resources Committee member, thinks these should all be added to Reno’s heritage by a City Council fiat:

            The Lancer’s spinach salad (I kind of like Ascuaga’s)…any pastries from PollyAnna’s…Woolworth’s (downtown) grilled cheese with a milkshake…morning coffee at the Eagle Thrifty lunch counter (someone will probably ring in with coffee at Grey Reid’s Bird Cage)…how ‘bout escargot at the Mapes Coach Room?

            Now then, from the Wigwam, Second at Sierra, hot apple pie with the brandy sauce, which at this writing 473 readers have confided in the past that they ALONE have Les Lerude’s recipe for, but none will share…shrimp scampi at Eugene’s (my vote would be for any of their desserts)…illegally imported abalone at Bill Fong’s New China Club (see reference to the Toscano above – same place, became Fong’s a decade later)…a Wolf burger at the Jot Travis Student Union on the university campus, remembered by all as a burger with a fried egg on the top…Festina’s Pizza, refer to the Columbo reference above; Ralph Festina left Columbo’s to open his own parlor. And took his wife along (she later drowned in Virginia Lake).

            A toss-up between local Sierra and Tahoe Beer, built by Reno Brewing Company on East Fourth at Morrill Avenue…Chism Ice Cream, anywhere…Steak Diane at the old 19th Hole, capped with a Coffee Diablo expertly mixed by barmeister Jeff Courson.  We’ll skip the tale of the local attorney who fried his Rolex trying to mimic Jeff’s expertise with flaming brandy.  But we’ll include that Jeff stayed his post alongside Geno Oliver at the Liberty Belle until a week ago yesterday as you read this.  Great guys.

            Space dwindles: Minestrone soup and antipasto at Ric Panelli’s Spaughi’s…a martini at the Glory Hole…got to include a chili cheese omelette at Landrum’s on South Virginia…Shakey’s munch-a-bunch-all-you-can-eat-pizza-and-wings, if the Wolf Burger at the Jot couldn’t get your cholesterol into quadruple digits, and finally, or probably not finally, but sadly, a drum roll please: prime rib at the Liberty Belle.

            And we ain’t done yet…

  • • •

A nice tribute: Waiting in Victorian Way traffic behind Sparks Fire Department’s new red “triple” engine earlier this week, I noticed its placard on the hose bay “Keep Back 343 Feet”.  Pulling alongside the cab, I asked the fireman by the window, “What’s with 343 feet?”

            “That’s one foot for every firefighter that died in 9/11.”

            Have a good week, and God bless America.

 

© Mar. 23, 2006 RGJ

 

 

 

 

Lee’s Drive-In – Sierra and West Fourth Streets – photo of drive-in now posted

Lees DriveIn

This is sort of a prelude to a column that I’ve been trying to write for Hot August Nights and getting nowhere. My childhood friend Pam (Lee) Bodenhamer sent me the ashtray and menu from her family’s drive-in on the southwest corner of Sierra and West Fourth Streets. I’ve been looking for a picture which I know exists of the drive-in, but while I’m beating around that bush thought all may enjoy seeing the 1958 menu!

More to follow ASAP –

As promised, a bit more about Lee’s Drive-in, here’s a photo, thanks to Cal Pettengill!Lees1

Feedback about my Sunday RGJ column

2 hot 2 write

Santa_Fe_Hotel

[Photo credit Roy Powers]

Until the last local attic and basement is cleaned out and dad and mom’s last priceless antiques are taken to the Nevada Historical Society to put with everybody else’s priceless antiques, this column will always have unlimited new, vital and earthshaking input. And when it’s hot as a firecracker on the Fourth of July, don’t look for much sense out of this blog.

A case in point this morning comes from an old throwaway tourism brochure from the early 1950s that depicts a window into our valley. This Week, dated Oct. 1, 1949 was printed by Cleve Crudgington at Silver State Press (Cleve and his drop-dead gorgeous wife Phyllis were a popular couple in Reno through the 1950s.) In that pamphlet we learn that the University of Nevada football team would be playing St. Mary’s Gaels in Kezar Stadium – that note only a minor squib in 1949, but prescient of a game that would be talked about for 60 years to follow and put Dick Trachok and Tommy Kalminer in the Nevada Athletic Hall of Fame.

We read a name forgotten since our childhood, Laurance, often Larry, Layman. Layman was a Nevada-style Justice of the Peace, probably one of the few in the nation who listed not only his office in the courthouse but his home phone number 2-3116 and his residence at 420 W. Sixth Street. This was for the convenience of a Bay Area couple fresh off the Lincoln Highway desirous of tying the matrimonial knot at 2 ayem – not an unusual event in Reno. Several jewelers listed night numbers, as did Reno Florist at 40 E. First Street, also in order to capture this nocturnal wedding trade. Forty East First Street deserves to be written of herein on some future Sunday morning; kind of a crummy little office building sandwiched among the Majestic Theater, the Mapes, and the YMCA (which would blow up a couple years later.) Crummy, maybe, but half the state’s prominent businessmen and politicians, read Norman Biltz for one, quietly emanated from there (or from Eugene Gastanaga’s Eagle Drug lunch counter, two blocks to the south.)

Here’s an ad for the Mesa (across the Mt. Rose highway from the present Galena High, later to be the Lancer and to burn in 1971 while Glenn Rolfson tickled the ivories.) Just re-read that: Glenn Rolfson had nothing to do with the fire. Did I write that? Moving on: On the way to the Mesa/Lancer, party at the Zanzibar across South Virginia from the present Peppermill. Owner Tilli Botti, a retired Air National Guard pilot, told me before he died just a few years ago that when the Guard was activated in 1968 he leased out the Zanzibar and never once set foot in it again. [Nor did he the rest of his life.] Or, on the way home from the Mesa, perhaps we should stop for a nightcap at the West Indies (Reno’s West Indies preceded Carson City’s West Indies, just as the Crackerbox on Ryland predated Carson’s Crackerbox.) Or try Tommy’s Big Hat on the corner of Moana and Virginia, [now called La Vecchia, we understand at press-time to be wiped out by the widening of Moana Lane] with the big white Stetson on the roof, rotated by a war surplus Navy radar antenna motor. Next door was the Moana Coffee Shop, “only five minutes south of downtown Reno.” Try driving that today in your Hudson in five.

Branding Iron or Stirrup Cup?

For some reason I’ve heard from column readers trying to recall a joint on Airport Road, (OK, Gentry Way.) The name Moody’s Lounge must be hard to remember, but it sure did a big late-night business. Confusion also reigns to this day over the Bonanza (no taxes, no cover), then at 207 North Center Street, now north on 395 in what used to be the Branding Iron, [2014: a name that remains alive today in its signature restaurant, the Branding Iron. Good place, by the way…]

International dining: We had it, at the Santa Fe Hotel on Lake Street, “fine French cuisine” (yup, now great Basque family style with a picon or two); here’s an ad for the Chinese Pagoda at 4th and B in Sparks (Sparks’ numbered streets use ordinal numbers, Reno spells them out; go figure.) And that answers the age old question “where was the Pagoda?” (Everybody wants to put the original Pagoda on Sparks’ 4th Street, not the older location at 7th.) It later moved to Reno’s West Fourth Street, into the former Circle RB steakhouse – the only Chinese restaurant east of Peking with wagon wheels and stagecoaches on the Formica tabletops. [I think that tidbit’s in a column somewhere else in this book] Better yet, the Chinese Mint Club downtown offers “Chinese food like mama used to make,” and I wouldn’t touch that motto with a nine-iron. West of town on the “Truckee Highway,” now we call it Washoe., note that period that’s not a typo but an integral part of their name. We used to call it the Glory Hole but in This Week in 1949 it was the Villa Roma, with a cute little hat-check chick named Gloria (now Garaventa!) Further out the Truckee Highway was the popular Stirrup Cup in a picturesque old once-ranch house, now restored to a private home housing one of my faithful readers. Downtown again by the Downtown Bowl at 130 N. Center Street (that Harrah’s later took over for offices) and across the street from the Frisco Club (don’t tell Herb Caen that). The Colombo on Lake Street; Ralph Festina, your genial chef. Ralph would later open Festina’s Pizza, and his wife was only one of two people ever to drown in Virginia Lake, a dubious distinction she shared with a 15-year-old boy who drowned at three in the afternoon on the east shore of the lake, on June 17, 1952.

A bowling tournament was in town at the aforementioned Downtown Bowl and the Reno Bowl on South Virginia by the Tower Theater, still using human pinsetters. Nevada State Bowling Association president Len Crocker, our lifelong friend and the Nevada State Journal’s ace sports reporter of long tenure, reported that one bowler rolled a perfect 301 (that’s not a misprint; the pinsetter had a wooden leg.) This Week reported that the tournament, in three days, would bring about a thousand dollars in bookings to the area’s 19 motels. The Nugget had Five Great Restaurants: the Round House, the Golden Rooster Room, the Pancake Parlor, the coffee shop, and the Prime Rib Room, (Saturday and Sunday nights only.)

And every business plugged above was represented in that little eight-page flyer. Columns are where you find them; have a good week, y’all, a happy and safe Fourth of July to you, and God bless America!

© Reno Gazette-Journal April 12, 2006
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Enter a large man with a wooden mallet who hits me right between the horns with a guttural incantation: “Finish – the – Plumb – and – South Virginia – intersection – yarn…”

            Why didn’t I think of that???

            OK – I made some notes at the Nevada Historical Society, which will henceforth be known as the “NHS” on this web, get used to it, from Sanborn Maps, City Directories and some old friends’ recollections. We’re downtown and heading south along two-lane South Virginia Street, Plumb Lane is brand-new but we don’t think it had a stop signal in its first incarnation. Wells Avenue comes in from the east, a service station on both corners, with a couple of fast-food joints on the corners. Some of the coolest rock-work in the valley is on our right at the El Borracho Lounge and the El Dorado Motel – still there, next time you drive by, take a look and imagine what it would cost to replicate that today.

            Al Vario, a popular fixture in the downtown late-night scene and a good guy all around, had just opened his “Vario’s” fine restaurant – one of Reno’s premium high-end night spots for dining, dancing and cocktails. I’ve mentioned it in columns past as being on a par with two others, Eugene’s, a little further to the south by the present Peppermill, and the Bundox at East First and Lake Streets. Al Vario sold his restaurant, after a great career of entertaining two generations of locals (and moved to Arizona); following a couple of intervening operators, it became “Bricks,” which remains to this day as one of Reno’s premier restaurants – you can count them on one hand… “Bricks,” by the way, is correct with no possessive apostrophe – the place is named for the extensive use of brick in the original Frank Green design.

            South of Vario’s/Bricks, hang on, you’ll love this: a golf driving range. It was called the Tom Thumb Driving Range, and had the best snack bar in Reno, most agree. (Jack Pine remembers the “pickle burger” they served, with a pickle inside the patty, invisible.) And, your next ball popped up from underground, automatically, after you drove. Cool. The driving range, where you hit from Virginia Street west to Lakeside Drive, was the brainchild of Al Vario and contractor Bob Helms, who was starting to rule the roost in the highway construction business. And maybe a couple other guys. The ultimate plan was to use the site for a hotel/casino on a grand scale. That never happened; in later years that massive lot was subdivided into office parcels visible today from the street. Interestingly, the streets were named for Lincoln and Mercury automobile models.

            And why was that, you say? Glad you asked: Sometime soon after 1960 and the Winter Olympics at Squaw Valley, the owners of Eugene’s restaurant (e-mail me for a copy of that old column) whose names were Joe Patrucco and Gilbert Vasserot, envisioned a great new motel, on the northwest corner of brand-new Plumb Lane and South Virginia Street. They were both émigrés from Europe, and chose “Continental” for the name of their new venture. It was designed after the lines of the Holiday Lodge (now bygone) on Van Ness Avenue in San Francisco – a south-seas look, very enduring, still one of the prettiest motels in Reno today. It had a fine restaurant mimicking their Eugene’s, a lounge that jumped (the Central Park), a gift store, a beauty shop, and remains a hub of Reno today. Why not rejuvenate the storied Central Park Lounge – parking shortage probably. In its heyday street parking was generous. No longer.

            And that “Continental” name explains the nearby street names…

Still driving south, we encounter a corner, sort of, at what will become “Plumb Lane” extended, but in the years close to 1960 about all we’ll see are used car lots on three corners, on the corner where the Continental will soon be built are now Pontiacs from still-downtown Winkel Motors, and kitty-corner from that on the future Park Lane corner, the embryonic Lee Bros. Leasing and Sales. At the present IHOP location was Whitey’s Union 76, a place where a guy comes out and puts gas in your car, washes your windshield, checks your oil (under the hood, it’s called) and airs your tires. Quite a concept. In a year or two, Security Bank of Nevada – later Security National Bank – Art Johnson at the helm, would open in the present B of A branch.

            Footnote: I used just one time “catercorner,” correct for “kitty-corner,” and “International House of Pancakes,” also only one time, and learned that Americans like their slang. In this column it’s IHOP and kitty-corner. And a few non-words you won’t find in Websters.

            A Motel 6 will soon appear on the southwest corner, that cardinal number indicative of the cost of a night’s lodging, which sounds a lot more rhythmic than “Motel 83” which is what a Motel 6 cost me in San Mateo recently. On that corner, where, by the way, one could parallel park on South Virginia Street in front of the coffee shop, was a “Sambo’s” which sort-of started to be a part of the Continental across the street but negotiations broke down. It was a gathering spot for half the town, as were its sister locations on Keystone and West Fourth (now gone), and on B Street in Sparks (Jack’s). Sambo’s name was actually taken from the founders, whose names were Sam and Baureguard or some such thing, but was interpreted by some with another connotation, and the Sambo’s reign ended in Reno and nationally. There was at least a few years ago, the first one in the town of my birth, Santa Barbara. (And I’ll hear that it had nothing to do with the name, just bad business. Dunno.) Anyway, now, it’s a Chinese joint.

            Which takes us one joint south, that one specializing in sushi, which some people actually ingest. That building, we all know, was the home of Waldren Oldsmobile following Frank Waldren’s move of your grandfather’s car dealership from downtown – one of the earlier GM migrations to the burbs. The mini-shopping center lying to the west along Hillcrest Drive was the dealership’s mechanic and body shops.

            Across South Virginia in the pre-Park Lane days, we can’t forget the Key Animal Hospital, Dr. Joe Key, still kickin’, a great guy and lifelong friend, and further to the south, the storied Doll House, and that wasn’t Barbee and Ken shakin’ their booties in the wee hours of school nights.

            I’ve some other notes, and readers will probably send in a few more – and I’ve got some photographs stuck somewhere in the great beyond of cyberspace, which seems to be my milieu lately – so our trek around Plumb and South Virginia probably will roll on again. Somebody will probably want to know about the Old Orchard Trailer Park – I’ll meet you right here.

            Have a good week, and God bless America!

 

© RGJ Feb. 2006

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You’re doing WHAT to the Liberty Belle?

Liberty Belle

PHOTO CREDIT: © ROY POWERS, SCANNED FROM A DOCUMENT IN MY POSSESSION

I’ve a fond recollection of a ’52 Chevy full of Reno High hotshots returning from an afternoon of skiing at Sky Tavern.  Far south of where U.S. 395 became South Virginia Street on the east side of the two-lane road was, well, a little red barn.  We needed nourishment…

            “Let’s stop here,” said one.  “Wasn’t this the Li’l Red Barn?” another asked.  “Yup,” said yet another.  (That watering hole had become the “Liberty Belle” a month or so earlier, on Nov. 20, 1958.)  We entered, ordered, and met Frank and Marshall Fey, whose grandfather had invented the Liberty Bell slot machine, that Bell with no second “e,” and they had just moved from San Mateo, Cal. to open their new saloon.  We formed a friendship that has lasted for 48 years. [and, 61 years next March 2014!]

            I scribe this on a Tuesday for you to read on a Saturday, not knowing for sure whether or when we will satiate ourselves at the Belle again.  I do know that there will follow scores of other patrons’ pleasant recollections and a ton of ink about it in the next few months, and thus I’m moved to offer a few thoughts to the assembled Homefinders.

            By some measure I write of many old Reno establishments that have all converged over time under one roof – that roof itself supporting some of the eight horse-drawn wagons that the Feys acquired from Roy Stagg’s Roaring Camp, a downtown 1940s tourist draw in the now-vacant triangle bounded by Lake, East First and Second Streets.  Two heavy ore wagons near the building later arrived, one from Death Valley and the other from Mina.

            One hundred years minus 30 days ago, the city of San Francisco was ravaged by an earthquake and fire – from that maelstrom to Reno came the heavy bronze doors from Market Street’s Palace Hotel.  Marshall once quipped that it cost them $250 for the doors and two grand to adapt the Belle’s front entrance to utilize them.  We’ve all opened them a few times.  Underfoot, wooden planks form the decking of the entrance, not just any planks but wood taken from the entrance to the Federated Church on Virginia Street at Fifth when the church was razed to make room for parking at the new Sewell’s market in 1948.

            Inside the Belle and over the bar hang two chandeliers and three round glass globes – those hung for 80 years downtown at the Wine House until that venerable saloon was razed to make room for Harolds Club’s addition in 1960.  Dust them carefully; they’re pushing 125 years old.  From the Golden Hotel, following the 1962 fire came the curvaceous life-size cocktail waitress mannequins-with-built-in slot machines in the south dining room. 

Tripp Plastics made the mirror-image signs…

            The back bar’s been around for a while also.  The rosewood and birch classic started life in the Owl Club downtown at the turn of the last century – some speculate that it came ‘round the horn from Europe but I can’t prove that – and following the repeal of prohibition was relocated to the Pastime Club on Sierra Street at Douglas Alley.  The Feys got it in 1964 and my recollection is that it was unveiled during Nevada’s Centennial celebration, after the ceiling was raised two feet to accommodate it.  Somewhat noteworthy was Walt Tripp’s early frustration in locating a letter font in mirror image to make engraved signs with, enabling a patron at the bar to read in the mirror “Winchester Model 94” or whatever above the rifles displayed over the bar.  Walt’s son Warren, now the honcho of Tripp Plastics, reports that the Liberty Belle’s signs were the only use that mirror image font ever saw.

            The list goes on – ephemera from Becker’s Bar on North Virginia, later the site of Southworth’s Cigar Store, antique street lamps from downtown Reno in the parking lot, and a gas lamp brought down from Virginia City.  Here’s a note to fit somewhere in this yarn: Behind the original bar in the years before that back bar was installed, were hooks to hang beer mugs from.  Frequent customers had their own time card on a rack by the front door, and after they “clocked in” on an antique time clock 16 times they were accorded their own personalized steins to display behind the bar,

            In 1967 the south dining room of the building was added and served for a couple of years – at least during the summers – as the Bella Union Theater.  Some of my own greatest memories of Liberty Belle visits were to the Bella Union, and I will probably hear enough from Homefinders in the next few weeks to accord it its own column.  There was little in Reno in the late 1960s to compare with a warm summer night at that theater – a production of “The Drunkard” with local talent, using that term judiciously.  “He tied her to the railroad tracks” the narrator would announce as the villain twirled his moustache, the audience gasped and Barney Barnard of Hatton’s Mens Wear rumbled an ominous chord on the piano (Hal Goodwin of Kentile Floors played the banjo).  The show ended in an “olio” – a grainy black and white movie with song lyrics, follow the bouncing ball as Barney and Hal played and all sang.  Two nights a week at the Liberty Belle, repeated on another two later in the week at the Bucket of Blood in Virginia City, all summer long, and life was good.

            I’ve got more notes but no space, so I’m probably not done as yet.  I thank Geno Oliver, who’s spent three decades behind the Liberty Belle’s plank, for passing on this morning’s column head which was uttered by an anonymous customer last week.

            We’ll end this visit to the Belle as we always do, with a chocolate sundae in a shiny bowl served up by a pretty lady in a black skirt, a crisp white blouse and a smile.  Thanks Marshall, Frank and Jeff Fey, Jeff Courson, Geno, Alice and all hands for what seems like a lifetime of pleasant memories.

            Have a good week, and God bless America.

March 17, 2006