Well, it’s Saturday morning and I’m bound and determined to get rid of a pocketful of notes about stuff I was going to write you about. We’re going to buzz around up here by my new house on Sunnyside Drive, on its corner with Peavine Row (Mom will be happy that I didn’t put one of those little periods when I wrote it’s. She’s such a grammer and speling nut…)
The biggest house by far around my new neighborhood is Dr. Piersall’s, north a couple blocks on the west side of the street. In a few years a street called King’s Row will be on that corner, but I don’t know that yet – it’s only 1950 (THAT time it’s OK to use the little period in it’s!) Dr. Piersall is pretty old and doesn’t even live there anymore, but his wife and a caretaker do. It’s a great big house, made of rocks that all came from within a mile of the house. It’s got a bunch of outbuildings, sheds, a barn and a few houses I’m told are “root cellars.” I got to talking about it to the caretaker, a Chinaman who lived in one of the rock guest houses adjoining it, by the pond. He knew a lot about the house.
He said that it was built in 1905 and 1906 for another rancher, not Dr. Piersall. And he said that it was built by Chinese laborers, who the government had put out of work. The Chinese were apparently “Shanghai-ed” I love that word! They were brought from Shanghai in China and a bunch of other places and built the landfill for the Marina and the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Then they were sold to the Central Pacific Railroad’s “Big Four” to build the railroad to Utah, over Donner Summit with all the tunnels and stuff. When they got that done they were sold to the Silver Kings where they mined the Comstock, and others came to Reno and the valley to help dig the irrigation ditches that would make the valley arable, whatever that means. Then in 1906 Congress took pity on them and made it illegal to “exploit” the Chinese any longer, and told the Americans to start exploiting the Greeks and Russian immigrants instead.
It sounded to me as he talked to me that the Americans got pretty much what they needed done, then put them out of work. My new friend told me that they did the Chinese no good, as they had no way then to make a living. They took up building buildings, like this house and a bunch of other building around the West Coast; one was a big hotel on Coronado Island in San Diego. And this big house in Reno on Peavine Row, well, they gathered all the rocks for it. The only change they made in the architect’s plan was to put a raised section on each end of the roof, to let evil spirits escape. They are still there, and are there on other houses around Reno they built, down by the Truckee. I’ll try to get some pictures of the house for another time. The house is hard to photograph now, but a lady widow of a local attorney still owns it and might let me in. It’s pretty cool. [I Photoshopped a Google street-view photo that shows the oriental roofline, poorly. Seen at the right…]
Another place in my new neighborhood that’s pretty neat is a big ranch north of Little Italy that I told you about a while back. It’s owned by a doctor and his brother. The doctor’s name is Rafael Herman, but he spells the name of his ranch different. Whoops, differently. Mom will make me use an adverb there. Who cares??
He built a ranch house on the spread, and hired a popular Negro architect from Los Angeles to design it, the same guy who designed the Christian Science Church down by the Truckee River that we go to. My friends’ grandmother, Mrs. Loomis, hired him to design the church. His name was the same as the guy who said one if by land and two if by sea, I think – Paul Revere??? It’s a neat house, he liked green and white for his houses, like another one he drew on California Avenue at Nixon.
Dr. Herman didn’t start the ranch, though. A guy named Jensen bought the land from a family named Pincolini, and ran milk cows on it. And chickens. One of the Pincolini’s granddaughters, Beverly, is my playmate in school. Her family owned “Pinky’s” market in Reno on East 4th Street. Whoops – Reno streets are spelled out: Fourth Street.
If I learned anything hanging around Rafael Ranch, I learned that cows, even mama cows, are not to be messed with. One night a bunch of us went to the ranch on our bikes and tried riding the cows, which were big black-and-white thoroughbred milk cows that Dr. Herman had built quite a herd of (he had already died when this happened). We thought being mama cows that they’d be easy to ride, even though they’re some of the biggest cows on the planet, maybe 1,400 pounds, 12 hands at the shoulder, but we found out that they’re also meaner than hell and would run along the fences to knock us off their backs, and could actually buck, sort of. I went home all beat up one night and got whooped again for messing with the cows. We quit going up there and riding them.
Didn’t mean to write “meaner than hell.” Meant, “heck.” Sorry.
The last thing I made a note about was the big ol’ swimming hole south of West Seventh Street. There’s a big brickyard on the Lincoln Highway west of town, Reno Press Brick, that’s been making most of the bricks used around town since the middle 1800s (the SP railroad made their own bricks in Sacramento). They get the dirt to make their bricks out of from the land north of the brickyard, so there’s a big hole there that fills with water all the time and it’s a neat place to go swimming, for free, without the currents in the river. Dad says that someday “Keystone” street will come north of the railroad tracks, where it stops now, and connect with Peavine Row and put an end to our swimming hole. He said that the street would be renamed “Keystone” from the Truckee all the way up to Lake Park, that the fire department floods every winter so we can skate. But I probably won’t live long enough to see Keystone go all the way to Seventh Street.
And that’s about it for now. I’ll keep my Brownie Hawkeye camera with me, and if I can get a picture of Dr. Piersall’s house on Keystone and King’s Row I’ll put it with my next message to you! See you again eventually …
Paul Revere Williams graphic © Wikipedia … Rancho San Rafael ranchhouse © Washoe County … Reno Press Breck from KB … Holstein cow – who knows?