Open-mall shopping, when consumers were tough

ParkLaneThere was a holiday season years ago when old local shopping habits started to fray at the edges – a new concept of merchandising opened south of town with a pretty good selection of stuff to choose from, and 3,000 parking spaces (parking downtown had started to become an issue in the mid-1960s.) Mighty Sears, by then no longer Roebuck, pioneered the migration from their location on Sierra Street to a new place called Park Lane in September of 1965; within two years the center would fill its 580,000 square feet of space – more total retail space than existed downtown.

               Many established friends from downtown Reno joined Sears, like Sonny and Randy Burke and Kenny York at Mt. Rose Sporting Goods and Betty Mirabelli’s Record Room (round black things that played music) when the main mall started opening in February of 1967. F.W. Woolworth’s opened a major store, larger than their downtown outlet (which would remain in operation for many years to follow.) Two major stores with a Nevada presence opened in 1967; Joseph Magnin, from North Virginia Street, and Roos Atkins (yikes, do I need to write men’s store for the younger readers? I guess I’d better…) Most thought Roos Atkins was established in San Francisco and new to Reno; in truth, its predecessor Roos Brothers opened in the Comstock in 1871 so they’d been around for a while.

               Established Reno powerhouse Durkee Travel migrated from their office across from the Holiday, whoops, Siena Hotel, and from West Second Street came Schilling’s Leather, think luggage and wallets. We had the World of Toys, and a Hallmark Store, for those who cared to send the very best; a hot ticket was Frederick’s of Hollywood – lacy stuff banned in Boston in 1967 but seen around every high school today during lunch hours. I can’t ignore Park Lane Florist where my RHS classmate Craig Morrison petaled flowers, and from Gray Reid’s downtown came the Bird Cage restaurant, later to be renamed the Gazebo. Two other classmates, one George Cross, rode the then-current hippie craze with his popular Sneed Hearn Ltd. tie-dye shop, and the other, Dale Prevost owned the leather shop – clothing.

               Owners Pik and Letty Southworth of Southworth’s Tobacco, the legendary store across from Harolds opened their gift-and-event ticket store Pik & Letty’s – the popular slogan attributed to, but never acknowledged by them was “Jesus is Coming, tickets at Pik & Letty’s” and if you read that here that I’ll be amazed. [The Gazoo printed it. I was amazed.]Weinstocks three-story department store would open a few months later. First National Bank originally opened in the main mall; four years later the present stand-alone Wells Fargo branch opened on East Plumb and Locust.  

               Hungry? Or thirsty? Stop by Eddie May’s Prime Rib on the west side of the mall, which several years later would become Stuart Anderson’s Black Angus, an excellent chain restaurant out of Washington state. Many remember their booths, created by heavily dark-tinted suspended acrylic panels that inadvertently created a mirrored maze. They lasted a few months ‘til the fire department pointed out that in the event of an emergency the diners would all be medium-well before they could find a doorway out. Eve Lynn’s Strolling Fashions held forth at lunchtime, and Duke’s Wild Goose lounge (a John Wayne theme, pilgrim) was a popular late-evening hangout long after the mall had closed.

               The mall was enclosed on four sides, but open to the sky – a wondrous sight under the perennial extensive holiday décor, new-fallen snow crushing beneath your boots, with John Tellaisha’s Reno High School choir or voices from any number of local churches singing carols this time of year. Swinging the Salvation Army bell were local Lions Club members that we all knew, often transportation and tourism exec Vic Charles wearing a gray Santa beard. (That was 35 years ago; Vic’s now grown a Santa beard of his own.) Park Lane was a beautiful sight at Christmas, and a great place to shop and meet old friends.

               The original developers were pooh-poohed by some locals, “What do a car dealer, a couple of doctors, a banker, a rancher, and an investor know about running a shopping center?” Apparently, quite a bit – Park Lane was vastly successful from its inception, setting the standard for local mall shopping. Architect Ralph Casazza built Shopper’s Square across Plumb Lane in about the same time frame – also deservedly successful – and the geographic sum for the local consumers was greater than the parts. In January of 1978, the year by the way that Meadowood Mall was built, Park Lane was sold to Macerich, a giant retail center developer.   Their motto, according to a RGJ article, was “We make good things happen.”

               Now writing in a benevolent holiday mood, I’ll explore that doctrine in another column. The casual reader may have noticed one glaring omission in the Park Lane tenant roster, a bookstore, and now comes the professional writer, closed-course, don’t-try-this-at-home plug: Waldenbooks, in the center of Park Lane’s west building, didn’t stock The Sting of the Scorpion, my new novel (with Linda Patrucco) but Sundance Books in Keystone Square does, and we’ll be signing it next Saturday morning at 11 ayem. They’ll have my last year’s You’re doing WHAT to the Mapes…? column compilation book as well. [2014 note: Sundance Books & Music is now located at 121 California Avenue at Sierra Street]

               Have a good week; buy a kid a warm coat and some gloves, and God bless America.

© RGJ 2006






It hasta be pasta – Reno’s Food Shop

Food Store

I was reminded by none other than Buddy Sorensen at a recent convening of the Black Bear Diner Gentlemen’s Coffee & Bear Paw, World Dilemma Solutions & Laudable Opinions Kaffee Klatsch, that if I’m going to go carousing around town on Saturday mornings talking about old markets as we have been on-and-off for the past few years, that I’d darn well better pay some mind to the Ferrari family’s Food Store, and particularly to include the nickname of a popular member of the family.

            That family member’s name is Bob Ferrari, who graduated from the original Manogue High School by East McCarran Boulevard at its Truckee River crossing, and went on to letter for four years in both baseball and basketball at the University of Nevada. He enlisted in, and later retired from the U. S. Army, then returned to teach at Sparks Middle School and eventually retired also from the school district. He’s now anything but retired in land development – his family recently donated a significant parcel to the Food Bank of Northern Nevada.

            But all that pales in comparison to his duties in the 1950s as a grocery delivery driver, taking vittles from hither and yon to the Food Store’s customers. On the tailgate of their 1946 Chevy truck was lettered, Noodles – free delivery. Thus our friend and Sigma Nu fraternity brother, following a career facing military combat and later the trenches of a middle school – which together should merit sainthood for anyone – came to be known by his friends as “Noodle.”

            I asked him whether any middle school students called him that or “Mr. Ferrari,” and he indicated “Mr. Ferrari, heavy on the ‘Mister’.”

  • • •

OK – it’s fine to have a little fun at Bob’s expense and anticipate him walking in to the Coney Island next Monday to a chorus of “Hey, Noodle!” but I owe the family more – the market was one of the stalwarts of our town. It was located in the venerable brick building on the southeast corner of West Second and West Streets, that building itself the subject of a Roy Powers painting in years past. I suspected that the Ferrari family brought their pasta skills from the old country, but learned that no, the family men were railroaders, coming to Reno from Palisade in eastern Nevada. The market was operated by several of Bob’s aunts and uncles and finally taken over by his parents, Ben and Nora. The family all pitched in, Bob and his sister Marilyn, who now operates the family’s motel in Kings Beach, and their younger brother, the late Ben Jr. – all taking their places in the store’s operation while going to school and college.

            Bob remembers a great grocery trade within the fashionable Colonial Apartments around the corner, delivering there frequently to some shut-in residents. He recalls a small strongbox in the market that had been ignored for many years being opened one last time when the store closed in 1958. In the box were I.O.U.s from many local residents who had fallen victim to the Great Depression, families that the Ferrari family stood behind in a time of need.

            The Food Store was an integral part of early Reno, and I’m glad we finally worked it into a column. Several e-mails asked why I hadn’t included it; the simple reason is that we hadn’t arrived at any downtown mom-and-pop markets yet. I’m glad Buddy got me moving on it, particularly with the nickname angle. But if you encounter Bob and call him “Noodle,” don’t tell him you read it here – I think he might have boxed a couple of rounds for Coach Jimmy Olivas while at the University, and I have a glass jaw.

© RGJ 2007


Jean Myles writes of Virginia Lake

V Lake north end Sept_7Dear Karl,

 The article on Virginia Lake needs a follow-up, plus a rational “Save the Lake” committee!   Reno is known for its ability to raise money for causes.  Here is an excellent one.
When we came to Reno in 1958, the lake was beautiful.  The island had three majestic Weeping Willow trees, and, yes, children played in the lake at the south end, which had a beach that you could walk on with bare feet, or in the Cochran Ditch that supplies the water to the lake.  There is no way that anyone could go into the ditch with bare feet today.
Wood Ducks nested in the trees on the west side of Lakeside Drive.  We watched their tiny ducklings dropping from the trees and scooting across the road to the lake, where they thrived.  Loons came to the lake in the fall, stopping on their migratory path.  Then the cormorants, not a native bird, moved in and nested in the willow trees.  In a few short years, their toxic droppings killed the trees and created a barren, guano covered mound in the lake.  Now we have ducks and geese dying from the toxicity, and environmentalists saying that we need the lake for the cormorants.  Not so!
You noted that Virginia Lake has been drained twice.  We remember when it was drained in 1965.  All kinds of things were found, including (as I remember) an old safe, at least one motorcycle and bicycles.  Almost 50 years have passed since the lake was drained.   This is an opportune time to empty the lake once again, dredge it, repair the fountains – and the sidewalks around the lake – and re-establish a tree covered island.  I doubt if any type of plant could live on the Virginia Lake island now, and I cannot even begin to imagine what kind of “yuck” or artifacts would be found if the lake is drained.  Local archaeologists could be enticed to see what they could make of what would be found after the 50-year hiatus.  Perhaps the old island could be removed and a new island built in its place.  This could be a “Works Project Administration – WPA” project for the Biggest Little City.
How to get rid of the cormorants?  Yes, they are interesting to watch, but look at what they have done to the beautiful lake, one that used to be non-toxic.  If there is no lake, they will go elsewhere.  They are among the opportunists in the bird world.  The best idea would be to drain the lake now, and leave it to dry over the winter.  Once it dried, it could be cleaned out, then refilled when water is again available.
(Good Lord!  Does anyone even remember what the WPA did for the 1930s around the country?  Or the CCC for our forests?  Watching the Roosevelt Saga this past week on Channel 5 brought back all kinds of memories.  Virginia Lake was a WPA project.  My two uncles worked in the CCC in Sierra County, helping to create “fire defensible” forests.  And, that … is another soap box!  Note that when you get to my age, you find that there are many soap boxes to stumble over in your path.  You are doing very well with yours, by the way. … J.)
’til later … Jean

Washoe Valley’s San Antonio Ranch

WVI once asked a friend who knows northern Nevada like the back of his hand: How I possibly could drive a school bus through Franktown Road for three years, five days a week morning and evening during my college days, in the early 1960s, yet not know where the San Antonio Ranch is?

For Pete’s sake, its entrance is flanked by massive rock portals with a prominent “San Antonio Ranch” sign.

He allayed my fear of the onset of senility by telling me that neither the sign nor the portals were there back in those dark ages — the place was pretty well hidden for reasons that will become obvious in the next few paragraphs.

This duet of columns was triggered by Lavender Ridge, west of Reno on old Highway 40, leading to a search for a lavender field south of town which, in turn, produced a fleeting reference in an old Nevada Highways magazine to a San Antonio Ranch.

The Nevada Historical Society was bereft of any scent of lavender or the ranch. Reader Larry Garside helped me with its location. Thanks to readers Joyce McCarty and Muffy Greil Vhay, both with roots in Washoe Valley, you’ve alread read here of the Famel lavender fields, which did indeed exist in the 1940s.

The December 1947 Nevada Magazine pays minor homage to the San Antonio Rancho, a fortresslike home built by a wealthy but unnamed Easterner who came to our Silver State fearing abduction and thus built an abduction-proof hacienda for himself.

Reading between the lines San Antonio might just have been Tony from Brooklyn with Guido hot on his trail. He wouldn’t have been the first to come to our state for refuge. But that’s not the way it happened.

The spread was initially 2,500 acres, give or take, located near the south end of Washoe Valley. It enclosed the former lavender field and is easily visible looking eastward from the 6400 block of Franktown Road.

While “San Antonio Ranch Road” appears on a standard-appearing green county sign, the road is in fact private, and its inclusion in this column shouldn’t encourage an uninvited tour.

This prime acreage in Washoe Valley was acquired in 1932 from I-don’t-know-who, maybe the State of Nevada, byLavender pickup Ralph Elsman, a wealthy New Jersey businessman who later became the president and principal owner of the San Jose Water Company. Joyce Crowson Cox in her wonderful book Washoe County, which I loaned out and haven’t seen since, might know the grantor on that deed.

Elsman came to Nevada to seek a divorce and just stayed on, Pardner, motivated by Nevada’s tax structure. Local and Bay Area newspaper clips are unanimous that the huge home he built on the ranch resembled a fortress, owing to a fear of abduction of his children. That fear was spawned by the Lindbergh kidnapping a year earlier and heightened because his estranged wife, Beatrice, had shown a predilection to spirit off the couple’s two children.

At this point in our yarn, the casual reader might wonder how an entry-level columnist, who once was unable to determine even as much as where the ranch was in Washoe Valley, now can write on good authority that one of the children whose custody was challenged in that 1931 divorce, Ralph Jr., died in Korea in 1952 when his B-29 was shot down by a MIG.

Or can now write that Elsman’s second wife, Florence, died in Palo Alto in 1964, and reading between the lines in her obituary we surmise that Ralph and Florence Elsman had moved to Los Gatos, Calif., after they sold the ranch to Dr. and Mme. Sylvan Famel in 1939 (Elsman Sr. passed away in July of 1970.) It was the Famels who named the ranch the “San Antonio” and cultivated the lavender fields.

And, if I couldn’t determine even who owned the acreage at the south end of the Franktown Road before Elsman (and still can’t), how could I come along today and write that the Famels, upon their 1950 relocation to West Palm Beach, then to New York City, and finally to their native France, sold the ranch in 1951 to the storied Reno gambler James McKay?

The answer to the casual reader’s question is simply that I had a heck of a lot of invaluable reader help and some county records in putting this series of columns together.


If you haven’t heard by now of James McKay and Bill Graham vis-a-vis Reno’s early 20th century history, get yourself Dwayne Kling’s Rise of the Biggest Little City. It’s mandatory reading.

McKay had been released from a 10-year prison sentence for some dark deed. He was married to a Hollywood starlet; they had one child and were expecting another. They wanted privacy, and the San Antonio offered it. It didn’t have a sign on the gate then and had never had a sign before. Three owners — first Ralph Elsman, then the Famels with their shadowy emigration from WWII-bound France, then finally McKay — no owner really wanting the profane world to know who was behind the gate, ever put up a sign on Franktown Road.

McKay eventually went out of title, selling to a group which developed the huge ranch into some of the nicest, and remaining the most private, residential developments in northern Nevada.

And its privacy endures. Access for touring and photography seems nearly impossible, to this day. Maybe I’ll buy a drone with a Brownie Hawkeye camera.

It’s no wonder I never saw the ranch driving by in my bus twice daily in 1960…

V&T photo credit Washoe

 © Karl Breckenridge 2007

California Avenue, briefly…

Belmont Apartments

California Avenue, so named because it was the road to California, natch; follow it westward to Mayberry and beyond, ‘cross the river and onward up the Truckee’s canyon, and where are you? Well, California, of course – that’s how the early travelers got to the Golden State, beyond My Favorite Muffin, the Truckee River Bar & Grill, and a little past Raley’s, and they were there!!

Well, sort of, anyway. Today we’re just ambling around the street by daylight, but on Thursday night – Dec. 11th – from about five o’clock on you can stroll, shop, have a glass of holiday cheer, wear a top hat and look like a complete idiot if you want to – watch out for the TV cameras though; I got caught in the Blue Plate a couple of years ago (yeah, we have our own restaurant.) [That, the Plate Special, ws the former name of the Ol’ Reno Guy website.] There are supposed to be strolling carolers, and indeed there were, the first year, but the last two years some kind of fire dancers showed up with a few thousand decibels of rap crap music and most strollers strolled off to Buffalo. Or shuffled, can’t remember.

My roots go deep on California Avenue – in 1950 my dad, Karl the Elder, bought what was generally known as the Larsen house at 320 California Avenue – across the street from Roy Hardy’s house. I remember vividly seeing Mr. Hardy’s nurse, a stout woman in traditional white nurse’s apparel with a screwy cap, pushing him out onto the patio of the house – it had a patio then on its lower floor. And there he’d sit, taking in the sun on a Saturday morning. Went over and talked to him a few times, we kids did, to see if we could play ball on his front lawn, which seemed then to be huge. It was cool with him, and we did. He was a nice guy.

It was during that period of time that another fine old home was being moved by Rom Bevelaqua, from the lot next east to Roy Hardy’s house. It was a beaut, reminiscent of the Levy Mansion, now Sundance Books & Music, just down the street that’s still on the corner of Sierra (then Granite), but a bit smaller. It was taken out Plumas Street to a site near Mountain View Drive across from the present tennis courts. Pharmacist Bill Ramos, a nice guy from El Salvador who had operated a drug store downtown, had bought the site, with the help of a few doctors (who would later occupy the building to the east, facing on Hill Street). Ramos Drug opened in 1951 and was a fixture in Reno – prescription drugs, sundries, and the greatest soda fountain in town (yikes, now I’ll hear about a few dozen more favorites and have to write about them also!) That Ramos building is now the Cheese Board). Oh, yeah; Deux Gros Nes was upstairs for many years – that freestyle happenin’ joint occupied the space that Bill Ramos originally built as his own living quarters, and there he lived for a number of years (he later moved to Hidden Valley, and has now passed away.) Another stalwart, Powell’s Drug, is now a bar.

My dad built a building at 320 California Avenue, with three units (316, 318 and 320) and opened it in 1951 [it now houses the Postal Depot]. It was designed and built by contractor Clifford Blabon, who designed and built many homes in southwest Reno, my favorite at 864 Marsh Avenue, built for gambler Bernie Einstoss and his family. One of the nicest homes in Reno, to this day, if you can abide the Marsh Avenue traffic. The Larsen home remained behind the little office building, used as a contract bridge studio and later a decorator’s office until the late 1970s. Across the alley to the west was and remains a very luxurious six-unit apartment house for its time, originally called the Jamison Apartments and built by the contractor (Jamison)) that built the First Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science) church on the Truckee, now known as the Lear Theater.

Next up the street west is My Favorite Muffin, in the former California Avenue Market building (note that name; there was a California Market downtown before WWII, on Virginia on a site that’s now the Eldorado.) The California Avenue Market was a dandy, and catered to the landed gentry clients in the Newlands Manor and mansion row on the bluff to the west. Their service was heavily by delivery – I have a photo of my dad delivering groceries on the grocery’s bike, with a huge basket on the handlebars. George Minor started the grocery; many readers of this column in its print versions recall Charlie Bradley, Minor’s butcher who took the market over in the 1950s. And the more I write of California Avenue the more it is starting to dawn on me that I wrote about the street a couple of times, years ago, and they’re in my book in the Walkin’ California Avenue segment. (And while I’m at it, I may as well attach another column, that about the Levy Mansion at California and Sierra.)

On the southwest corner of California Avenue and Lander you’ll see, on your Christmas Stroll next Thursday evening, a handsome brick building that’s had a number of uses – originally it served as Otto Linnecke’s Reno Business College. I wrote once that the building was originally a military structure, e.g. a two-story office, barracks, whatever, and that I’m pretty sure of. I also wrote that it was moved to the present site from Sierra Army Depot on East Second Street – see a column I wrote in print earlier this year – or less-possibly from Stead AFB. That I was pretty sure of, but defied research. After writing that I heard from numerous experts, who are a never-growing number, that it came alternatively from Stead, from Virginia City, from Dayton, and a few other sites, some not generally associated with the military. Frankly, I don’t know for sure where it came from, but Rom Bevelaqua told me it was moved in. Good enough for me. Following its use as a business college, it became the studio for KOLO radio, when The Sound of the Sierra moved from its mezzanine location in the El Cortez. KOLO was there for quite a time, and the building has had a number of users since KOLO vacated it. Its owners have always done an admirable job of maintaining it

 Across the street to the north side take note of the St. James Infirmary. Now that new watering hole has an interesting past – it was originally built by Otto Linnecke as a printing plant for his business college in the two-story brick building across the street, mentioned in the graf above. In the beginning Otto used it only for his own, business college-related stuff, but started taking in work to fill in slack time until it eventually rose to be one of the top offset printeries in Reno, catering to the public. It remained in business as such until relatively recently. [2006]

Your voices spoke last week, following the “tour” of “Midtown Reno,” from California Avenue south to Mt. Rose Street: “Karl, your column’s too damn long…”  OK – we’ll cut it off at this point, and reserve the right to go back to California Avenue on some week in the future.

Have a good week; tell a friend about this site and come back occasionally during the week as I can see it’s not all going to get updated in one swell foop on one night a week. Enjoy the California Avenue Stroll and God bless America!

© Reno Gazette-Journal Dec. 2006



Idlewild’s buffalo zoo – Jean Myles remembers….

California Building........Added Jan. 9, 2009: On another day I'd probably load this letter into the "Letters" webpage, but old friend Jean Myles writes so well that this amounts to a stand-alone column (hardly Johnny-come-latelys; Jean and Dr. Bob Myles came here to assist in a medical office and have been Nevadans ever since. Jean writes, in a response to a letter from Phyllis Adler that's already in the "Letters" link: 

Dear Karl, I dialed into "Letters" on your website, and had a few good laughs. We are "Johnny-come-latelys," having arrived in the area in 1958, however, I find that we can answer one question. Phyllis Adler asked ... "What happened to the buffalo in Idlewild Park?" The buffalo were purchased by the Frank Russell Turner, a descendant of one of the original Irish families who settled in Sierra Valley and owner of the Turner Ranch at the west side of the valley on Highway 89/49. In the mid-1950s, a friend learned that the Reno Zoo was going to destroy the animals, and let Frank know. Frank was interested and made arrangements to pick up the seven remaining ill-cared-for animals, who became the biggest family pets anyone had ever had in Sierra Valley. The buffalo lived a life of luxury and ease in the lush meadows of the Turner Ranch.

However, buffalo do not like fences of any sort. For years they roamed the valley, not paying much attention to property lines or fences. By the time our family became regular visitors to the Valley, there were only three left. They delighted our children as we often met them on one of Sierra Valley's roads. If they were coming towards us, always three abreast, we stopped and waited until they passed. If they were headed in our same direction, we followed slowly as they ambled along, hoping that they would eventually turn so we could pass. One day, on our way to our cabin above Sierra City, we watched in amazement as the three leaned against the post and barbed wire fence along the highway. When they and the fence toppled over, the buffalo rose, shook themselves off and wandered down the highway. The children were whooping with laughter as we followed them down the road. Occasionally, the buffalo would migrate to another ranch and a phone call would request that Frank come and get his pets. He would agree to pick them up the following morning, if the neighbor would kindly round them up. Horses are skittish around buffalo, and, herding buffalo is has been likened to herding cats ... they don't go where you want them to. They would ultimately be contained in a corral, and Frank would appear early the next morning to find the corral empty ... to the chagrin of the other rancher and to Frank's great amusement. After one or two experiences like this, the ranchers  became very aware and just called to tell him where they were. He would meet them on the road and talk them into the truck.

They loved to ride. When he got to the ranch, he would let the tailgate down and leave them until they decided to get down. If he could not find them, they would eventually find their way home. Their exploits became legendary to Sierra Valley folk, and everyone watched out for them. As age overtook them, they died off one by one. We still find ourselves looking to see them grazing in the meadows as we drive along Highway 49 on our to the cabin. Enjoying your news and views, and reminisces.

Happy New Year ...  Jean Myles [A sad footnote to a great story: Dr. Bob passed away in June, 2014….a good friend to all of us - KB] 4


Sparks’ fireman: The Guy on the Bench


He looked dog-tired.  He sat alone, wearing heavy turnouts, all bunched up at the boots.  His head fell to his chest, left hand resting on his knee holding a helmet with SFD on the crown and his axe on the bench behind him.  A couple of teenagers took turns sitting by him and taking pictures of each other, and then they walked away, leaving him alone again.  I sat down next to him on the bench in a shady setting on Pyramid Way, right behind the Sparks Heritage Museum on Victorian Avenue.

I’d seen him before, while he was directing traffic at a wreck on Rock Boulevard and Prater.  Or maybe dragging a cotton hose into the burning garage at an old house on D Street where the barbecue coals got away from the homeowner, or earlier that same day inspecting an office in the Ribeiro complex on Stanford Way.  Once I saw one of Sparks’ Snorkel trucks in the Disc Drive Scolari’s parking lot, the truck’s operator keeping watch like a quail on a rooftop while his buddies joked around inside the store about whether to get chicken or burgers for their Sunday dinner.  The quail in the Snorkel called them all back to work, pronto, on the walkie-talkie; 15 minutes later they were pulling an unconscious teenager out of an abandoned mine shaft.  Dinner would have to wait this Sunday.  Maybe the guy on the bench was one of the crew on the Snorkel.

But I was sure that he the was a hint of a smile on his countenance, so I might have seem him at a happier time – like when he was cooking at the Fire Prevention Week pancake feed at the main station last October, best in the west, or slinging weenies at the SFD booth on a Thursday night Farmers’ Market on Victorian Square.  Or showing an elementary school kid how to “Stop, Drop and Roll” at the department’s training trailer, or taking a rebuilt bicycle to a needy tyke in west Sparks on Christmas day.

Whoever he was, he was a Sparks firefighter.  Or maybe he was a she – in the turnouts I couldn’t tell.  She might have been the EMT on the Water Rescue Team that fished the kayaker out of the river by old Manogue High School, or the tillerman on the aerial truck when Sparks still had one (and political correctness be damned; in this column the operator steering the back wheels of a hook-and-ladder will always be a tillerman!)  Sure, that’s where I saw her.  Or him.

Or it might have been a while back that I saw this firefighter.  Maybe as far back as 1905 when Sparks’ first firehouse opened at 12th and C Streets, or 1917 when the town got their first motorized apparatus, or in 1960 hosing down Kleppe’s Pond by wintry day so the Railroaders could go ice-skating by night, (the Reno Fire Department did this favor for us Huskies, flooding Idlewild Park and Lake Park in the northwest.)  Sparks’ firefighters have covered Reno’s many times when the RFD got bogged down, like the 1957 Sierra Street fire we read about here a while ago or the 1962 Golden Hotel fire we’ve chronicled in the past few weekends that partially inspired this yarn.  Or when the Galaxy Airlines propjet crashed on South Virginia Street, killing 62 passengers.  Sparks’ apparatus sat in a few Reno firehouses in case anything else got loose on that chilly night in January of 1985.

The Sparks Fire Department aided Reno in the August 1948 Lake Street fire, a nasty one.  Sparks’ chief Frank Hobson was overcome and died a hero’s death rescuing someone in a building.   I vividly remember standing in front of my dad’s office on A Street, watching a flag-draped coffin being escorted down B Street in the hose bay of a Sparks pumper.  Maybe the firefighter sitting next to me was one of the honor guardsmen that slowly marched alongside the pumper.  Or maybe it’s Hobson himself?  Or Fred Steiner Sr., the other Sparks firefighter who died in the line of duty responding to a fire in 1953.  Mutual aid between Reno and Sparks has always been the standard, and firehouse camaraderie transcends the shields of SFD or RFD, or FDNY or PAFD.  This firefighter next to me could have had any one of those stenciled on the helmet in his/her hand.

A few other visitors visited the little park while I sat there.  They saw seven bronze footprints in the walkway leading to the bench.  They studied the life-size bronze figure in a moment of reverence, then took a few pictures and left.

• • •

The Sparks Fire Department Monument project was quarterbacked by SFD‘s [now Battalion Chief] Barry Hagen, who, with help from Councilman Phil Salerno and SFD chief Lee Leighton [retired 2004], made a successful request to the Sparks Redevelopment Agency for approval and funding of the project.   Many Sparks businesses donated material, and 95 per cent of the labor was done by off-duty Sparks firefighters.  Hagen contacted Colorado sculptor Gary Coulter, who had created a Fallen Firefighter memorial for Colorado Springs.  That town released the right to replicate their statue, altering only the helmet to read SFD, and the monument was cast.  Coulter passed away from cancer during the casting, so his wife Debbie completed it, and fashioned the axe in the Sparks firefighter’s hand and the brass footprints leading to the bench.  Three flagpoles fly the United States, Nevada, and City of Sparks flags 24 hours a day – and at half-staff on each September 11th.  Bronze plaques descriptive of the department’s history, the dedication of the monument, and the Firefighters’ Prayer are emplaced on the three flagpoles’ bases.

The monument will be dedicated on April 20th – next Saturday [2002] – at 11 a.m.; once again, it’s right behind the Sparks Heritage Museum at Victorian and Pyramid.  Easy parking.

And after the crowd leaves, hang around.  Take a seat next to the firefighter, who might be on the quiet side, but the countenance at rest in this pastoral setting speaks volumes…

• • •

[I was proud of this column, and somewhat humbled to learn that it found its way into many firehouses across the country.]

© Reno Gazette-Journal April 2002

A Saturday morning 2005 Manteca-Fed Beef


 The topic of last Saturday’s page 10 spoke, among other matters, of the inadvertent but interesting knitting-together of turn-of-the-century meat packer William Henry Moffat and his home on the Alamo Ranch south of Reno, well-remembered by many readers as the ornate white frame two-story distinguished by the adjoining framed-in water tower that sat pretty much alone on the northwest corner of South Virginia Street at West Peckham Lane.  We learned of his Manteca-Fed Beef being sold exclusively in the local area by the Eagle Thrifty market chain, one of which was coincidentally built on his ranch about 65 years after he bought it. And we spoke of Tom Raley buying out Eagle Thrifty, and Tom’s first market which opened in Placerville.

            William Moffat didn’t build the house.  He bought it, as I wrote in a column that appeared here in April 1999. And finding little else to write about this week, I’m going to here reiterate that piece and add a little about Governor John Sparks.        

            The facts are that John Sparks, already an established cattleman from Texas and Idaho, bought the Anderson Station in 1887 and presumably built the magnificent home shortly after his acquisition of the property (yeah, Anderson School took its name from the huge Anderson land holdings in the South Virginia Street corridor.) Sparks would go on to become governor of Nevada in 1902, and pass away in office during his second term, in 1908.  Peripherally, we may note that he gave his name to our Rail City in 1904. More peripherally, if that adverb has a comparative voice, “Sparks” was the second name for that city, following its original name “Harriman” in honor of Southern Pacific Railroad’s owner E. H. Harriman.  E. H., a modest sort, beefed to the citizens of Harriman, most of who worked for him. Dick Graves hadn’t arrived there yet to vote for East Reno, so the governor got the nod. Early City of Sparks plat maps still show a Harriman Street.

            Enter now to our town William Henry Moffat from San Francisco, scion of a California meat-packing family. I was able to establish that in 1902 the 27-year old took an office in the power-center First National Bank building on Second and Virginia Streets for Moffat’s Nevada operation. I am unable to verify the year that he bought the Alamo Ranch from Governor Sparks.

            The Alamo remained a local player in cattle production for a good number of years.  And researching an earlier column that probably got me on this Alamo kick earlier in the summer, I found a 1930s reference to “…a sheep ribbon-tying contest far south of town at the Alamo Ranch” so apparently Moffat also ran a flock of sheep.

            Moffat was nominated a Distinguished Nevadan by the University of Nevada Board of Regents in 1960, three years before his death.

            His home, following a few decades of lack-of-TLC in Pleasant, not Washoe Valley, is being lovingly restored to its former grandeur and I understand a fellow Gazoo columnist is working on a piece about the home, the new owners and its restoration.  Stay tuned. [No further column ever came…]

Here’s a story about Mrs. Sparks by our friend Joyce Crowson Cox, go to


Let’s have a safe long Labor Day weekend; Happy Anniversary, Blondie and Dagwood, Cookie, Alexander, Daisy, Herb and Tootsie, Julius and Cora, Elmo, the carpoolers and mailman Mr. Beasley, who Dagwood’s been knocking on his ass going out the front door for 75 years tomorrow.  God bless America!

© Reno Gazette-Journal August 2005





Feedback about my Sunday RGJ columns


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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Back to downtown Reno we go

Lerude's Wigwam


One of the bright spots in taking walks downtown is that you readers always prompt the next few columns, and this week we’re finally getting to a stockpile of “you forgots” and “where weres?,” thanks in advance to phone books, Sanborn maps, Polk City Directories and newspaper ads and a few friends. And in the 1947 photo above, you’ve probably already noted that Sierra Street carried two-way traffic, by the black coupe pointed north.

            You forgot Bello’s Tamales, capitals optional because I don’t think it never really had a name, just word-of-mouth advertising.  The best tamales in town, out on West Second near Washington in an old brick house, corn growing in the back yard, chickens to the west, with a gleaming pressure cooker in the immaculate basement.  Father would travel from Ralston Street and place an order in the morning, picking a plump Rhode Island Red sunning itself in the side yard, then return, probably have an Acme beer or two at Brickie’s across the street, then take the tamales up the hill to home.

            A tamale always tastes better when you look the major ingredient in the eye on the morning before you eat it.  And the steel Acme beer can is worth more now in an antique shop that both the tamale and the beer were in 1950.

            Where could you buy a Willys Jeep, now in civilian production following WWII?  Why, at Steinheimer Bros. Studebaker at Fourth and Sierra.  And don’t confuse that with Wiley Brothers Cars, on Plaza Street.  Where was Dermody Appliance?  On Arlington, then “Belmont”, between West First Street and the tracks.  John A. Dermody went from Whirlpools to warehouses, and I’ll stick my neck out by saying that Dermody Partners is now probably the biggest real estate taxpayer in Nevada. You forgot Duffy’s Tavern.  Not really; we didn’t walk Commercial Row, between Belmont and West Street, where William Bendix tended the bar. Not really. The main fire station was across West Street, on the northwest corner.  Chief Van Meter saved the bell when the belfry was removed, and it’s now displayed on the corner by the new station on East Second and Evans. [This is obviously an old column. We might be one of the few town in the world to tear down a modern fire station and build a ballpark with the revenue and taxes leaving Reno.]

            You forgot Chism’s Ice Cream.  I could never do that, a popular, longtime Reno family’s business on West Street, next to 7-Up Bottling in the attractive modern glass-fronted building. What does 7-Up stand for? I don’t know, but I’m sure a reader will tell us. [None did.]

            Faithful reader [the late] Kellene Gallagher asked once about the USO clubs; one venue they used was the Tropics on Center Street, which I think I tangled up in one column with the Palm Saloon on Lake Street (in Bill Fong’s casino), and got away with.

            You forgot Reno Mercantile, better know as Reno Merc.  No, we wrote earlier that it was on the southeast corner of Sierra Street and Commercial Row, in the oldest commercial building in Reno. And I didn’t even get challenged for that statement; the Masons built it in the 1870s. Landa Electric? On West Street south of the tracks – once upon a time if your clock or mixer would quit you’d take it to Landa Electric to be repaired. Once upon a time a clock or a mixer could be taken apart and fixed – now they’re molded in one piece and we buy a new one. If it was a big motor, we’d take it to Brown-Milbery, then on Sierra, now on Gentry Way, (known then as Airport Road – couldn’t resist throwing that bon mot in…)

            The one person in town who remembers T.D. Tuthill Inc. asked me where it was.  Never heard of it, but finally found it in mid-block on West Fourth Street next to Ruth Ryan’s Dance Academy. Fine little lady, Ruth was; many remember her brother-in-law, Gordon Sampson, a much-decorated stuffy Canadian of great swagger who was the president of the Virginia & Truckee Railroad at the time it suspended operation, which was either an honor or a career-ender, depending on your point of view. Wrote his own flowery obit. His life would make a good column for my RG-J compadres who write about people. I’m a street guy.

            An argument, and glad it came up because others might have noted it also: “The California Market was on California Avenue, not North Virginia Street as you wrote.” You’re right; there were two California Markets, one downtown, the other at California and Lander (now My Favorite Muffin) but in its day it was actually named the California Avenue Market. My father worked at the market – rode a bike delivering groceries to the residents of that neighborhood. George Minor opened it, Charlie Bradley and Fred Antoniazzi owned it later.

            You forgot the Bundox.  OK, OK – that great restaurant and bar, where not a few business deals were cut, was opened by the late attorney E. F. “Bud” Loomis and his wife Cebe, and stocked with Chinese artifacts that Bud brought out of China when it was closed to Westerners before WWII (he had been overseas as an Envoy to China.)  Another great story for a people-writer.  He also owned the Oriental-influenced River House Motor Lodge. [And you can use the “search” window below to find a story about the Bundox.]   

            Roy Stagg’s Roaring Camp?  Across East First Street from the Bundox, much earlier.  Next to the Reno Bus Lines terminal and shop. 

• • •

I’ve quite a few inquiries left over – If yours didn’t get addressed, be patient.

            Next Saturday we might return to Sparks – one of the most respected and meticulous railroad historians in our valley, Dale Darney, contributed information about the elevating of the Sparks Southern Pacific yard which supplements the information I used for last week’s column.  And I’ll throw in a little teaser: We’ll also elaborate on the call girls that Southern Pacific employed in the post-war years.**  Fear not; this is still a family column, you’ll get a chuckle…  Fly your flag on June 14th, and God Bless America. [Guess I should note that in 2014 as I re-post this, let’s fly the flags for Memorial Day!]

**and since you won’t see the sequel to this column, I’ll explain in 2014 that the railroad’s call-girls in Sparks were the ladies who would get on the phones and stick their heads into the bars and restaurants in Sparks, to get the trainmen back to the yard to crew a train they were assigned to. And here you thought I was writing about hookers…

© RGJ June 1, 2002