A Majestic Theater

We’ll mention peripherally that page 8 columns are historically written on either a Sunday or a Monday night for the following Saturday, a tradition that may change if the American League can’t figure out how to finish a baseball game in under five hours. [I think this was a long ball game, don’t know now in 2014 why I wrote that…]

            That said, our attention shifts to a well-worn pamphlet offered by a friend, detailing the grand re-opening of the Majestic Theater, or Theatre for those of the cultured sort, a gala that took place on November 4th of 1925. It should be mentioned for the newer Homefinders to Reno that this fine edifice, on the southwest corner of East First and Center Streets was since its opening in 1910 so seismically unsound that it took three days, two D-8 Caterpillar dozers and thirty pounds of dynamite to get the proscenium arch to fall when the building was razed 60 years later.

            The original theater was a dandy built by Nevada’s Senator George Nixon, housing primarily stage plays. Its first significant production was “The Merry Widow,” a show remembered principally for launching a style of ladies’ undergarments. It rocked along with similar stage and musical fare for another 15 years, operated by Nixon’s widow until it was sold to the nationwide T&D Enterprises, who also operated the nearby Grand and Rialto – later Granada – theaters downtown.

            T & D’s boss M. Naify closed the house and loosed architect Frederick DeLongchamps on its carcass to transform it into a first-rate, 1925-modern edifice in the Moorish style that typified most theaters of the day. Note that most of the nation’s classic theaters embraced that theme, with many theater names evocative of the Naify family’s eastern Mediterranean heritage or the world’s then-current passion for the Moorish culture.

            DeLongchamps embodied a grand staircase to a landing where twin staircases departed to either side. I’d like to think that someone rescued the ornate staircase handrails (and the massive chandelier) when the building was demolished in 1981. At the top of the stairs, a promenade divided the upper deck (whoops, too much baseball – make that mezzanine) and the loge. According to the souvenir program, DeLongchamps offered “…a most inviting rest-room for the ladies, beautifully appointed with comfortable chairs, lounges, dressing tables and mirrors.” As I recall there was a men’s room also, possibly not so commodious. There was a “modern, forced-air furnace,” (no mention of air-conditioning), and electric lights, inside and out, supplied by the Truckee River Power Company.

            As in any of these old programs and brochures, the lifestyle and trends of 1925 advertisements were revealing: The Revada Sales Company, which we visited on a West Fourth Street walk column, offered the new Star Coupster. We’ll, if one can have a roadster, why not a coupster or a SUVster also? Phone 777 to reserve yours. The Overland Hotel was proud to be the home-away-from-home for the Naify family during construction, and the Piggly Wiggly Market, only a block away, was lining up for Majestic patrons’ holiday parties. At 42 West Second Street, H. E. Saviers & Son, even before my friend Sandy was born, promised that “One hearing of the marvelous Victrola will change your conception of Music in the Home. Phone 555.”

            A block to the north on Center Street, visit the Nevada Velie Co. and test ride the modern Velie with the “aeroplane type motor,” that vehicle I believe to be a powered bicycle but I’m sure I’ll hear if it’s otherwise. [I didn’t] Shearer & Wagner on North Virginia next to Hilp’s Drug Store was renting Stewart Warner radios for three bucks a month, reserve yours by phoning 988-L. And if it’s wood or coal you need, Raphel & Henrichs, Felix and Rufe respectively, can bring you a load from their yard by the railroad tracks on Bell Street; call them at 1248 (a four-digit phone number? When will this town quit growing?)

            Marta Howland Milliners, opposite the aforementioned Rialto Theater on West First Street, has new Satin Hats arriving daily, if yours is departing daily, a steal at seven to ten dollars, presumably depending on your lady’s head size. Purity French Bakery even in 1925 was at 357 North Virginia Street, next to the original Little Waldorf; the Reno Business College offered stenographic careers for young ladies, try advertising that today, and Nevada Transfer & Warehouse would “Never Scratch Your Furniture” and if you believe that you’d also believe that the Easter Bunny would sell you a Marmon with a 145-inch wheelbase, a veritable 1925 Hummer, at Nevada Marmon Company on Court Street at Granite. Now, Court Street at Sierra, soon the site of the Mills B. Lane Justice Center [now], and how ya’ doin’, Bubba?

            In conclusion, we couldn’t mention the Majestic Theater without including the time-honored epilogue for any movie at the Majestic – apple pie and a milkshake next door at the Mapes. Don’t continue to mail me these old programs and catalogues; it only encourages me to write some more.

           

            Have a good week; and God bless America!

 

© Reno Gazette Journal May 2004   

 

Read new articles on Sundays in the “Nevada” section of the RGJ

 

 

 

Wild horses on Marsh Avenue

OK, AFTER THIS WAS ORIGINALLY POSTED SATURDAY MORNING, SOME INFORMATION FROM ARLINE LAFERRY AND MISHA MILLER WAS APPENDED TO THE POSTAND WE KNOW A LOT MORE

A few weeks ago a friend was out walking along Marsh Avenue in the 800 block and she spied on the tiled turret of a beautiful old classic Southwest Reno home, a weathervane. On that weathervane was and still is a horse; a horse with wings that our friend seemed to think was a logo for a bygone service station chain popular in Reno and the rest of the free world in our younger days. She wondered, “Why is there a horse – a winged horse – a Pegasus, which is its mythical name – on the roof of this home?” (Many of us know the home and its owner, and in the interest of the owners’ privacy I’ll skip that detail.) The home, by the way, is at 843 Marsh Avenue, on the west side of the street a few houses south of St. Lawrence. The Pegasus, seen

PegasusMarshFlying A copyin the photo, is painted the same light grey that the Navy painted the lower surface of WWII airplanes to make them difficult to see against a blue sky. And even harder to photograph, as this horse was [in April of 2014].

I’ll write parenthetically that I remember seeing that horse weathervane since my childhood and like many of us, have heard over the years that a prior owner and the probable builder of the home was an executive, or a relative of an executive, of the Socony (an acronym for Standard Oil Co. of New York) Mobil Oil. Sometimes Saucony. And in the past, I’ve taken a run at writing about it, and on every occasion honored the wishes of the home’s owner for privacy, and left it alone.

Enter now some confusion over winged stuff – I wrote “SoconyMobil” but a number of readers said, incorrectly, “No, no; that equine is the logo of Flying A,” which is sort of interchangeable with Associated and Tidewater Oil depending upon where the readers spent their youth. I, like many of us, pumped gas for Myneer Walker and Jimmy Melarkey at the Flying A on the S/W corner of Liberty and South Virginia Street. And several readers claimed, incorrectly, that our flying horse was on the old fluted column remnant of Ernie’s Flying A Truck Garage on East Fourth Street. All old Flying A’s incorporated fluted columns. Misha Miller, who has forgotten more about Reno than I’ll ever know, aligned with this crowd. But, we’re looking for a winged horse, not a winged “A”.

Time marched on, actually only a few days but the earlier text sounds more dramatic. I busied myself trying to learn who would put a service station logo on the weathervane of a beautiful Reno home, one of the nicest for sure, when it was built probably in the late 1930s (the assumption that it was a Standard Oil exec is pretty well carved in stone.) The year it was built, the owner, the architect, the contractor – all seemed to be pretty obscure.

As I write this, I have some pretty good clues that I can follow up this first week in February, and have some messages out to those associated with the present owner who will probably fill in some blanks. The notes right now lead outward from a Riverside Hotel exec with ranching ties around the state, to another family – which may actually be an offshoot of the same family – who owned it until sometime after 1945 and reportedly owned the former Flick Ranch along the Truckee which later became the site of Bishop Manogue High School.
• •

Posted originally to the Blue Plate Special website in Jan. 2009 © Karl Breckenridge

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
And now, some further information, posted 7 pm on Saturday April 26, thanks to Arline Laferry, ace researcher with the Nevada Historical Society and a neat lady and good friend:

REG = Reno Evening Gazette
NSJ = Nevada State Journal

REG 1941 Aug 1 page 3. Building permits for new construction for July.
Mr. and Mrs. R. B. Callahan residence at 843 Marsh avenue, $35,000. Wine & Williams contractor
11/1942 mention of a tea being held at new home of Mrs. Raymond Callahan 843 Marsh

REG 1946 June 20 page 2
Approximately $80,000 was paid for the R. B. Callahan home at 843 Marsh ave in a recent sale, it was indicated by a deed filed at the country recorders office Tuesday. Purchasers of the home, one of Reno’s most elaborate are Mr. and Mrs. Bert Reddick, according to the filed deed. The house was built a few years before the war.
July of 1947 permits issued. Bert Reddick, 843 Marsh Ave, air conditioning $3,000

NSJ April 13, 1949 page 10
Purchase of the former Raymond Callahan house at 843 Marsh Ave by [TEXT REDACTED] of Reno from Mrs. Vivian Reddick was revealed yesterday. It was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Bert Reddick a year or so ago.

REG April 10, 1975 page 5.
Home tour by American Association of University Women.
One of the homes featured was the home at 843 Marsh Avenue. Raymond Callahan, the businessman who owned the Flying A, Gas Station, had a Pegasus on a weather vane on his Reno home during his ownership of it.
>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>
Now: Another reader Misha Miller responded, with the information that the Socony-Mobil horse on the roof was placed there as a good natured in-your-face to the owner of a Flying A Station; something for him to look at each night as he came in the driveway. Callahan did own what became Ernie’s Flying A on East Fourth Street. And Misha knows…if her theory’s right, and it well may be, it answers why I could never make a link to a Standard Oil exec in title – there wasn’t any!

Now we need the link to the Flick Ranch. We’re still working on this…

The Golden Hotel Fire

godenfire 

I sat in my school bus at a red light on the corner of East Second and Center Streets, a hair past seven o’clock on a Tuesday morning. It was 40 years ago this week. [The column appeared March 30, 2002]

Smoke – or maybe steam? – was coming out of a sidewalk freight elevator door in front of the Golden Hotel, on the west side of Center between Second and Commercial Row. It was smoke. I turned onto Center Street, parked and pulled the handle on the fire alarm pedestal in front of Parker’s Mens Store. I had no option than to leave for Stead airbase and collect my high school kids, and fearing the bus getting caught behind the fire lines they’d surely lay I drove north on Center Street. I saw one fire truck come around the corner off West Second Street from the old main station on Commercial Row at West Street, then another. A plume of smoke steadily grew in my mirrors by the time I reached the hill above the U of N, where I would normally be in class by 9 a.m.

But not on April 3rd, 1962…

• • •

Frank Golden – a Tonopah miner and banker – built the opulent four-story Golden Hotel in 1906. Golden died shortly after it was completed, and the hotel was operated by the Wingfield clan for two decades, then finally the Tomerlin brothers, who bought it in 1956. They remodeled it, including long rows of aluminum louvers on each row of windows facing the street; louvers that City Building Inspector Ronald Coleman would later say were in compliance with city code. The “New Golden” was a Reno icon of excellence.

• • •

On that fateful morning, a welder’s acetylene tank had exploded in the basement, while most of the 142 hotel guests were still asleep. The fire spread quickly, and ignited a Nash Metro – a little tiny car, for the younger readers – that was displayed as a prize and positioned on the ground floor above the acetylene tank in the basement. The heat from the tank and the car was intense, and traveled straight up in a matter of a very few minutes, filling all the hallways with dense smoke and exploding through the roof hard enough to blow roofing material all over the block.

Guests and hotel employees did a commendable job of running throughout the building spreading the word to evacuate, which many were able to do through stairwells. Others, however, were trapped in their rooms and the fire department was having one hell of a time trying to evacuate them through the aluminum trim that had been placed over the windows in the 1956 effort to modernize the hotel.

Fire Chief Wagner Sorensen recognized early on that this was a fire of major proportion and pulled out all the stops, mustering help from Sparks, who sent a pumper and fifteen men, Stead Air Force Base, another pumper; Washoe County Fire – later Truckee Meadows Fire Protection District, now incorporated into Reno – an engine, and Warren Engine Company from Carson City, who sent their brand new “Snorkel” unit. Reno even put their little 1926 American LaFrance, which had long been in reserve, into service and it performed Yeoman duty as a pumper. Bell Telephone and Sierra Pacific Power sent high-lift equipment, as did several contracting firms, and Reno Iron Works sent a crane that lifted a bucket carrying several firemen with hoses. Newspaper photos clearly show hoses playing water off the fire escapes of Harolds Club’s seven-story tower to cool them down.

Some horror stories of trapped hotel guests were beginning to hit the street – one of a dancer named Carol Maye, line captain of the Barry Ashton “Playmates of Paris Review” that was playing at the Golden. Carol was last seen overcome in a smoky corridor. Jimmy Nuzzo, one of Sam Butera’s Witnesses playing at the Mapes with Louis Prima and Keely Smith, was nowhere to be found. Reno police Lieutenant Ray Cavallo was credited with one of the brightest deeds of the day – entering the hotel at the outset of the fire and grabbing the hotel’s guest register, enabling rescue crews to account for guests, one-by-one, room-by-room. The register was already singed when Ray brought it out of the building.

But the smoke continued to billow relentlessly hours later, even with the incredible amount of water being dumped into the fire. (Sierra Pacific Power boosted their Idlewild Park and High Street pumps up to summer output.) In Carson City, State Forester George Zappettini offered the services of the state on behalf of Governor Grant Sawyer, who was enroute to Japan. State pilot Chuck Destree, a native Hawthorne boy, hopped the State’s Beechcraft C-45 – a D18 with two big radial engines to you civilians – from Carson City to the Reno airport and took on plain ol’ Truckee River H20, not Borate, as many people thought. Chuck made two passes over the carcass of the Golden, still churning out black smoke, and on each pass dumped half his cargo on the fire.

Playing hooky from class* – as was the rest of the campus and everyone else in Reno – I watched from the roof of Harolds Club’s tower as Chuck came in from the south and made the first dump, smack-into the cavity of the fire, and voila, the smoke abated considerably. He climbed and circled to the west and flew over again, dumping the second chamber, and the smoke turned white and let up even more. The will of the fire was broken and the firemen were then able to see where to best play their streams of water. Soon it was under control, if far from out. [*I got the word in my school bus that Reno schools were called off so I skipped that run all the way north to Bordertown.]

And I got pictures for the University’s Sagebrush newspaper of the top of a Twin Beech airplane – about 75 feet above the parapets of the Golden. I asked Chuck last week what he remembered the most about the mission, and he said it was looking back at the fire after the second drop, then turning forward again and seeing Morrill Hall at the University of Nevada looming up in front of him.

One victim was taken from the Golden that day, the only known fatality that day. It would be a full month before the sixth victim was found.

Next Saturday, the saga continues…

• • •

Mopping Up the Golden Hotel Fire

In the last column we gawked as the four-story downtown Golden Hotel burned to the ground in a spectacular inferno on April 3, 1962, a Tuesday. This Saturday morning, we have a few facts, reader questions, and anecdotes about the 40-year old fire, which defy being put into any particular order:

How many people died? Good question. While most assumed the count to be seven, I’m able to verify only six, that last one a hotel employee found in the basement debris a full month after the fire. Hospitalized? Forty people, give or take a few, mostly from smoke, a few with burns. Five firefighters hospitalized briefly were Leonard Howard, 27 at the time and William (OB) O’Brien, both still with us, and three late firemen, Bob Kerns, then 31, John Henderson, 39, and Garvel (Ace) Acres. Heroes? Hotel employee Paul Gallo and fireman Smokey (Lloyd) Davison, who carried, down two flights of stairs and out the front door, a woman – Margaret McCollum – self-described in an April 4th Nevada State Journal interview as weighing 200 pounds, by a Gazette reporter as “stout” and by fireman Davison as 300 pounds. No ballerina, by anybody’s account, but she sent them thank-you cards for many years to follow.

How much water did the airplane drop? Twelve hundred gallons, according to the Reno Evening Gazette, 200 gallons according to State Forestry pilot Chuck Destree (1,200 gallons – five tons – might slightly overgross a Twin Beech!) Did it help? The firefighters said not much, the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau (whose records I had access to in researching this piece) in their final report said yes. Either way it was cool to watch. From several readers: Didn’t the hotel burn once before? No, the Grand Hotel, to the south of the Golden (on the corner), burned on March 4th of 1959 and two floors had to be removed. And the Golden Eagle hotel, a block away, burned on May 6, 1929 (NSJ). How many people worked at the Golden? 513 on April 3, 1962. (And 143 guests on that day.)

Were there other alarms? According to the Reno Fire guys and the later PFRB after-action account the initial notice was a frantic phone call FIRE! From a person too excited to leave a location; right on top of that the Gamewell code from the box I pulled and almost immediately after another code from the pull box on Commercial Row and Center. The phone call got everybody awake; the box codes told them to head east and the smoke was apparent. There is no truth to the rumor that when the dispatcher said to the phone caller, “Wait, how do we get there?” that he answered, “Don’t you still have the big red trucks?”

OK, back to work: What did surrounding businesses do? Officials of First National Bank – now the Planet Hollywood [and now struggling] – doused their roof with a garden hose. Harrah’s and Harolds did finally close, briefly. Harold Smith Sr. walked around Harolds casino floor playing his violin, and no, I don’t know if he was fiddling Nearer My God to Thee.

From a reader: “What was the name of the malt shop in the basement?” The Malt Shop. And a dandy it was, right off of a Hot August Nights poster – white wrought-iron furniture, a checkerboard floor, candy-striped awnings and real malts. No one asked, but many will remember Art Conde and Joe De Rosa, who owned the hotel barbershop. They relocated to the Ryland Barber Shop on South Virginia and were clippin’ again by the next Saturday. Didn’t (Justice of the Peace) Bill Beemer pull one body out of the debris? That story’s another only-Bill Beemer local legend, but one best left unchronicled. I’ll leave it at “yes.”

What happened to the money and chips on the gaming tables when the fire broke out? My personal guess would be that at that midweek early hour (7 a.m.) in the off-season there probably weren’t too many tables open. The April 4th REG details Golden exec Phil Downey running around trying to salvage what he could until the heat of the fire drove him out onto the street. Grifall Construction ultimately took the Golden Hotel’s carcass to the Isbell pit – near the bluff by the Hilton Hotel’s [Grand Sierra Hotel] south main floor entrance – where the debris was rechecked for bodies. And, according to Don Stockwell, he of the photographic memory, guards finally had to be posted to keep treasure hunters from scavenging for souvenir chips and the silver melted into the slot machines.

Former Golden employee Susan Marler tells a couple of stories. First, a Thornton Wilder-like tale of a sixty-ish Golden Hotel resident, whose name was Lucia Pedlar according to both papers if it’s the same person Susan spoke of. Lucia was confined to a wheelchair following a surgery, and able, more each passing day, to leave her room for meals and remain on the ground floor for an ever-lengthening period of time. The whole Golden staff was pulling for her and sustaining her courage to pump up her rehabilitation. Lucia was doing well.

She died in the fire.

The second Susan Marler story is happier, of Marilyn Monroe, who resided in the Mapes, natch, during the filming of The Misfits a couple years before the fire. Following the completion of the movie, Marilyn moved into the Golden for a time, by one account. Susan recalls seeing her shopping for a magazine at the gift store one day, and watched to see what the starlet liked to read.

Marilyn left for the elevator and her room with the latest copy of Sunshine and Health – an aù naturel sunbathing magazine. OK, OK – a nudie mag. [The report that Marilyn ever stayed at the Golden was questioned by several readers.]

And off track from our fire topic, I’m compelled to report that the April 5th Gazette included a sports piece about pro rassler Don Manoukian’s State Building bout with twin midgets, named Lord Littlebrook and Little Beaver. Ask ‘Nouk about that night. I’d rather not.

I’m grateful to Janyce Bentley and Mary Florentz for offering me some old Reno Evening Gazettes and Nevada State Journals – coincidentally just as I was planning this piece for the fire’s 40th anniversary. I’m also indebted to the Nevada Historical Society, retired Reno Fire Captains Joe Granata and the late Jim Arlin, Reno Fire Department archives, and the Pacific Fire Rating Bureau (now Insurance Service Office/ISO) – and to you readers for your input.

photo credit Reno Evening Gazette
© Karl Breckenridge 2002

 

Wells Avenue – a 2002 column (re)published 12 years later

Rapscallion

 

South Wells Avenue was once a happenin’ little shopping area.  New, modern buildings were being built to accommodate merchants seeking a compromise between downtown and the Park Lane/Shoppers’ Square malls – then the only two malls in Reno.  South Wells Avenue is 22 blocks long, too far to walk, so for this morning and probably a follow-up next week we’ll hopscotch around instead of going block-by-block.  The inspiration for all this?  Twofold: The Reno City Fathers – and Mothers – are toying with a major redesign of Wells Avenue, with new landscaping, street lighting, and single lanes leading into traffic go-arounds at several locations.  Secondly, a landmark restaurant that opened during the heyday of the street, closed a week or so ago – a landmark that started and ended an era.

We’d like to recall what the street once meant to our town’s economy and lifestyle.

• • •

Cruising through newspaper ads, old Yellow Pages, City Directories, county records and other clutter pointed us toward the mid-1970s as the glory years of Wells Avenue.  It’s seems eerie that McDonald’s, which opened in June of 1975 on the corner of Colorado River Boulevard, recently closed.  The Wells Avenue McDonald’s was the third in Reno, following closely behind the original store on Keystone and the second on Oddie Boulevard (both those structures replaced in recent years.)  Across Wells Avenue was Wayne’s Drive-In, soon to become a casualty of Mickey D’s proximity.  The Deluxe Laundry north of McDonald’s was one of McKenzie Construction Company’s first buildings in Reno, ca. 1952, and is still active in business and under the same ownership. [And now a coffee-house, or something…]

            Restaurants – good ones – abounded on Wells Avenue.  A favorite watering hole for business people was Posey Butterfield’s, later the Rapscallion, on the corner of Vesta Street.  A Mandarin Café was across from McDonald’s, great Chinese, no relation to the classic Mandarin downtown.  We once wrote of old service stations becoming the best restaurants in Reno, and the Gulf Oil station that became Froggy’s Lunchbox, just north of McDonald’s is one of them.  (You may know it better as P.J. & Company.)   A base chapel was hauled down from Reno Air Base to the corner of Vassar and Wells, bricked over and made into Little Flower Church, somewhere between 1949 to 1951, depending on your resource.  Now a bank, it was banker Sid and Vera Stern’s macaroni joint in Wells Avenue’s heyday, proving that all good Wells Avenue buildings, including Catholic churches, start or end as restaurants.  Then we have the restaurant that became an office building, the Dairy Queen just north of Vassar; if you look real hard you can see where we ordered Peanut Buster Parfaits.  And we can’t forget Juicy’s on Ryland, for a great burger in the lube bay.

            South of Posey’s was Humphrey’s Furniture, a fairly large store.  Another major furniture store in Reno was Baker’s Furniture south of Arroyo Street, which had its origin as an Eagle Thrifty drug store.  It then became Baker’s, then Good Morning Furniture, then closed.  Eagle Thrifty moved across the street into a new building, with the greatest shopping variety in Reno, a true super-drug store.  Name it, they’d have it in that great basement of theirs.  That store, as did all Eagle Thrifty’s, became Raley’s, and that Wells Avenue Store is now an IGA outlet [or some kind of Mexican store…].  Many small retail buildings were built in the 1960s, some pretty clever and well-designed.  Check out the building on the southwest corner of Wells and Roberts Street: architect Web Brown incorporated five distinct architectural styles into one retail building.  Landlords had little trouble finding quality, long-term tenants, in all categories of merchandise – Brundidge’s Art Supply, GoodTimes Clothes, Lear-Higdon Opticians, Tapis Tree Needlework.  Crown Electronics, Wok-on-the-Wild Side kitchen stuff, Whippy’s Golf Shop, Reno Ski Shop.  Pants Etc., Earl’s Western Wear, Sierra Custom Sound, Greco’s Music Store, Murdock’s, Sierra Cyclery, Solari Paints.  Aids Ambulance operated out of a building at Stewart Street, their name proving to have an unfortunate connotation in years to follow.

            And services: a half-dozen pet stores, another half-dozen cleaners, beauty shops and barber shops galore, Corrigan’s and Ryan’s saloons and the Wonder Bar, dentists and optometrists, Art Remple Television, a Valley Bank and a major post office (at Ryland, now a hock shop.)  Many government offices – State and federal – in the small buildings around Posey’s.  A block-square vacant lot to play ball in north of Wonder Street, owned by LaVere Redfield, the water table about four inches below the ground hampering its use as a building site until recently.  [The building that was built there also sank, now in 2014 it has some lesser quality tenants.] Cornwall Insurance Adjustors, and the rhyming diners, Eato’s Burritos and Pat-Your-Belly-Deli, and that’s where I draw the line.

            South Wells Avenue was a great street.  In the years following World War II 37.2 per cent of the schoolkids in Reno lived within two blocks of either side of the street and continue to harbor a fierce loyalty to it even today.  The Wells Avenue Gang – a group formally organized by my classmate the late Clark Santini – meets regularly and will probably read this and regale me, of the Whitaker Park bunch, with tales of their youth.

But this is not a column validating their aberrant behavior, rather a plea for all to remember fondly the many businesses and merchants who populated South Wells Avenue, and hope that in time to come the municipal plans to revive it will meet with great success.                                             

 

The Babcock Kindergarten

BabcockBldg.

Topic A for this Saturday is the Elizabeth Babcock Memorial Kindergarten, named for a schoolmarm/émigré from Carson City. “The Babcock” opened for the 1901 school year in an attractive private building on the northeast corner of West Sixth and West Streets. It was operated by the Reno Kindergarten Association. I include it herein and herewith because a day or two I mentioned it in an irreverent column about snow and the current district’s dedication to serious education as opposed to preventing a few children and adults getting the sniffles on a wintry day.

The Babcock Building also served some other municipal uses to generate a little cash flow; per the Nov. 8, 1901 Nevada State Journal “…rooms are available to rent for meetings and socials,” and a U of N fraternity party brought all two of Reno’s Finest out on the night of March 2, 1907 (NSJ).

The school district in those early years was the Reno School District #10, the “10” a number assigned by the state. I’ve written in the past of the existence of eight, sometime expressed as nine if Franktown is included, school districts in Washoe County when the Washoe County School District was created in July 1956, combining all those districts. Several other archives at the Nevada Historical Society indicate that number to be 17, counting all the one-room schoolhouses in the county.

The Babcock functioned merrily at Sixth and West as a kindergarten until the Reno School District bought the building in May of 1932; conflicting archives point to 1933 (if the world relied on our school district to keep records, Columbus would have discovered Malibu and Washington would have thrown the dollar across the Pecos.) Reno’s kindergarten students were split out into the district’s five Reno schools (the Spanish Quartette and Southside School at Liberty and Center Streets.) The Babcock Building became the head-shed for the Reno district and remained so after the WCSD was created in 1956. Regrettably, in the 1950s the classic brick building we remember in our 1940s youth, close to our Reno High/Central Jr. High and Mary S. Doten alma maters, got a treatment akin to the blonde Olympian who won a Gold medal and had it bronzed: The new district stuccoed over the ivy-covered Babcock Building. Yikes!

The Washoe County School District remained headquartered in the old building, even after the Babcock was sold to the West Sixth Medical Building Group in October 1961. The “new” district moved into the East Ninth Street “Greenhouse” in January of 1962, built right smack in the middle of our athletic field – the original Foster Field, darn ‘em – where we trekked from all over town to play ball, held our fantastic and talented pet parades, our school picnics, and tried not to get caught tubing down the nearby English Mill Ditch.

As always happens to Reno’s most elegant old buildings with any history, the Elizabeth Babcock Memorial Kindergarten was razed in March of 1966. But “the Babcock” – the education envisioned by early members of the 20th Century Club and the classic building they built to provide it, live on in the great pantheon of Reno’s heritage.

(By-the-by, “NSJ” appearing somewhere in the preceding text and most of these yarns is Breckenridge shorthand for the Nevada State Journal; one may also see “REG” if I neglect to extricate it, Reno Evening Gazette. These papers were combined in 1983 to the present Reno Gazette-Journal.)

Banking on Heritage

Heritage2Heritage Bank

A while back, we posted a little story of the reconstruction of the old Union Federal Savings building on South Virginia Street, across from the Black Bear Diner, (which was Lyon’s Restaurant when the Union Federal Building was built in 1972); we noted at that time that the bank building was built entirely of Legos, which of course was bullcrap. There was some sheetrock in it somewhere, maybe some asbestos.

Work continues on the reconstruction, and we here offer a picture taken this morning from the Black Bear Diner, where the Black Bear Diner Gentlemen’s Coffee, World Dilemma Solutions, Laudable Opinions, If-a-rumor-is-not-heard-by-9:00 a.m.-sharp-start-one, and Other General BS as may properly come to our attention, group meets with great regularity.

The building, as may be seen, is coming along handsomely with its new beams breaking up the former ridiculous wall treatment. We will keep readers apprised of this progress.

A readers’ note: This is being placed on Facebook, to try to get enough people reading the Ol’ Reno Guy to make its preparation and research worthwhile. You may see some problems, between WordPress, the host website, between Facebook and its antics, and my own shortcomings with computers. Bear with me for a week or two.

Reno’s Ground Cow diner

Ground Cow</a

A friend e-mailed, following a mention of the Ground Cow re-opening under it’s own name in Penryn a year ago, “Didn’t we have a Ground Cow in Reno?”

Indeed we did; back before the freeway came through Reno, back before there was a McCarran Boulevard – “Ring Road” – running north/south west of Keystone Avenue, there was a Ground Cow. It resided approximately on the corner of West Seventh Street and Keystone, which was known as Peavine Row in my youth.

In the photo above, a familiar scene, traveling north on Keystone, the car on the right coming off the freeway, the antenna array on the site of the ole Ground Cow.

It was a popular place, food was good and the prices were right, but, it was a casualty of the freeway construction in the mid-1960s.

The Ground Cow was an Oakland-based “chain,” if three restaurants make a chain. The first was in Oakland, and in the early 1950s another opened in Auburn, on the north side of Highway 40 just about across the path from Lou LaBonte’s. In 1962 that one relocated westward to Penryn, flourished, then for reasons unknown seem to go to hell. It reopened again other other names, each new tenant being worse than the last (in my humble opinion. I am not a restaurant reviewer.) It’s now back to being the (only) Ground Cow, and I’ve had so many bum meals there I can’t bring myself to go in and dine. Maybe this fall I’ll put that on my list of columns that need to be written. Or, in the alternative somebody from my burgeoning reader base may actually consume food there and I can do a review.

Jeremiah’s joins my list of faded menus

Jeremiah's

Back in the mid- to late-1970s a whole new way of eating burst forth, in French, Roquefort or Thousand Islands: A diner could make his or her own salad! Just the way they wanted it! Well, let’s all go down to that new joint at East Plumb Lane at Kietzke – Jeremiah’s Steak House – yippee.

Jeremiah’s was a great place to dine, dinner or lunch; a pleasant series of rooms on different levels that would drive the ADA freaks crazy today. An upstairs loft, a comfortable bar. Lots of wood, nice-looking servers, a real trend-setter in Reno.

And it did a good business from the get-go. A hot place for lunch, business or pleasure, with Strolling Fashions a day a week. The upstairs loft for group lunches, quiet, but not to the extent of tomb-like. Proximate to the airport, if you were dropping someone off or had just landed, a nice meal on the way home.

And steaks! Jeremiah’s Steak House. What’s in a name – that said it all. This was truly a nice place to eat, good prices, service, menus.

What happened? Who knows – somebody probably does, I don’t. One day, a day quite a few years ago, it fell off the radar. It went to seed overnight, it would seem. It closed, and reopened, and opened as a Mexican joint, I think, later a Chinese buffet. And closed some more.

Now, it’s going, going, gone. Too bad. Why do all the nice restaurants in Reno close? Remember Marie Callender’s (on South Virginia)? Hobo Junction to the north? I won’t even mention Eugene’s and Vario’s, but am somewhat proud to have a Bricks in our town. Even although when I wrote about it in the RGJ, twice, some well-meaning editor put in a possessive apostrophe: Brick’s. Twice. If I wanted an apostrophe, I’d have typed one. Like Harolds Club. No apostrophe, Pappy Smith says so. But how often do you see it? Every time you see it.

What’s this to do with Jeremiah’s? I don’t know either. But, if I had lunch with you there, or a nice dinner, let’s look back fondly on that night!

Heritage Bank brightens up Midtown Reno!

Heritage Bank

A day or two ago I wrote a piece about the old Union Federal Savings & Loan building on South Virginia Street, that was less-than-complimentary about its design. I pulled it at the last minute, inasmuch that it was in fact designed by an architect, I guess, who might still be with us and whose mother might read this blog.

The thrust of the story, the building’s style be damned, was a huge pat on the back of Heritage Bank, for going into that project full-bore and alleviating some of the design drawbacks of the building. So, we’ll just take the high road here, and pay compliments to Heritage Bank and its leader Stan Wilmoth,

The building went up, I’d guess about 1972, and I don’t know who the architect was. I do recall that there was a pretty good dust-up about its placement on the southwest corner of Park Lane, which had been built four or five years before. (You do remember, that there was a rather significant shopping center on the lot adjoining the Union Federal, now Heritage building northward to Plumb Lane?)

The rancher who sold some of the dirt under Park Lane to the developers, ceded to Park Lane a commitment to maintain the land occupied by Union Federal, now Heritage, as a view corridor from South Virginia Street to the new center being built. That was all well and good, but in a few years to follow the rancher said to hell with that, and sold the land to Union Fed, and all hell broke loose.

I don’t remember the eventual outcome; for as big as beef as it was then I can’t find anyone now who remembers who prevailed in this brouhaha. The fact that the building is there would suggest that Park Lane lost, but maybe some $$ exchanged hands in recompense. Couldn’t say.

Anyhoo, the building, which is most charitably described as interesting, is getting a makeover and some rockwork to break up the endless corners and angles in the front, if it is indeed the front, of the building. Thanks, Heritage Bank, for brightening up the southern edge of our little hamlet’s developing “Midtown” district.

Two points must follow: No, the building was not built of Legos, as some suggested 40 years ago, and yes, Heritage Bank, who deserves a great deal of credit for amassing and maintaining a “local heritage” library in their present quarters in the old FNB building on South Virginia, does indeed have a copy of my book, Which makes me feel very honored!

Staying close to West Fifth and Keystone, we see…

Safewayp>While I was capturing the Cue & Cushion et al seen in the previous post on film, (actually on digital, but that lacks the certain je ne sais quoi of film that this site is built upon), I strayed a block to the east, to Vine Street, and took a picture of what in its day was a Safeway, not just a Safeway but the greatest most modern Safeway in Reno or Sparks (akin to the one on Mt. Rose and South Virginia Streets), which now is obviously sunk into the depths of Reno’s slums.

The new (1962) Safeway was the bee’s-knees in shopping, replacing the old favorite Santa Claus Market a block to its north on Vine Street, that little rock market that received its name because it never closed, even on the day when Santa Claus came to Reno.

The Safeway pictured was the pride of northwest Reno, as I said in an earlier post a part of town then developing rapidly. Times changed and the Safeway closed, to become a home improvement store for many years, later an auto parts store, and now a piece of crap taking up space in what should be, and was, a nice part of our city. No opinion here, just a wish that things could be different. It’s a good and viable corner, but alas, yet another reminder of the rapidity with which the premier locations become mere embarrassments