Parabolic vs. ellipsoidal – converting an e-mail into a suppository; either square, hex, or round…


I just ran a column about Reno High School and mentioned its famous dome, which the architect himself, (Monk Ferris), called parabolic in a 1951 newspaper article. A parabola. Then, this arrives in the e-mail this morning, from a friend I’ve known since 1950 at Central Jr. High. I’ve been writing a column for 28 years, but it’s bullshit like this that will bring the curtain down on the whole shebang someday:

Hi Karl,

The “dome” at RHS is not parabolic. It is roughly ellipsoidal – or rather roughly the upper half of an ellipsoid, which is the three-dimensional analog of an ellipse. Both an ellipse and an ellipsoid have two foci, and rays emanating from one focus are reflected to the other focus. This phenomenon is responsible for some “whispering galleries” and “whispering domes”. One of the attractions in the physics lab at CalTech was a small water tank in the shape of the bottom half of an ellipsoid. When it was filled with water, poking a finger into the water at one focus made a little column of water shoot up at the other focus.

 I haven’t set foot in RHS since 1959, but my recollection is that the dome is too shallow to be a true ellipsoid, and therefore incapable of transmitting whispers.


click to read the offending column

The Famous Flaming Swan Dive at Lawton’s, 1931

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

© Karl Breckenridge 2015

Some shots by Cal Pettengill taken June 14 of the Virginia Street Bridge demolition progress. Note photo #2 demonstrates vividly how much of that bridge was earth within the shell of concrete!

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Here’s some shots that Cal Pettengill took with his Brownie Hawkeye earlier this Flag Day. One is of the drained pond at Idlewild; the others are of the progress of the removal of the Virginia Street Bridge. That pond in Idlewild was Reno’s first municipal swimming hole!

Thanks, Cal! The torture continues at AT&T Park – After Brandon Crawford made two errors on one play I decided the time to post had arrived. White Hats stuff is in the mill. Don’t ask me what the “Sierra Street exit” is, must be a GPS thing

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






My mind was in the gutter (ball)…


I walked into the Nevada Historical Society a while back in my vermillion shirt with the black short sleeves, Sascha the Hamm’s Beer bear embroidered on one pocket, “Walker & Melarkey’s Flying A” across the back and the shirt-tail hanging out. NHS head librarian Mike Maher looked up.

            “Writing about bowling next Sunday are we, Karl?” he asked, laconically. I replied in the affirmative and descended into the abyss of the microfilm grotto.

For the king of old bowling alleys, we’ll focus on the YMCA, then located in downtown Reno on East First Street between Virginia and Center. The earliest reference I could find about bowling in Reno was in a March 1909 Nevada State Journal, and not in the sports section but the society page – bowling was fast becoming an acceptable diversion for young ladies, nationally and here in our valley. “Clubs,” which I surmise we now call “leagues,” were forming in town. And Thursday evenings were now reserved for ladies at the Y, which was open for bowling every night but Sunday. (The Y blew up in 1952.)

Print references are scarce for quite a number of years following 1909; the Downtown Bowl at 130 North Center Street pops up in a few sports pages’ references to tournaments. But, in the April 19, 1937 Reno Evening Gazette, pay dirt: We read of the phenomenal new “Reno Recreation Palace” ballyhooed on South Virginia at Ryland. I was unfamiliar with that stately pleasure dome, and opened a Sanborn map expecting to see eight or 10 city blocks devoted to civic revelry. But I found only a bowling alley we knew as the Reno Bowl, which adjoined a theater we knew as the Tower Theater. A movie theater in the same building as a bowling alley is a specious use of space, sound-wise – many of us recall a dashing and tuxedoed Errol Flynn sweeping a gowned Maureen O’Hara off her Guccis on the Lido deck of a luxury liner; violins soaring, the full moon on high dancing on the liner’s wake as the palm-lined island faded into the background on the Tower’s silver screen. Contemporaneously, as Errol planted a major lip-lock on Maureen, a bowling ball on the other side of the paper-thin wall crashed into the pins to complete a turkey as the inebriated keglers in the Reno Bowl bellowed and whooped and high-fived each other. Romance may not be dead, but at the Tower Theater it was frequently in ICU. That alley had human pinsetters; it should be noted that one bowler actually rolled a 301 (the pinsetter had a wooden leg).

On downtown Sparks’ B Street/Lincoln Highway/ Highway 40 (and now Victorian Avenue) from Home Furniture’s new Sparks store – now Terrible’s Rail City Casino – and next door to the Elbow Room, came a new, post-war bowling alley. The Sparks Bowlarium opened on Jan. 18, 1949 with eight, count ‘em, eight lanes; in 1958 the building would be enlarged and the lanes doubled to 16. It then had a real twist: automatic electric pinsetters – the kid resetting pins in the “pit,” working two or three lanes and ducking inbound bowling balls for all his life – would soon be but a memory. (It should be mentioned somewhere that the alleys then, as today, had cocktail lounges, food service, and at most, child care and dancing.)

            A long way out on South Virginia, almost to the end of Reno at Moana Lane (before Moana even existed east of South Virginia) Reno got its first post-war bowling alley. The Town & Country (now High Sierra Lanes) was opened in April of 1958. I’m stumped as to its original lane count; it is clear in both the Gazette and the Journal that at least some of that alley’s original lanes were taken from the Downtown Bowl, which closed that year. (I mentioned in a column a while back that that building on Center Street between First and Second Streets downtown was taken over by Harrah’s for office space.)

Back to Sparks now, just off Eighth Street – now Pyramid Way – to the newish Greenbrae Center – another new alley opens in August of 1960. The Greenbrae Lanes featured 24 lanes. And my Sparks readers are probably wondering if I could possibly deign to mention “Greenbrae Lanes” without also scribing “Driftwood Lounge” in the same sentence. That would be a travesty I won’t commit – the walls of the adjacent and fabled Driftwood could probably tell more tales than all the cocktail lounges in Reno or Sparks put together. The alley closed, but the lounge is still open for business, and we’ll give the Archueleta family a plug here and our thanks for the decades that they operated it.

Keystone Avenue was finally cut through northward from the railroad tracks and the Starlight Bowl opened on West Sixth Street near Keystone on Dec. 10, 1961. It’s been a winner ever since; when it opened with 44 lanes it was the biggest alley in Nevada. Sterling Village Lanes, toward the north end of Valley Road near once Bishop Manogue High School, opened on July 10, 1964; it closed in the 1980s and now houses a small market (and in 2014 a school). The big Kahuna of local public alleys is now within the Grand Sierra Resort; before it opened in 1978 as the MGM Grand its 50 lanes were shipped to Reno and installed temporarily at the Coliseum (OK, the Convention Center) for a summer-long national tournament, then were relocated to the brand-new MGM following that tournament.

Another big bowling alley opened in Reno in 1994 downtown on the old Northside school site but it’s basically a private building built with public funds so I won’t write about it. But, I will end with the note that the family that prays together, stays together; the family that bowls together, splits. Have a good week; avoid life’s 7 – 10 split, and God bless America!

© RGJ Feb. 2005 

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2005: Reno Little Theater and Virginia Lake


A fortnight ago I scribed that the Reno Little Theater opened its now-70 year run  in Reno with a play on April 15th of 1935 at the University of Nevada’s Frandsen Education Building, a venue I took from an RLT archive.  After I wrote that brilliance but before it appeared on page 8, I awoke with a start in the wee hours of a morning: The Frandsen Education Building?  Yikes – did I write that?  I did.  I was too late to fix it and you read it.

            The Education Building on the Hill, you see, is named for Reuben Thompson, a former Dean of Philosophy and the father of Mary Atcheson and Judges Bruce and Gordon Thompson.  The building was built in 1920 to a Delongchamps design, and named for Thompson in 1959.  The Frandsen Humanities Building, note, humanities, not education, was built in 1917 as the home of the College of Agriculture, and was named for Peter Frandsen, a sheepman-turned-animal husbandry professor.  Info is in conflict whether he was the head of the College of Agriculture but he had a building named for him, which ain’t too bad for a youthful émigré from Denmark.  The building became the Humanities building when the Fleischmann Aggie Building opened in 1958.

            Now the dilemma, if it qualifies as that, is which building the play opened in.  Leanne Stone, the gorgeous guru of campus history, surmises that it was in the Thompson Education Building, inasmuch as that facility has a stage, an amenity so vital to a play.

            And no one even took me to task for mixing up the buildings, albeit with a little help from an aging, yellowed news clip.  Old sheepman Frandsen would accuse me of pulling the wool over ewe readers’ eyes.


Seeing little future in that discussion, let’s move along to a topic this column has been harping on for a while, and send kudos to the City of Reno’s Parks and Recreation Department’s guys and ladies for the major redesign underway at the south end of Virginia Lake.  It’s worth a drive by, or will be in a few weeks if the weather ever warms up – new sod, irrigation, and dozens of trees – yippee!

            Pay particular note to the mature, existing trees on the west side of the cove in the southernmost end of the lake.  Those were planted in 1939, per one source, but show as skinny little sticks in a photo of the lake dated 1938, together with the other trees ringing the one-mile-even perimeter of the lake.  What I’ve never seen in a photo, but remember vividly in my mind as a youth growing up near the lake on Watt Street (What Street??) – that line got real old in a hurry – was the shelter for migratory waterfowl on that little corner of the lake’s shore.  All of the area under those trees was fenced, enclosing a system of cribbing, think railroad ties interlocking each other like Lincoln Logs and filled with straw, extensive foliage behind the fence to hide it all from view, and bold “Federal Government – No Trespassing” signs posted about.

            At one time, waterfowl, OK, ducks and geese, flew south for the winter, from the lush forests of Canada to the Mexican Riviera, a concept that faded when they could hang out in Reno and let someone feed them.  Who needs the commute?  The Department of Interior, as a bargaining chip for federal funding of the WPA and CCC to create Virginia Lake, laid down a requisite for a shelter where migratory fowl could safely nest on their journey.  The island on the lake also fell under this mandate as a shelter protected by a moat, if you will, and for a hatchery in the area now reserved for dog training and exercise.  The need for the shelters apparently subsided and the verdant little area on the lake’s shore was dismantled – and maintenance of the island terminated – in the late 1950s. Those 13 trees stand as a vestige of that bygone shelter. I photoshopped my recollection of the fencing and cribbing, as seen in the photo.

            It’s nice to see the attention one of our favorite public parks is receiving.  And no, it’s not Nannette Island – I was only kidding here a decade ago but that name stuck with a few folks.  (Fannett Island is in Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay.)


The roar of the greasepaint, the smell of the crowd: This column originated 16 years ago, and Gannett statistics indicated that readership increased by 1.7 readers per month, that number rising to 2.2 per month when they put me on page 8 permanently and substituted a black-and-white photo of me for the previous color photo.  Now, Homefinder researcher Carmine Ghia, polling individuals at the main post office and the Greyhound station, reports that readership has swelled four-fold, owing to publicity for the column gained through open letters to me in the RGJ’s “Your Turn” op-ed and Letters to the Editor following our recent tour of the Truckee’s Treasure [the trashing of the Christian Science Church by the Lear Theater folks]. Keep those cards and letters comin’, folks; my readership will surpass the Contract Bridge columnist’s yet.

            A wonderful civic event resumes tomorrow morning at Reno High’s athletic field, the Moms on the Run benefiting breast cancer research.  Moms and dads can jog, or just stroll, and there’s even a class for kids.  Or if you’re tied up, bring a check to Pinocchio’s Restaurant on East Moana Lane [now South Virginia!].  Barbara and John Pinochio, who have sponsored the run since 2000, will know just how to distribute it.

Have a great week and a happy day, all you moms out there in RGJ land, and God bless America!

© May 2005 RGJ


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BundoxThe River House, and the Bundox

from an old column…

Word reached me last weekend that yet another Reno landmark will bite the dust – the once-intimate Bundox restaurant and the adjoining River House motel on Lake Street at the river will soon feel the wrecker’s ball.

We’ll turn back the clock to about 1910 when a photographer of national renown named Loomis*, who with his wife, the former Anna Frandsen, was working in Argentina for a number of American newspapers. Anna was the daughter of Andrew Frandsen, a pioneer Reno sheep man who had emigrated from Denmark. In Buenos Aires, the Loomis’ only son would be born and named Eugene Frandsen Loomis. One day he would become known simply as “Bud.” (Bud’s older sister, Inez, would marry Scoop Johnson in later years; his younger sister, MaryAlice, would marry Bill Blakely.) [All, and Cebe below, have passed away.]

Bud grew up and went to law school, then journeyed to mysterious pre-war China, where he acted as an envoy for American people and companies doing business in that inscrutable land. He acquired – legally – many artifacts, shipping them home periodically to Reno, where his mother was by then teaching Spanish at Reno High School. When the Chinese closed their borders and excluded foreign nationals in the 1930s, Bud returned to America and Reno. He met and wed his wife Cebe – say “Seeb”. He opened a law practice, and maintained an interest in his father’s vocation – photography. Bud and Cebe moved into a home on the Frandsen family property at the west end of Wingfield Park, that originally served as a carriage house for the Gray mansion above it on the Court Street bluff, that burned in 1939. Across the river was the Christian Science Church, on a site donated to the church by Anna Frandsen Loomis – as kids, we called her “Dosh.” Anna commissioned architect Paul Revere Williams to design the church and the Loomis Manor Apartments to the west of the church on Riverside Drive. The Frandsen Apartments on West Fourth Street bounded the family’s property holdings to the north.

• • •

But the Loomis’s’ home was not large enough to display their art collection. Bud at that time was serving as an advocate to the Chinese community in Reno, and the Chinese owned a piece of property on the north bank of the Truckee River – there was still a joss house operating on it even into the 1950s.

Loomis negotiated with whatever entity owned the site, and eventually acquired it. He and Cebe built, on its eastern end, the headquarters for Ben Dasher’s Universe Life Insurance Company. On the East First Street corner they built a smallish restaurant, cocktail lounge, and the River House motel, all with a Chinese motif. Into this restaurant and bar, and with the hearty approval of the local Chinese community, who were grateful to have their story told, went the Loomises’ collection of artifacts. Cebe told me years ago that there was at least one artifact from China in every room of the motel.

The name? Bundox. It was frequently mispronounced bun, as in “cheek”, but always by the cognoscenti as boondocks. Bud told me years ago that the origin of the name was the Tagalog – (Filipino) – word bundoc anglicized by pre-World War II American soldiers to connote a remote, forgotten, and somewhat romantic place, somewhat like Xanadu.

At least I think that’s what he said – better than 20 [40 as I write this in 2014!] years ago. Or then again, maybe it’s taken from Kipling or Coleridge – who knows?

But it was never remote to many movers and shakers in Reno, and the little bar was a favorite watering hole for the rich and the famous for several decades, or at least for civic leaders in the days when civic leaders actually got something done from start to finish. (I remember my own father laboring there into the wee hours in the nascent days of acquiring land south of town for a big building to be called the Centennial Coliseum in 1962.) [the present Reno/Sparks Convention Center.]

At least, that’s what he told my mother…

Maybe the civic leaders should have acquired a little restaurant called the Liberty Belle back then, which had already been open for three years, but that’ for another column – the Belle lives. [No, it doesn’t}

Straying back now to the Bundox story: Bud died about 35 years ago; Cebe kept the place hopping for another ten years, and then sold the property. (Cebe too passed away, in June [2003] in southern California.)

The corner’s buildings are now abandoned and boarded up, an ongoing insult to the by-gone revelry and that certain je nè cais quà that the Bundox and the Loomises once brought to our fair city and the Truckee’s shore. [And now they’re gone altogether. The question on everyone’s mind: Who got the brass door handles…?]

• • •

Two footnotes form an epilogue to this yarn: The wrecker’s ball is not Earl Games Construction’s Christmas party, and “je nè cais quà” is dedicated to the lady who questioned “ethos” last week. We’re introducing a new feature: the Homefinder word of the week – use it correctly and the duck’ll drop down and bring you 25 bucks. [And as you read that, I hope you watched the old Groucho Marx You Bet Your Life on KZTV, or you won’t know what I’m writing about.]

Have a good week, and God bless America.

• • •

*[The rest of that story, that might have been inappropriate for the Gazoo column: I am close enough to the Blakely family that some use me as a tax deduction, and one night I asked “What was Dosh’s husband’s given name?” (The photographer of “national renown” in my column.) No one knew – he was always “Mr. Loomis” when they were growing up. Dosh and Mr. parted after their youngest child (Mary Alice) was born, and Dosh came back to Reno and taught Spanish for many years at Reno High School.]


The Harolds Club mural

mural4During this rodeo week in Reno, a few references have been made to the Harolds Club mural (and I should note here that Pappy Smith, who owned Harolds Club, named for his son, didn’t like apostrophes and that’s good enough for us!) Therefore, it’s probably appropriate to scribe a few words about that mural.

It was commissioned by the club in the mid-1950s, and a picture painted by Theodore McFall of Pacific Grove, Calif., was chosen. McFall knew that the mural that was to be created from his picture would be huge – 38 feet high and 78 feet wide – pioneers at a campsite that could be Crystal Peak to the west or the shore of the Truckee to the east – a campfire burning, azure-blue water falling in the background. He also knew that the farthest away a viewer could get from the mural was about a hundred feet – from Harolds Club across Virginia Street to Southworth’s Cigar Store on the west sidewalk – so he created the picture to look proportionate from any view, absent a parallax from looking up, or crosswise at it.

Deal was made and deed was done for the newish casino to buy the rights to the photo, and the process of taking an oil photo to a mural capable of withstanding weather and beating sun then began. It was decreed that it would be of steel, with color porcelainized onto the steel and fired (the mural consisted of many small squares of artwork.) But who could do such a process?

A man was located, an interesting artist named Sargent Claude Johnson, a New Englander by birth who later spread his time between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. He was a sculptor, and a mosaic artist (his works can be seen as a mural on George Washington High School in SF, in some sculpture still in place on Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay, where it was placed for the 1939 World Exposition, and mosaics in the veranda of the Aquatic Park Museum in SF, and in that same building’s entrance in the form of intaglio. Most other works are on private property, and one is in storage, a scene similar to the Harolds Club mural created for a Las Vegas casino, acquired by the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City, and now in storage.)

Curiously, I first wrote of Johnson and the mural in a February, which is Black History Month, because Johnson was half black, and elected to live his life in the black communities of LA and Oakland. He was a member of the Communist party during his adult life.

He undertook to create and fire the mural in 1948, and it was ready for presentation to the City of Reno by Harolds Club in 1949. It was trucked to Reno in many pieces, and suspended on a steel frame affixed to the Harolds Club building.

In its original form, the waterfall “fell,” sort of like the lights in a Wurlitzer jukebox, and the campfire “burned.” The waterfall’s cascade and the fire’s flickering flame were allowed to fall into disarray at the advent of the Hughes acquisition of Harolds Club. And some of the artwork on the lower part of the mural, primarily the snake that appeared poised to bite the lady pioneer’s butt, were covered by some signs spelling out the casino’s name. The legend atop the mural was attributed to Harolds Club’s genius adman Thomas C. Wilson, Dedicated In All Humility to Those Who Blazed the Trail.

Sadly, a home for the mural could not be located in downtown Reno when the club’s structure was demolished in 2001, and was in storage for a decade until the Reno Rodeo Association, with some help from other local people and entities, made it possible for it to be re-erected on a building at the Reno Events Center on Wells Avenue.
Well done, Smith Family, artist Theodore McFall, sculptor Sargent Claude Johnson, and the Reno Rodeo Association!

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

An old friend meets its end

W Fifth

In the mid-1960s northwest Reno was the area to move toward – Sproul Homes were in their heyday on land west of what was once “Peavine Row,” now known as Keystone Avenue. And Keystone itself had only recently been brought north of the railroad tracks, right through the middle of Reno Press Brick’s pit where we used to swim on warm summer days.

Commerce naturally followed the folks to the area – the Keystone Square west of Keystone – Uncle Happy’s Toy Store and a few restaurants, the Keystone Theater, a Security National Bank and an Albertson’s supermarket. And a few other stores. On the east side of Keystone, the big Keystone Owl Rexall run by Frank Desmond and Jim Henderson, two great guys, and  Frank is still with us.

A Shakey’s Pizza Parlor on West Fifth, from whose parking lot I took the picture above (OK, Shakey’s has been gone for a while, but I could still smell the pepperoni and sausage, and hear the Reno Banjo Band playing in the background.)

In the building in the picture, some old friends: To the east/right in the photo, P&S Hardware, Gene Parvin & Bill Spiersch at your service. If a person put in a sprinkler system in the 1960s, P&S probably installed it, if George Warren Plumbing didn’t. One of the best hardware stores in Reno, maybe in a tie with Commercial Hardware on East Fourth Street, Shelley’s Hardware out in Sparks, and Builders & Farmers Hardware on South Virginia Street across the street from Sewell’s. Love to have P&S back in business, or their other location in the Village Shopping Center (Commercial Hardware opened a satellite in the Lakeside Plaza but it didn’t last long…)

Next to P&S to the west was Wright’s Painting & Decorating, Bill Wright at the helm of that business, and sadly, Bill has left us as has Gene Parvin, mentioned above; Gene a victim of a vehicle crash In the wine country of Sonoma a dozen years ago.

Wright Paints was the Ameritone dealer, with an array of wall coverings and draperies and blinds. A fun place to shop.

And, how can we forget the Cue? The burgers at the Cue & Cushion were generally acknowledged to be Reno’s best, then, and by those who remember them, even today. The rich and famous, and us poor working stiffs, mingled for lunch at the Cue for many, many years. And, if you wanted to re-buckle your Knickerbockers bee-low the knees, hide a dime novel in your back pocket and give yourself an iron-clad leave in a three-rail billiard game, thanks Professor Harold Hill, the Cue had the best pool tables in town, a town where billiard parlors were tumblin’ down after WWII. Don’t know where you’d go for a game now save for some armpit bar – pool seems to be  a thing of the past.

And, the thrust of the whole post for today, is, that the West Fifth Street Center, a name we never knew that it had, is going, going, gone. Remember well all the landmark businesses and buildings embodied in today’s post, because little parts of our town are slipping into distant memories. Drive by the old P&S Hardware this afternoon and check it out, then cross Keystone for a root-beer float at the Coffee Grinder in the Keystone Square, and tell Nick hello if you see him.

We gotta keep a few memories alive; (this one’s for you, Misha!)