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


Feedback about my Sunday RGJ column

Another old University of Nevada friend bites the dust…

Getchell 2getchelllibrary copy
Well, they’re doing it again – tearing down a building that many of us watched being built during our University of Nevada matriculation and one that we visited thereafter, quite often. A couple of them were saved – and I’ll modestly take a bit of credit for calling the regents a bunch of damn ungrateful fools in a column, for coming thhhhiiis close to tearing down the Fleischmann Atmospherium-Planetarium, and taking the name “Jot Travis” off the student union center – a building built in 1958 in honor of Ezra “Jot” Travis, endowed by his son Wesley upon Wesley’s death in 1952. The Planetarium, named for the parents of university benefactor Max C. Fleischmann, was on the endangered list in favor of some dingbat building. It still stands. Moral being, don’t give your fortune to the University – they’ll spend it and in a period of time, demolish it for some younger guy’s endowment. And you and your wife’s name (and your contribution!) will soon go by the wayside.

Now, another building is going, going, soon to be gone – the Noble H. Getchell Library opened in 1962, two years after Noble Getchell’s death, to replace the Clark Library, a building still in use today as the Clark Administration Building. In days past, honored names, like William Clark’s, also a miner, were more revered than they are today. We, as undergraduates and “we” being every able-bodied soul attending the U, hauled the Clark’s inventory of library books, box-by-box, from the Clark up the (then) main drive for re-shelving in the new Getchell Library. The Getchell was a beautiful, modern building, bright, airy and welcoming (still is). Noble Getchell was a miner, and beat the drum for all the Nevada miners to support the University which then had a Mackay School of Mines, not “earth-sciences,” whatever those are – euphemisms abound on the Hill – the “Hill” itself a bygone term of endearment for the U. Getchell, like John Mackay before him, contributed mightily to our school. (In fairness, the mining industry went flat about the time the Nevada miners would have started to fund the library and Getchell and the others couldn’t endow it as he’d hoped to. But, he tried, and name “Getchell” will soon depart from the memory of the University of Nevada.)

You may bid the Getchell Library goodbye – apparently it couldn’t be converted to another use in this cash-rich Nevada university system (the tale is that it’s built with student funds. Students, as we know, have a lot of spare cash lying around to build buildings with.) I wonder if this occurs at other universities – the destruction, whether they pull it off or not, as in the case of the Jot and the Planetarium – look-out the Campanile at UC Berkeley, surely taking up a lot of room that could better be used for parking, or the Hoover Library at Stanford, or that damn ol’ Pauley Pavilion at UCLA, right in the middle of what could be a solar array for campus power, or Crisler Arena at Michigan – definitely showing its age. The Tables Down at Morey’s, and the Place where Louie Dwells back east in the Ivy League.

The Getchell served us well for half a century. Thanks, Noble…

Of Wreaths and Shamrocks

The following yarn originally gained life in 1997, and has been resurrected on days proximate to St. Paddy’s Day quite often. A friend asked last week, “So where was the St. Patrick’s Day column?” And begorrah, here’s our traditional blarney, wheels up, and away we go:

<<<<<  Blanchfieldpictured, men help a pilot load bags of mail aboard a DH-4 at the U.S.Air Mail airport, now part of the Washoe County Golf Course]

William Blanchfield was a young aviator, an Irishman and World War I RAF pilot who flew the Reno-Elko run for the embryonic U.S. Air Mail Service [pictured right].   He perished when his biplane crashed into an unoccupied home in northwest Reno while trying to drop a wreath into the funeral service of Air Mail mechanic Samuel Gerrans, being conducted in the Knights of Pythias Cemetery a block west of the tiny University of Nevada campus

Just prior to St. Patrick’s Day in 1925, the first St. Patrick’s Day following the tragedy, a box arrived at the office of Silas Ross, the funeral director who had handled Blanchfield’s interment.  The small box was posted from Ireland and contained a shamrock, with a request from Blanchfield’s mother to lay it at his grave.  This, Ross did, as he did for almost a score of years to follow, when a box arrived from Ireland before each St. Patrick’s Day.  Inevitably, one year the box failed to arrive before the holiday.  Inquiries, made with some difficulty during the dark days of World War II, revealed that William Blanchfield’s mother had passed away.  The tradition was resurrected the following year by his sister, who resided in County Cork on the Emerald Isle.  But those annual shipments too, ceased in 1976.

One of my favorite readers for many years, who passed away several years ago, Barbara Rabenstine, whose association with Blanchfield we’ll learn more of soon, continued the tradition faithfully since 1982.   

Getting somewhat caught up in the story, I visited Blanchfield’s grave in 1998.  Looking south from the promontory at Mountain View Cemetery on that dour afternoon, I could visualize young Blanchfield lifting the big DeHavilland DH-4 off the runway, now part of the Washoe Golf Course.  His thoughts might have been with the airman slated to fly with him for this ceremony, who now but for a change in plans would have been in the forward cockpit to handle the drop of the wreath. Protocol of such a solemn tribute would dictate Blanchfield circling the funeral service twice, surely flying with his right hand while fumbling with the wreath with his left.  He’d roll the plane high on one wing, dropping the wreath from the open rear cockpit as he firewalled the engine and let the plane roll through to level flight.

But it didn’t happen that way. Pre-teens Chet and Link Piazzo, who lived at Tenth and Ralston Streets, were walking down Ralston Street to Humphries’ Meat Market.  Link remembers a load roar from the west and the shadow of an airplane passing overhead followed by an impact, and later a fireman removing him from power lines that the plane had severed.  (The wires were cold; Chet passed away a few years ago and Link is still with us. [2017: Link has passed away also]  Curiously, planes frightened them as children, but both went on to fly combat in World War II.  Don Small, a great guy then 10 years old, later a retired Sierra Pacific executive [Don passed away in 2012], recalls billowing smoke and another neighbor pulling the fire alarm box on University Terrace.

Now 96 years later when airmen gather to speak of the caprice of the skies, they speculate what might have happened – or not happened – had Blanchfield’s co-pilot and fellow Irishman been aboard to jettison the wreath, as he had planned to be.  Many eyewitnesses thought a freak gust of wind had played a part; aviators attributed the crash to the difficulty of controlling the heavy biplane while getting the wreath ready to drop.

On that fateful day, had year-and-a-half-old Barbara McKinley Rabenstine’s 9andRalstonmother’s bridge game not been canceled, Barbara and her infant sister Bettie might have been where they frequently spent summer afternoons, enjoying the sun in the south window of their home on the northwest corner of Ninth and Ralston Streets – the same window the DeHavilland impacted into, the resulting fire destroying the house within minutes.  On another day, the accident may never have occurred, or another day yet, Silas Ross might have emplaced the headstones of not one, but four Irishmen, a couple of Italian future sporting goods merchants and a future power company exec, all inscribed with the date August 1, 1924.

But owing to the luck of the Irish and William Puchert of the Sons and Daughters of Erin, this St. Patrick’s Day shor’n a contingent of Irishmen again paid a mother’s respect last weekend to a Son of Erin who died, so long ago, so far from home.

 text © RGJ quite often … photo source – various

“When Irish eyes are smilin” – our companion St. Patrick’s Day blarney; a tale of Harry O’Brien – click here

The Orr Ditch Inverted Siphon


For many a moon I’ve attempted to write a bit more about the Orr Ditch siphon – I’ve always been able to find just enough to tantalize readers but not really make a worthwhile, definitive column about the late-1950s structure added to the grand lady of Reno’s irrigation ditches, the Orr.

            The Orr rolls along north of the Truckee’s stream and terminates finally in far Spanish Springs. In the days pre-University of Nevada (the University was established in Reno in 1887, after the Orr’s construction) the Orr crossed Virginia Street and then flowed across the campus, west-to-east, crossing a low point in the campus east of Virginia.1 A flume carried the water across that gully until Mother Earth again rose to meet the flume, and the ditch then flowed eastward, then, following the terrain, turned to the north and went well into the (non-existent) campus. Turning to the east, it then was routed south, forming a big “U” and finally turning to cross future Evans Avenue, just at the top of the hill east of the present Fleischmann Agriculture Building. Clear as Mud? Continue reading

Paper or Plastic?

Hilltop Market

A reader asked me, “What is the building on the northeast corner of Ralston and West 11th Street, kittycorner from the Sigma Nu house?” Wasn’t it a commercial building many years ago?” Here it is above; a rather attractive stone building that has earmarks of being built by the Stewart Indian School students. It’s been rebuilt and changed a few times, added on to, boarded in. I think its earliest use was as the “Hilltop Market,” appearing once as the “Hillside Market,” and later as the “University Market.” But, almost certainly a little neighborhood market, serving the professors and their familys in Academy Heights to the north. Curiously, there was another market to the south, a block away, in a newer building (N/E corner Ralston and Tenth), with a variety of names over the years, (Maynard’s Market in its final incarnation as a market.) Now, we call it the Pub-n-Sub, a branch office of my Sigma Nu Fraternity house to the north. And neither was the Ralston Market, at the bottom of the Ralston Street hill, nor were they the Quality Market (Quilici’s, to most) at the bottom of the Washington Street hill. Nor the Cottage Grocery, Ralston and West Fifth Street, or the Santa Claus, Washington and West Sixth. North on Ralston at Imperial was Rommelfanger’s, probably the only Rommelfanger’s in Reno. Suffice it to say that there were no shortage of markets, in this area or anywhere else in Reno or Sparks.

Two points need to be included here: Reno’s numbered streets, First through Tenth, are spelled out; ones higher than that, as in “11th,” get cardinal numbers (Sparks’ numbered streets, by convention, are cardinal numbers from 1st Street-on.) Secondly, I used “catercorner” in a column one time and from the confused reactions that word generated I vowed from that date forward I would use “kittycorner.”

P.S.: The movie Quartet. See it.