Memory of V&T Roundhouse isn’t fading away
July 22, 2017
The beloved V&T Roundhouse met the wrecking ball in February 1991 and those who remember the historic landmark still rue the day it was demolished.
In the April 1991 edition of National Trust for Historic Preservation magazine — then called Preservation News — writer Lisa A. Kirk reported the Virginia & Truckee Railroad Engine House and Shops was the "most visible reminder of the state's famous Comstock mining booms."
The dismantling of the 45,000-square-foot iconic sandstone structure took five weeks. T&O Masonry of St. Helena, Calif., was hired by then sole owner Paul Larquier — who at the time lived in California — to demolish the roundhouse and negotiated with Larquier to buy the stones, hauling the stones back to St. Helena. For those who like following the paper trail, Mrs. Omer (Marie) Wolf and Paul Larquier inherited the building from their father Mr. Paul Louis Larquier in 1958. The senior Larquier purchased the building in 1955 after the site had been on the market since 1952.
Once described by then curator of the California State Railroad Museum, Stephen Drew, as "one of Carson City's most significant and long-standing architectural features," the Roundhouse was listed in the National Register in 1972, but that listing did not save it. When fully operational, the inside was filled with a machine shop, roundhouse, water works, pattern shop, smith shop, foundry, car shop, engine room, and tin shop and many were employed there.
Since the land on which the roundhouse sat was privately owned, the City could not stop demolition although a strong effort was made by citizens to convince the City to purchase the site. Money, however, was tight. Mayor Marv Teixeira made every effort to save the structure and so passionate was he about this that even in his obituary, published on June 5, 2014 in the Nevada Appeal, the roundhouse demolition was mentioned, "Teixeira said the low point in his time in office was his unsuccessful attempt in 1991 to prevent the demolition of the historical V&T Roundhouse in east Carson City, which had been determined an unsafe hazard."
In the attempt to save some of the structure, the V&T Engine House and Shops Foundation was formed with the sole purpose of raising monies to purchase some of the stones to rebuild some of the shops. Sharon Burnett was the first president. Ed Astone, Town Manager for Old Sacramento and the driving force behind the revival of Old Sac was consulted and, in 1984, asserted in his study the project wouldn't pencil, "It was the right project in the wrong community, economically and politically." He did not feel the community could afford to subsidize the venture.
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Some wanted to turn the building into government offices by having the City use the 1987 "quick take" law allowing the city to condemn the property through eminent domain to allow for redevelopment. The citizens opposed this fearing if the project failed, taxpayers would be burdened. As is the case in so many things, taxpayers wanted to preserve the buildings, but were opposed to paying higher taxes to do so. In a last-ditch effort, Mayor Teixeira proposed a ballot question — that never made it to the ballot — to raise taxes to combine a new city complex with private development. Even so, the Foundation sued the state and city for failing to allow eminent domain.
The City, however, did find $9,000 to purchase two of the 11 arches. One of the arches was to be displayed at the Nevada State Railroad Museum, but that never happened and those stones today still survive in the city's corporate yard numbered for future reconstruction. Public Works Operations Manager Curtis Horton has made it a personal goal to guard the stones. However, we recently learned two of the roundhouse doors are stored within the museum.
On a whim, I searched the internet for T&O Masonry and was delighted to learn they are still in business after 60 years. The business passed from Dale Taylor to his son Ken who told us, "The arches and stones found their way to two wineries — the biggest projects — and other stones were incorporated into landscaping projects at private homes and in smaller wineries." The demolition was handled with care, the arches were all carefully numbered to assure they would be perfectly reconstructed. The stones, too, were treated with care to avoid breakage.
Offered for sale in 1952, after much of the inside had been sold off, the building was neglected and in total disrepair by the time it was demolished in 1991. Ken Taylor stated the entire structure would have had to undergo an expensive retrofit to make it earthquake safe.
Taylor remembers about "five or six" arches ended up at Round Pond Estates. Owned by the second generation of the McDonnell Family, Round Pond has been growing grapes since the early 1980s and features an olive mill and Farm-to-Table foods on 468 acres. They produce award-winning cabernets. The V&T arch is prominent here as shown in the photograph. "It is a farm and winery that specializes in the creation of pure, expressive wines, artisan foods and unforgettable experiences," according to their website.
Another arch and more historic sandstones can be found at Harlan Estate that, according to The Wine Advocate's Robert M. Parker, Jr., "Might be the single most profound red wine made not just in California, but in the world."
If those proud and historic arches and stones could no longer be a part of Carson City history, at least they ended up in a beautiful setting and are well cared for and admired by the many visitors to these high-end wineries.
The historic stones no longer sit on a weed-filled vacant lot.
If these stones could talk, they would say, "Carson's loss is Napa's gain."
Maybe we should send a memorial plaque?
The roundhouse was constructed by Carson City founder Abraham Curry in November of 1882 and completed in July 1883 in time for the great Fourth of July Ball. The stones were crafted by prisoners quarried from his sandstone quarry just off Fifth Street. It is a testament to these prison masons that the stones are still in use today.
The land on which the roundhouse sat remains a vacant, weed-filled lot. Though there has been some interest by developers, the lot will need remediation to clean up the many years of "gunk" poured into the soil before EPA standards took effect. Those not familiar with the site can see this vacant property to the west side of Stewart Street starting just south of the Jack in the-Box. The city has used this as a staging site during the downtown reconstruction.
As for the two arches still sitting safely within the City's corporate yard — watched closely by Horton — discussions have begun between Carson City Public Works and the Chamber to determine how and where these may be reconstructed so that Carson City, too, will retain a piece of its proud past. Local resident and historian Stan Jones is chairing the informal committee.
Reconstructing even one historic arch won't be an easy task and it could be expensive, but it's time to save a bit of this historic Carson City structure. Stay tuned.
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