A tall, spindly tree stands alone in the Shopko parking lot near the corner of South Virginia Street and Del Monte Lane in Reno, a silent sentinel to a sordid past.
Myron Lake, considered by many to be Reno's founder, once owned the property on which the evergreen stands. The area is now crowded with 1980s and 1990s commercial buildings and shopping centers, but not much more than 20 years ago, its rural past could still be discerned.
The evergreen tree grew near the location of Myron Lake's ranch house, which should not be confused with his town house, the Lake Mansion, at the corner of Virginia Street and Kietzke Lane.
The Lake Ranch encompassed more than 1,000 acres, many of which were under cultivation. Lake built the ranch house in 1874. The Lake family sold the ranch in 1899 to Sardis Summerfield and Dan Wheeler, who owned it until about 1930. At this time, a Mrs. Sauer purchased it and operated it as a dude ranch, catering to the divorce trade that had taken off in 1927 when the Nevada Legislature liberalized the divorce laws.
The divorce trade and the ranch's popularity grew dramatically when the laws were liberalized even further in 1931. Mrs. Sauer called her dude ranch Rancho Del Monte.
With the historic 1874 ranch house offering a Wild-West experience, Rancho Del Monte was popular with divorce-seekers who flocked here mostly from the East Coast.
The ranch house met an untimely end in 1947.
During the morning of Sept. 2, while the house was vacant save for two people, the ranch house caught fire. The offending party was a cigarette smoked by a 33-year-old woman from New Jersey, who was staying at the Del Monte awaiting her divorce. Unfortunately, she burned to death in the blaze. Her demise being a direct result of her refusal to leave her bedroom without clothes.
The witness to this tragedy was a 23-year-old man employed as a bartender at The Strip, a nightspot adjoining the Del Monte. When firefighters arrived on the scene they had no trouble believing the young man's account of the events. It was obvious he had first-hand, intimate knowledge of the cigarette, and the lady's lack of clothing.
The bartender was visiting the lady in her room when the unfortunate incident occurred. It seems the young man cared more for his safety than his modesty, as he leapt from the second-story window stark naked. The authorities were apparently not amused and wisked the young man off to jail on a charge of lewdness -allowing him to collect a set of clothes at his apartment first.
The old ranch house was a total loss, with damages exceeding $60,000. The property owner at the time, Jack Davidow, reported that he had contacted the woman's divorce attorney the night before the blaze asking that he find her other accommodations. One can only guess the reason for that request, but it came too late to prevent the loss of Rancho Del Monte. All that remains today of this historic site is the tall, spindly evergreen tree in the Shopko parking lot.
Mella Harmon is a historic preservation specialist with the State Historic Preservation Office, where she serves as coordinator for the National Register of Historic Places program. She can be contacted at (775) 684-3447. For information on the state Historic Preservation Office, visit the Web site at http://dmla.clan.lib.nv.us
The Historic Preservation Office is part of the Nevada Department of Museums, Library and Arts, which also includes the Division of Museums and History, the State Library & Archives and the Nevada Arts Council. DMLA serves Nevada's residents and visitors through cultural and information management, preservation and promotion of cultural resources, and education. Other key components of the department are the Comstock Historic District Commission, the Literacy Coalition, the Advisory Committee on Participatory Democracy and the Commission for Cultural Affairs.