Judge orders temporary protection for historic Mapes Hotel

RENO, Nev. - A judge ordered temporary protection Tuesday for a historic hotel that has a date with the wrecking ball, giving preservationists a chance to prove the city illegally approved the demolition.

Washoe County District Judge James Hardesty issued the temporary restraining order blocking any significant demolition work at the Mapes Hotel until after a trial on a lawsuit aimed at saving the building.

The trial will begin Dec. 16.

''It's certainly a big win for us,'' said Patty Cafferata, a lawyer representing local activists and the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The city has hired contractors to blow up the art deco building, where Sammy Davis Jr. and other stars performed, on Jan. 30, Super Bowl Sunday. It was not clear whether the demolition would be postponed.

Crews started knocking holes in the building last week. Local preservationists who filed the suit claim the Reno City Council's vote Sept. 13 to approve demolition violated open meetings laws because several council members discussed it privately before the vote.

The 12-story Mapes opened on the banks of the Truckee River in 1947, when it was the first building in the nation with a casino, hotel and entertainment under one roof.

During its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, it offered performances by Mae West, the Marx Brothers and others in its top-floor Sky Room, which afforded views of the Sierra Nevada.

Since 1982, the hotel has been vacant. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

''It is absolutely outrageous that the city would want to demolish it,'' Trust President Richard Moe said Tuesday night from Washington D.C. ''We are determined not to lose this one. It is our biggest fight in the country.''

The judge's order prohibits the removal of the roof or any work on the exterior, which had been planned in preparation for the implosion. He allowed continuation of interior work that would be necessary whether the building is demolished or renovated.

Hardesty said that the threat of irreversible damage outweighs any hardship to the city government in postponing demolition.

Hardesty said past rulings by the Nevada Supreme Court suggest that city council members are within their rights to hold private meetings prior to the formal vote in public. He also said that the robust discussion by the council during the public meeting may have cured any previous, potential defects in the process.

But he went on to say that recent opinions from the state attorney general make it clear that the plaintiffs should be able to further litigate whether there were violation of open meetings laws, which require most major government deliberations to take place in public with advance notice.

''Quite frankly, by participating in these private meetings, the city opens itself up to suspicion and investigation,'' Hardesty said.

City spokesman Chris Good said the city was pleased that Hardesty ordered the plaintiffs to post a $2,000 bond that would help cover additional costs to the city government if demolition must be delayed.

The plaintiffs will be allowed to take depositions from Mayor Jeff Griffin and all council members, and to subpoena records relating to the Mapes.

Good said he expected interior work to resume on Thursday ''and continue progress'' toward demolition.


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