Group begins effort to save historic gymnasium

Editor's Note: This is the first in a monthly series by the Nevada Appeal and the Carson City Historic Society on historic buildings in Carson City.

Many of Bonnie Nishikawa's memories of growing up as an orphan at the Nevada State Orphans' Home are collected in a series of scrapbooks and binders -- an effort to keep her childhood alive.

She wants more though. A lifelong resident of Carson City, she was on hand in 1963 when the home was torn down. And as a participant in many reunions, held since the 1970s, of orphans raised in the home she wants to make sure the same doesn't happen to the 106-year-old gymnasium -- the last standing doorway of the old home.

"It's the only thing left to remind them of their home," she said.

Nishikawa said it would be her dream to turn over her scrapbooks and photo albums, containing more than 300 photos, to help turn the gym into to a Children's Home museum.

The gym, first built as a two-room school house is used today by the Boys & Girls Club of Western Nevada. Children still run upon its floors and it serves an important purpose.

But only for about another year and a half until the club moves to a new multi-million dollar complex on Lompa Lane.

For now, the club is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the gym. Once gone though, the gym's keeping will revert to the state, which owns the property.

Nishikawa has help from the Carson City Historical Society, of which she is a member. The society has started the process to have the building built in 1897 placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

For this it will need public support and more importantly approval from the state.

State Public Works Board manager Dan O'Brien said the state has already recognized the gym as historic and included it in the master plan for the property.

"We took into consideration that it was historic and are not planning on leveling it," he said. "In the whole Capitol Complex master plan, it's adjacent to one of the new buildings, one of the tower buildings."

O'Brien said the rest of the old buildings in the former Children's Home complex will be demolished as the master plan proceeds.

The state is preparing to build the first structure in that master plan at the south end of the property near the Department of Transportation Building.

The plan envisions pairs of modern office buildings -- facing Stewart and Roop streets -- from there north to Fifth Street with an open mall running down the middle of the property. O'Brien said the gymnasium would front on the mall next to a new office building just north of the Carson City Fire Department's main station.

"We would end up designing around it, so the master plan has addressed the issue of it being historic."

In the meantime, historical society President Susan Ballew said she and the society are willing to help write grants and raise money to help maintain the gym. She will meet with club Executive Director Cathy Blankenship Monday to begin discussions on how the two nonprofit groups can work together.

The society leases The Roberts House from Carson City in an agreement that requires them to restore and maintain the historic building. Ballew said the society would be open to a similar agreement with the state.

"We support saving this building," she said. "We will do anything we can to preserve these old structures."


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