Silver Queen owner remembers when celebrities haunted VC's boardwalks

Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal

Kevin Clifford/Nevada Appeal

Charles "Tiny" Carlson remembers the good old days of the Comstock.

Not the Big Bonanza of the 1860s and 1870s, of course, but the 1960s and 1970s, when he said there were 32 saloons in town and celebrities everywhere.

"When I came here there was a lot of personality," he said. "We had all the celebrities in the world come up here from Reno and the lake. Now, nobody comes."

Pianist and showman Liberace, singer John Davidson, trumpeter Al Hirt, country star Tennessee Ernie Ford are only a few of the folks Carlson said a visitor to Virginia City could bump into.

Many of the musicians would jam in the local jazz club, the Silver Stope, he said. Now, the Silver Stope is a gift shop.

Carlson, 82, is the owner of the Silver Queen Hotel and the Cole Mansion in Virginia City, a place where the Captain and Tennille got married, and 10 years later renewed their vows.

Though the Comstock is home to country singer Lacy J. Dalton, most celebrities no longer come to Virginia City, Carlson thinks because the stars of today don't hang out with their fans the way stars of the past did.

"A lot of them just do their own thing," he said.

He was born in Walker, Minn., and came to Reno in 1947, to play football for the University of Nevada.

"That was the best team they ever had," the former left tackle said.

Before UNR, Carlson played college ball in Minnesota and Washington.

After college, he got a job at Harold's Club in Reno working the craps game, where his name caused his bosses some consternation.

"I used my middle name, which is Tinnas," he said. "They paged me once and Tinnas sounded too much like penis."

After that, his supervisors insisted the 6-foot, 4-inch, 269-pound Carlson be called "Tiny."

He was a dealer at Harold's for five years, then became a bouncer.

"I watched Doris Day in that place," he said. "Liz Taylor had to wait outside because she was too young."

Later he decided to go into real estate, owning his own brokerage and buying and selling buildings, first in Reno, then in 1961, in Virginia City.

"I started out leasing a few buildings, then made some good deals," he said. "You got to be able to talk in real estate."

Over the years he bought and later sold the Red Garter building, the Wild Bunch Gifts building, The Barrels of Candy building and some houses. He still owns the Silver Queen, which he bought in 1990, and the Cole Mansion on B Street's Millionaires Row, purchased in 1979. Both of those are for sale, Carlson said.

"The whole hotel has been restored," he said. "The hotel didn't even have bathrooms until I started."

The Silver Queen has 29 rooms and four apartments, a bar, reception room and a small chapel. The hotel offers wedding packages that include the ceremony, rooms, reception and rental of the gown, bridesmaids dresses and tuxes.

"We used to do a lot more weddings," he said. "People don't get married like they used to. We do get a lot of people renewing their vows."

Carlson was married for 42 years to Betty, from whom he was later divorced, though he said they remained friends until her death a few months ago.

"She was a good woman; a very nice woman," he said.

The couple raised three daughters, Connie, Linda and Nancy. He also has 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, most of whom live out of state.

"They keep coming back, though," he said.

Carlson said he is not retired and never will retire. He still is active in the Silver Queen, though his daughter, Connie, helps run it. He has become a fixture on Virginia City's boardwalk benches, talking to old friends and tourists alike.

"I go down the street and look like I know something," he said.

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 881-7351.


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