Feeling nostalgic about long-gone signs

When I drive by our former Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard building at 562 N. Maine St., I often think of that exciting day in 1990 when it was completed, and we opened for business.

Before we moved into the new facility, we worked out of a building at 60 W. Center St., that today houses the La Fiesta restaurant.

The Center Street offices eventually proved to be too small, and Fallon architect Frank Woodliff III designed the new structure for us at the southeast corner of North Maine Street and Serpa Place that I believe is one of the most attractive commercial buildings in Churchill County.

In 2004, My wife and I, who had owned the LVN-FES for 26 years, sold it to the Swift Cormmunications, which continued to operate the newspaper in the building until moving to new quarters on the Reno Highway about two years ago.

We then sold the building to Fallon businessman Scott Tate, and he graciously offered to remove the beautiful, hand-carved wooden sign adorning the front of the building and present it to us.

Alas, the sign fell to pieces in the process.

I still have sentimental feelings for that sign that said “Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard,” and as I drive across Nevada, I see that countless other, long-standing iconic signs which graced the outsides of office buildings, casinos, hotels, motels and restaurants are also “missing in action.”

A few of the older signs, thankfully, still remain.

Two of them are in downtown Fallon, and they are to be found, coincidentally, on another newspaper building ... the old Fallon Eagle building at the southeast corner of Williams Avenue and Maine Street One of the signs is actually part of the building’s original brickwork. The other is a neon sign attached to the building’s side that fronts Williams Ave.

One of my favorite Nevada signs, sadly, is long gone. It was the “Two Stiffs Motor Court” sign that hung on the side of the motel in downtown Lovelock for countless years. The huge sign featured two men dangling by their necks from ropes while being hanged. In actuality, a family named Stiff owned the motel! Although the motel offices and most of the cabins were torn down ages ago, a few of the cabins and garages are still standing at the rear of the site.

In Reno, many signs that represented a bygone era also are long-gone. One of these is the famous Reno arch that proclaimed “Reno ... The Biggest Little City in the World.” Erected in 1926 at the corner of Virginia St. and Commercial Row, it was torn down and replaced with more modern-looking signs in the early 1960s and again in the late 1990s. The now-demolished Mapes Hotel in Reno had a wonderful sign on its rooftop that depicted two cowboys dancing above a large “M.” Other long-time Reno retro signs that I remember adorned the long-gone Parker’s Western Wear, Holiday Hotel and the Harold’s and Nevada clubs.

A wonderful Art Deco sign sat on the roof of the now-extinct Deux Gros Nez coffee shop that occupied the second floor of a building on California Street in Reno. The café, which closed about seven years ago, had excellent food at reasonable prices, and its name lives on because, for some strange reason, Deux Gros Nez (which means “two big noses” in French) is the name of an annual Reno bicycle race.

I and I am sure some readers of this column will remember the now-extinct Burma Shave signs that dotted America’s landscape for many years. Advertising the Burma Shave brushless shaving cream, the signs began to sprout alongside America’s roads in the mid 1920’s, and they lasted until the company went out of business in the early 1960s. The signs consisted of consecutive sets of six billboards placed about 100 feet apart. Each individual sign contained two or three words of a message that continued on to the next, and then the next., etc. sign.

I recall one of the sets of signs. Spread out over six billboards, it read: “The bearded lady tried a jar and now she’s a famous movie star. Burma Shave.”

A few weeks ago, Ludie and I were in Las Vegas where we visited the Neon Sign Museum at the corner of Bonanza Road and Las Vegas Boulevard across the street from the Mormon Fort State Park.

About 130 of Las Vegas’ most treasured and historic hotel, motel and casino signs are displayed at the outdoor museum which occupies a massive fenced-in parking lot that is part of the long-closed La Concha Motel. The museum office and gift shop are located in the former motel’s clamshell-shaped lobby and main building, and visitors may wander about alone or take tours of the rusting but fascinating old signs that once were attached to such hotels and casinos as the Sahara, Stardust, Hacienda, Silver Slipper, Barbary Coast, Tropicana, Binnion’s Horseshoe Club, Desert Inn and Moulin Rouge.

Our late wooden newspaper sign certainly couldn’t match the brilliance, shapes and sizes of Las Vegas’ flashing incandescent and candy-colored neon billboards, but I truly miss it. It was classy and beautiful, and a wave of nostalgia washes over me when I drive past our former building on North Maine Street.

David. C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the LVN.


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