After acquiring land from Myron Lake, the man who owned nearly all of the property in the middle of the Truckee Meadows, for a depot and to develop a community, on May 9, 1869, the Union Pacific Railroad auctioned 400 town lots, some for as much as $1,000.
As far away as San Francisco, newspapers reported the opening of the new railroad town, which was named Reno to honor of Gen. Jesse Lee Reno, a hero for the Union who was killed at the battle of Fox’s Gap in Maryland during the Civil War.
As for Lake, he continued developing his holdings and growing wealthier — although he was not particularly well-liked or respected because of the stinginess of his business practices.
In 1879, after his wife filed for divorce, he tried to win her back by buying an elegant Italianate-style two-story, six-bedroom mansion, originally built in 1877 by Washington J. Marsh, located on the northwest corner of South Virginia Street and California Avenue.
He offered it to Jane, who had custody of his only son, while he would remain living at the Lake House. Apparently suspecting that to accept the house might be seen as another attempt at reconciling with her husband, Jane declined ownership of the property.
During the divorce proceedings, Lake argued that Jane played no role in his financial success. He said the source of his wealth could be traced to investments he made prior to marrying her so she wasn’t entitled to any of the proceeds.
In April 1881, the divorce was granted based on grounds of cruelty. Jane was awarded alimony of $250 a month and custody of Charlie. The court, however, ruled that Lake could keep all of his property and other holdings.
In 1884, Lake, who remarried a year earlier, suddenly died at the age of 56. Following a lengthy court battle, his ex-wife was awarded the big mansion on California Avenue while his widow, son and other family members received the rest of the estate.
Jane Lake resided in the Lake Mansion with her mother and several other family members until 1902, when she sold it to a Reno jeweler, Otto Herz, and his wife, who would live in it for the next four years.
In 1906, the Herz family sold the mansion to a successful cattle and sheep rancher named Olin Ward and his wife, Viola. The Wards and members of their family would live in the rambling house until 1928, when it was sold to hotel and casino operator Felix Turrillas and his wife, Agueda.
For the next 40 years, the Turrillas family resided in the mansion. In the early 1970s, after Felix and Agueda had passed away, a savings and loan company leased the land and announced plans to demolish the 94-year-old landmark.
Following community outcry, the mansion was donated to Washoe Landmark Preservation, Inc., which was able to arrange for it to be moved to Reno-Sparks Convention Center (then known as the Centennial Coliseum) property on South Virginia Street and Kietzke Lane.
From 1971 to 2004, it served as offices for the convention center. However, in 2004, center leadership decided it needed the land on which the house sat for an expansion project. The mansion, now owned by the city of Reno, was again moved, this time to 250 Court St., a couple of blocks from where it originally stood.
Since then, it has served as home of Very Special Arts of Nevada, or VSA, a nonprofit arts education agency. Three years later, VSA, which is now known as Arts for All Nevada, assumed ownership of the mansion, which hosts dozens of arts workshops and camps for children and adults each year.
For information about the Lake Mansion and its current mission, go to www.artsforallnevada.org. Another excellent source of information about both Myron Lake and the Lake Mansion is Patty Cafferata’s “Lake Mansion, Home to Reno’s Founding Families,” which is available in local bookstores or online.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.