The Nevada Traveler

On the trail of George Wingfield

Photo from the 1930s of the Reno National Bank on the corner of Second and Virginia streets in downtown Reno, which was built by George Wingfield in 1915.

Photo from the 1930s of the Reno National Bank on the corner of Second and Virginia streets in downtown Reno, which was built by George Wingfield in 1915.

In the 1920s and ‘30s, banker George Wingfield was the richest person in the Silver State, a man who was sometimes called “The King of Nevada.”
While today it’s largely historians or old-timers who recall his enormous influence on the state’s economy and politics, a handful of places associated with Wingfield remain standing.
George Wingfield was born on Aug. 16, 1876, near Fort Smith, Ark., but raised in Lake County, Ore., near the Oregon-Nevada border. Wingfield’s father operated a cattle ranch and, after completing the eighth grade in Lakeview, the younger Wingfield began working as a cowhand, a sometime gambler, and occasional horse jockey.
In 1896, Wingfield moved to Nevada, first to Winnemucca, where he apparently befriended banker George S. Nixon. Two years later, he moved to Golconda, where he operated a saloon, races horses, gambled and prospected.
In 1901, Wingfield relocated to the mining boomtown of Tonopah, where he, again, made his living as a gambler and, with his winnings, invested in real estate. A year later, he began to act as a representative for Nixon, who was looking for investment opportunities, particularly in mining claims.
The Wingfield-Nixon partnership really took root after 1904, when Wingfield headed to the new mining boomtown of Goldfield. There, the two successfully invested in mining claims, businesses, banking and real estate opportunities.
Within a few years, both were multi-millionaires, who controlled nearly all of the mining operations in Goldfield. It’s been estimated that Wingfield was worth between $20 million and $30 million by the time he was 30 years old.
In 1909, Wingfield, sensing that Reno was soon to become the largest and most important city in the state, relocated to the Biggest Little City. He would remain living in Reno until his death in 1959.
At that time, he and Nixon, who became a U.S. senator from Nevada, ended their partnership, with Nixon taking control of the banks and Wingfield assuming sole control of their mining, real estate and other investments.
With Nixon’s death in 1912, Wingfield purchased Nixon’s banking interests and began buying up many of the other banks in the state. By 1932, he owned 12 banks and controlled more than half of all the deposits in the state. He also owned two hotels in Reno (the Golden, purchased in 1915, and the Riverside, which he built in 1927), ranching operations throughout the state, a thoroughbred horse farm, and the state’s only bonding company.
In the early 1930s, the start of the Great Depression, Wingfield’s banks began to suffer massive losses. By 1935, he had lost a substantial part of his holdings and filed for bankruptcy protection.
But later that year, a good friend, Noble Getchell, a mine owner and state senator from Lander County, invited Wingfield to partner with him in developing a new mine near Golconda. The mine proved to be everything that Getchell and Wingfield hoped and by 1941 it was the largest gold producing mine in the state and within a few years (after World War II) Wingfield was again a wealthy man.
Retracing Wingfield’s steps across Nevada, one can still find places closely associated with him. One of the most impressive is the still-standing four-story Goldfield Hotel, which he constructed in 1908.
The hotel, in the center of the former mining town, has been closed since the end of World War II, although several more recent owners have unsuccessfully attempted to restore and reopen it.
Another Wingfield touch-point is the former Reno National Bank building at 206 N. Virginia St. in Reno. Built in 1915 by Wingfield and designed by famed Reno architect Frederic DeLongchamps, the building became part of the Harrah’s resort property in the 1980s.
More recently, it has been vacant with new owners still determining what to do with the distinctive Classical Revival structure.
The Riverside Hotel at 17 S. Virginia St. in Reno, built by Wingfield in 1927, also remains intact. No longer a hotel, it was renovated and converted to artist lofts in 2000. The Golden Hotel, however, was destroyed in a fire in 1962.
Wingfield Park, which sits in the middle of the Truckee River in downtown Reno, was built on land donated to the city by Wingfield. Another of his longtime properties, Spanish Springs Ranch, is gone, having been replaced after 1995 by a 400-home subdivision (Redhawk at Wingfield Springs).
The site of Wingfield longtime home at 219 Court St. in Reno is, sadly, a vacant lot. The home, once listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1912. Unfortunately, it burned down in 2001.
Rich Moreno writes about the places and people that make Nevada special.


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