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A mansion once again alongside 395

Becky Bosshart
Appeal Staff Writer

STEAMBOAT VALLEY – On 20 rural acres abutting a busy highway, a former professional basketball player and his family have restored a piece of Nevada history to its glory.

But they’re not history buffs. David Wood has a vision for the land that started with renovating a 1875 mansion once occupied by a Nevada governor. He would like to build on the green hills behind the home.

Yes, the noise from the highway is bad, but that won’t matter much in a few years when the freeway is built, taking traffic off the heavily traveled Highway 395, he said.

Interstate 580 from the Mount Rose Highway to north Washoe Valley will be completed by 2009, according to the Nevada Department of Transportation.

After playing 16 years with European teams and the NBA, Wood played with the Bulls alongside Michael Jordan, he has focused on real estate investing. The purchase is an opportunity that he believes will increase in value once the freeway connects between Reno and Carson City.

“History wasn’t our motivation, but now that we’ve done it, it was a labor of love,” Angie Wood said.

The Woods purchased 20205 S. Highway 395 for $1 million in February, which included 19.5 acres. The additional renovation investment: $400,000.

“It would’ve been $600,000, but we did a lot of the work ourselves,” Wood said.

The 131-year-old mansion is the former home of Nevada Gov. John Sparks. It’s an impressive edifice for thousands of passing commuters, even when it’s crumbling, creaking and covered with out-of-season Christmas decorations, which the prior owner was known to do. The ranch home has an asymmetrical facade and bay window, plus classical elements like columns and arched openings.

He is still deciding on what to do with the remaining acreage. Wood has drawn out plans to build a road on the property and possibly construct homes on a one-acre site along it. He said they could sell the mansion in about three years, making them eligible for a tax credit. Angie Wood said this is all under discussion. They could also keep the land and sell it later on.

In its prime, the four-bedroom, 6,000-square-foot mansion was known as the Alamo Ranch house, because Gov. Sparks had a high regard for those who defended the Alamo, Angie Wood said. Sparks died in the home in 1908, possibly in what’s now the Woods’ bedroom.

Troubles of all sizes have confronted the Woods in the last year: Muddy lawn with no cement. Barn owl in the house. Squirrels running lose in the house. One ate their bird. Living without a kitchen when it was getting gutted. Out-of-date interior decoration. The constant sound of traffic whizzing by on Highway 395.

“The hardest part is trying to live in a house while it’s getting renovated,” Angie Wood said.

It’s enough to make a 6-foot-9-inch man slouch a bit lower – especially if he’s stooping under the second-floor door frames, which were built in 1875.

The first thing a visitor notices after stepping over the wide threshold is the sunlit original oak floors inlaid with mahogany, which the Woods said they are happy to have saved.

After about a year of work, they are down to a list of about 19 “need-to-do” items. They’ve still got a wild lawn that needs landscaping. The Woods retained the top of the old ranch water tower, the rest was structurally unsound, to use as a guest house, if the county building department allows them.

The conservatory was updated into the computer network room, complete with a tile fountain and a cupid statuette. The fountain isn’t working yet. Angie said that will come after her fireplace project is completed. She’s piecing together the watercolor tile facade of the family-room fireplace.

One thing the house couldn’t be complete without: three regulation-sized basketball hoops in the detached garage, just perfect for Wood to shoot the “NBA three” from 24 feet.

• Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.

A brief history of the Sparks Mansion

• Jason C. Smith built the home in 1875 on South Virginia Street and Peckham Lane, back when that was five miles south of Reno. It’s described in historical record as “one of the nicest dwelling houses in Washoe County,” according to the Daily Nevada State Journal, Aug. 5, 1875.

• John Sparks, a Texas cattle farmer, purchased the home in 1887 for $15,000 with 320 acres and without hay and livestock, according to the Reno Evening Gazette. At that time it was three miles outside Reno. Sparks was governor from 1903-1908. He died in the home on May 22, 1908.

• The property passed to a bank in Reno, was then purchased by Joe Miller, of Austin, who then sold the buildings and some acreage to Dr. George H. Thomas for $80,000.

• The home was purchased in May 1911 by William Henry Moffat, a rancher.

• Lincoln Fitzgerald, a casino owner and former mob figure in Detroit, purchased it in 1962 for $500,000.

• Raul and Leslie Hernandez bought it in 1978. The home was then moved from Reno to the southwest corner of Steamboat Valley. Its former location is covered by the Atlantis parking lot.

• Bought by Maxine Woolman, who sells it to David and Angie Wood in February. The home will be featured on KNPB’s “House with a History” in the fall.

– Sources: State archivist Guy Rocha, the National Register of Historic Places Inventory documentation