Walking beyond downtown Reno’s concrete and neon | NevadaAppeal.com

Walking beyond downtown Reno’s concrete and neon

The Washoe County Courthouse, built from 1909 and 1911, is one of Reno’s most significant historic civic buildings.
PHOTO BY RICH MORENO |

Behind downtown Reno’s concrete and neon are a few places that prove that it’s still possible to find traces of the old town that was founded by Myron Lake in 1868.

This week, we’re continuing a look at Reno’s historic sites, as described in the city of Reno’s walking tour brochure, available online at http://www.reno.gov/home/showdocument?id=26284.

Our next stop is Reno’s former downtown post office, on the corner of South Virginia and Mill streets, which was built between 1931 and 1934. Designed by famed Reno architect Frederick DeLongchamps, this attractive Art Deco-style building (now being turned into commercial space) is sleek and elegant.

The post office boasts a pale green terra cotta exterior designed to resemble quarried stone and incorporates Native American motifs in the interior (on aluminum panels). It functioned as Reno’s main post office until 1975 and ceased being used a postal facility in 2012.

Nearby is the Washoe County Courthouse, which remains one of Reno’s grandest civic structures. Built from 1909 to 1911, it was designed by famed Nevada architect Frederick J. DeLongchamps in a Classical Revival style.

Across Virginia Street is the striking Pioneer Theater, a more modern-looking structure erected in 1967. The structure, which has a distinctive gold geodesic roof, is considered a good example of modern architectural styles.

About a block east via Mill Street is the former Reno Arch. First erected at Virginia Street and Commercial Row in 1926, the span didn’t originally sport “Biggest Little City in the World” on its facing. That famous slogan was added to the arch in 1935.

The steel and neon gateway remained at its original location until it was replaced by another Reno arch in 1963.

Over the years, it was placed in Idlewild Park, Paradise Park and in storage. In 1994, it was shined up and mounted on East 4th Street as a prop for a movie (“Cobb”), then moved to its present home in front of the National Automobile Museum in 1995.

If you head west via Mill Street, South Virginia and Court streets, you reach the next stop, which is the Lake Mansion. Originally located on the corner of South Virginia and Arlington Avenue, the mansion, built in 1877 and later owned by Reno founder Myron Lake, was moved to its present location in 2004.

From here, the walk heads northwest to the imposing First Church of Christ Scientist (501 Riverside Dr.), a neoclassic building erected in 1938 and designed by noted California architect Paul R. Williams. In 1998, it was purchased by a Reno theater coalition and converted into the Lear Theater.

To the east of the theater is the next stop, the 20th Century Club (335 West 1st Street), an unusual brick structure built in 1925 for the first women’s club in Reno.

Up the street is the First United Methodist Church (201 West1st St.), which was one of Reno’s first poured concrete buildings. The church, built in 1925, is designed in a Gothic Revival style that incorporates the shape of a cross in its floor plan.

Our next stop is the Colonial Apartments/Vintage House (corner of West and West 1st). Erected in 1907, this brick structure was the city’s first large apartment house. It was built and owned by C.E. Clough, owners of Reno’s first power company, Sparks’ original water system and a brick company.

About a block away is the St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral, rectory and school, a complex of buildings erected between 1907 and 1931. Across the street from the church is the El Cortez Hotel (239 West 2nd), another Ferris-designed structure that was built in 1931.

The El Cortez is one of my favorite old Reno buildings because of its unique Art Deco style. I’ve always admired the ornate terra cotta designs above the window openings, around the entrance and on the border between the second and third floors.

The final spot on the walking tour is the Hughes/Lane Building at 252 West 1st St., built in 1941. Over the years it was expanded (in the late 1940s) with the extension incorporating elements of the International Style of architecture, and partially demolished (in the 1970s, when the city tore down part of it as part of a Truckee River beautification project).

What remains of the original building is now part of the commercial district lining 1st Street along the river in the downtown district.

For more information about Reno’s rich history, check out the Reno Historical web site at http://renohistorical.org/.

Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.