Carson City’s historic Laxalt Building still conjures memories
April 26, 2018
The wood-paneled courtroom is quiet now, but in 1895 it buzzed with excitement as Judge Thomas P. Hawley began presiding over the trials of three former employees of the U.S. Mint in Carson City.
The three were eventually convicted of skimming more than $75,000 from mint vaults. The federal case was a sensation because it exposed the procedure known as "sweating," a method of illegally removing gold from an ingot and replacing it with less-valuable copper. Additionally, during the trials it came out the attorney for one of the defendants had paid a witness not to appear.
The courtroom where those trials and many others took place is located on the second floor of the former U.S. Post Office and Federal Courthouse in downtown Carson City.
In 2000, the old federal building became the home of the Nevada Commission on Tourism and Nevada Magazine and was renamed the Paul Laxalt State Office Building, in honor of former Nevada Senator and Governor Paul Laxalt, who grew up in Carson City.
The Victorian-style building, which cost $134,605 when it was built in 1891, was designed by Mifflin E. Bell, a prominent 19th-century government architect who also designed post offices in Pittsburgh and Brooklyn. As with many of his other structures, Bell included a unique three-faced clock in a tower on the building's northwest corner.
When it opened, the red-brick and yellow-sandstone building housed a post office, courts, the U.S. Weather Bureau, and other federal agencies. Later, the building had Carson City's first elevator, a three-story model that was installed in 1935.
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The last court case was heard in the building in 1965, after which the federal court moved to Reno. The post office moved to new quarters in Carson City in 1970. A few years later, the Nevada State Library moved into the building and remained there until the early 1990s.
If you get a chance to tour the renovated building, you can still find reminders of previous occupants. In the clock tower, which is reached only by a ladder, visitors have written names and dates on a brick windowsill. The clock, which also has been refurbished, plays chimes on the hour.
Other unusual aspects of the building include several walk-in vaults, where money and records were once stored. Also, an office to the south of the courtroom has a mystery door high on one wall near the ceiling. There's no evidence of stairs to the door, which leads to a small storeroom, and no one is certain why the storeroom is there.
Nevada Magazine's editorial, advertising, and circulation offices are housed on the first floor of the building. The Nevada Commission on Tourism staff is located on the building's second, third, and fourth floors.
Not surprisingly, the centerpiece of the building, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is the restored second floor courtroom, now a meeting room. The courtroom's wooden wall panels, moldings, and doors have been carefully repainted in a faux-style that duplicates the original wood grain and color.
Judge Hawley would probably feel right at home.