Plans to raze The Penguin, landmark in Carson City
November 16, 2002
The building that once housed The Penguin, a premiere spot for a hamburgers, shakes and fries in Carson City for decades, apparently is on its way to being razed in the name of progress for an expanded AM-PM Mini Mart.
The locally owned business served its last chocolate-dipped cone in December 1997 and has been boarded and empty ever since.
The small white building at 1003 N. Carson St., now replete with peeling paint, was the scene of some demolition activity this week, but it wasn’t clear when the building might come down.
BP West Coast Products, owners of the AM-PM just north of the building, owns the property, but phone calls to officials there were not returned.
“The planning department conducted a major project review a few months ago,” said Walt Sullivan, director of Carson City’s community development department. “They were looking at the possibility of taking the gas station and enlarging it to include the entire block. I don’t know if they are still entertaining that idea, but that was the conceptual plan at the time.”
Mercy Pyle, who worked at the business for 27 years and owned it for 20, said a gas station on that corner has been a tradition.
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“Mr. (Myron) Dressler said he started leasing the corner lot to Richfield in 1925,” she said. “There was evidently nothing on the opposite corner, where the Penguin was. That was built in the early 1950s. When we owned the Penguin, we used to asked him what he wanted for the land, but he wouldn’t sell. I think it was a nice income for him.”
Pyle started working there in the 1970s, after both daughters had worked there and moved on.
She said she loved the work. Many of Carson City’s renowned frequented the place and the job provided her with a social life.
Helaine Jesse, vice president of Institutional Advancement at Western Nevada Community College, trained Pyle. Jesse was a high school student at the time.
“The Polichio girls, five or six of them, all worked there and so many went on to do good things with their lives,” Pyle said. “I have a lot of nice memories. I miss that part.”
She said Justice of the Peace Robey Willis and local dentist Dr. Fred Young both frequented the place in their younger years. During Gov. Bob Miller’s administration in the 1980s, it wasn’t unusual to get a phone call from the mansion.
“Usually, Gov. Miller would pick the order up himself,” she said.
Business would slow down a little when a new franchise would move into town, but customers tended to be very loyal and soon returned.
People drove to Carson City from Fallon, Virginia City and Reno for orders. Pyle said her secret was simple, quality food — no artificial ingredients.
“Everybody liked Penguin hamburgers, but I miss the tacos,” she said. “I’m Mexican and I can honestly say, they don’t make tacos anywhere like we did, at the Penguin.”
It was a reunion, of sorts, Friday as Pyle joined Ann Petersen, her business partner for 19 years, in front of the old building for one more picture. The two joked about reopening the Penguin, but in the end both agreed that it was time for the old building to go.
“It’s deteriorating so badly, it makes me sad when I go by,” Pyle said. “It needs to be laid to rest.”
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