Let the Liberty Belle ring
December 5, 2002
We may be saying farewell today to another Northern Nevada landmark, the Liberty Belle Saloon and Restaurant in Reno, where the owners are being asked to get out of the way of progress.
For 44 years, brothers Marshall and Frank Fey have been operating the restaurant and collecting bits and pieces of Nevada history.
Perhaps the most significant are the slot machines built by their grandfather, Charles Fey, who pioneered the three-reel mechanical machine in San Francisco on 1899 and called it the Liberty Bell.
Forty-four years is too young to be considered a historical site, and some people would question whether an Old West theme restaurant from the 1950s is worth making a fuss over. But it does pre-date by six years the Reno-Sparks Convention Center, which recently expanded and wants to shove the Liberty Belle off its doorstep.
In our opinion, the argument has little to do with historical significance or sentimental attachment — although we’re certainly in favor of preserving as much of Northern Nevada’s flavor as possible.
The key factor is the Feys don’t want to sell and don’t want to move. Nobody should be able to force them.
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The visitors’ convention board is threatening to use eminent domain powers to condemn the property.
What an abuse of authority. How can it be in the public interest for a government-backed tourism operation to kick out a privately owned tourist-related business?
There’s no compelling reason the convention board needs that property — particularly not right now. If they’d like to buy it in 10 years, 20 years, 50 years, let them keep making offers. Maybe the Feys will see one they like.
If a condemnation lawsuit does go to court, we’d like to see a judge with enough gumption to throw it out. Eminent domain is for highways, water lines and sewer plants. It’s not for a tourism board to bust up a business because they’d don’t like its location.
We’ve seen too many of Nevada’s treasures turned into dust for spurious reasons. Maybe the Liberty Belle will ring in a new era of recognizing the value of old eras.
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