Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Old Postcard Wednesday--Reno, Nevada, along Virginia Street

I will not go to Reno for the high school reunion this Friday and Saturday. And I am at peace with my decision.

Peace is what shines forth from this vintage postcard of my hometown. Of course I never saw it when it looked like this. There isn't a description on the back, but it appears that the Riverside Hotel pictured here is the building owned by a man named Harry Gosse that preceded the 1927 structure of great renown.
The Riverside Hotel sits on the exact location where Reno began in 1859. C.W. Fuller operated a log building here that provided food and shelter to gold-seekers who were passing through the area in the reverse gold rush called the "Rush to Washoe," spurred by the gold, and later silver, strikes of the famous Comstock Lode. Myron Lake owned the property from 1861 into the 1880s, running consecutive hotel businesses under the name Lake's House. After Lake's death, his daughter and son-in-law operated the hotel and renamed it the Riverside. A subsequent owner, Harry Gosse, converted the small frame building into a lavish brick hotel, retaining the name Riverside. This version of the Riverside Hotel was destroyed in a fire. Gosse intended to rebuild but was unable to finance the project and George Wingfield, Reno's most powerful man at the time, acquired the property.

Nevada's pre-eminent architect and former mining engineer Frederic DeLongchamps designed the 1927 version of the Riverside Hotel for George Wingfield. At six stories high, the Riverside was Reno's tallest building at the time of its construction. For the building's design, DeLongchamps employed the rich red brick, so common in Reno, with contrasting cream-colored Gothic Revival style terra cotta detailing. Situated as it is along the picturesque Truckee River, next to the Washoe County Courthouse, also designed by DeLongchamps, it is easy to see why the Riverside was Reno's most elegant and popular hotel. Following the passage of the liberal 1931 divorce law, George Wingfield installed an enormous roof sign advertising the hotel in glowing neon that was visible all over the Truckee Meadows. The Riverside had an international reputation and was mentioned in nearly all of the novels and films featuring Reno divorces.

-National Park Service (click for full article and photos of the hotel)

Reno was a quiet little city when I was a kid, but by the time I was a student at the University of Nevada, and attended a fraternity dance at the Riverside Hotel, the city was changing.... and it hasn't stopped growing since, to the point of now being totally unrecognizable to me in some areas.

The essence of Reno howls in the wind, though, possibly hoping to reclaim the valley sometime in the far future. After all, nothing lasts forever, including the casino-hotel monstrosities piled along Virginia Street, creating of Reno what my friend bfk recently described as
a neon cesspit.

But I hold close to my heart the name that Walter Van Tilburg Clark gave it -- The City of Trembling Leaves -- when he wrote so lovingly (click) of the city that still shimmers today in filtered sunshine in old neighborhoods, along the Truckee River, and in city parks. One of those parks will welcome my 1969 classmates on Saturday. I'll be thinking of them from my quiet Oregon town and wishing them peace.



the watercats said...

That postcard is beautiful! and so is the idea of "the city of trembling leaves"... wouldn't it be fantastic if cities had names like this! That's why I love Irish place names, all of them break down from the Gealic into things like, 'the black town', 'the big fort', and the name of the area we live is Carrignagour.. or "rock of the goats", and the field in front of our house is known as the "hill of candles" (way back from before the famine when people began to turn the mountain into workable land).... It's a real shame when places become so changed, as your town has.... slowly, Ireland is becoming another 'Eurotrash' country, hopefully the recession will put a halt on the constant development and wiping out of individual town centres..

Looking to the Stars said...

I know you made the right decision. When peace rules the heart then light shines on the right path.
I've never known anyone from Reno. I found it fascinating reading about it. Your hometown has a lot of neat history.

La Belette Rouge said...

Peace is a wonderful feeling whether you have a to travel or stay at home to get it. Shimmering, trembling and howling winds. All of those words make me wonder if there is a dark story just waiting to be told that is on the other side of the neon cesspool. Enjoy your peace!

Lydia said...

@the watercats- The naming of places there reminds me of the way Native Americans named places and people. There is a real honor in that kind of naming. It kills me to think of Ireland going "Eurotrash." Not that I know exactly what Eurotrash really is, because I haven't visited yet, but I have an idea. Make your voices heard, spoken or musically, to protect what's there now!

@Looking to the Stars- Beautiful comments! Thank you. Reno really does have an interesting history and it's sad that more people aren't aware of it. Thanks for your interest.

@La Belette Rouge- I will enjoy the peaceful feeling I have after making my decision. I hate indecision, but the process is sometimes very eye-opening.
On the story...the only short story I ever wrote is situated in Reno and has some of those elements you mentioned.

cathwrynn said...

May I ask why you are not going?

I have a reunion coming up next year and I would love to get another perspective on making the decision.

Peacefulness is a great indicator of a decision well made. Congrats on making it!

Phivos Nicolaides said...

When I read RENO it's reminds me the name of our son RENOS!!

vicki archer said...

Lydia - your hometown postcard is so lovely and the description, 'The City of Trembling Leaves'
wonderfully romantic. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment at La Belette Rouge - I really appreciated it, xv.

Lydia said...

@cathwrynn- Boy, I'm not sure I'm the one to ask when it comes to deciding on a reunion. Basically, I never felt like going; whereas, for the 20th and 30th I had a real charged-up excitement to attend. I kept returning to that trepidation and ultimately went with it. It's not that Mike couldn't come, either, because I think I'd actually have had a better chance to have longer conversations with old friends if I'd been alone. I also found out last week that the count was 49, with few of the people I'd most want to see being among them. Last night I had an email from my friend on the committee, and she said the count was now at 80. So perhaps I will miss seeing some people I'd have loved to visit with. Even so, I still feel at peace!

@Phivos- It is indeed a very fun irony!

@vicky archer- Your guest post at La Belle Rouge was outstanding, as is the story of your life up to now! Thanks for stopping by; you are welcome anytime. :)

Darlene said...

You were wise to consider all of the pros and cons of attending the reunion. Once you have done that you know that you made the right decision.

I went through Reno once many, many years ago, but it was night and I just saw the Neon lights of the casinos.

bfk said...

Dear Lydia,
I am sorry you're not going to your reunion. Not for the fact that you won't be there or not for the fact that some people who do go there will miss you (terribly), but selfishly sorry since there won't be a story.

But there are other stories. There are always other stories. And you will tell them.

So tell me this, re: the Postcard. I'm trying to get grounded here. I'll take the Riverside Hotel as read. BUT if I do, where's the damn river??

We can't be looking "south" on Virginia, 'cause if we are the Riverside Hotel is on the wrong side of the street.

Since there is no "river" in the drawing it must be rather that we are on the South Side of the river, where the Riverside Hotel is (was), and therefore we are looking "east" on Mill Street.

A terrible artistic blunder, but speaking for the Graphic Arts Community: shit happens.

On the other hand, that doesn't seem right, either. For the only downtown city park is Wingfield Park, the one on the island, and therefore that would be BEHIND us and not in the picture.

Curiouser and curiouser.

Lydia, we are agreed that Reno has gotten worse. Which only goes to show that comparatives rule. Always.

But I must correct: I NEVER said Reno was "A Neon Cesspool" for a cesspool implies water, which Reno has very little of. The actual quote is: "Reno Is A Neon Cesspit."

Thank you. Your friend.
Accuracy in Media.


Lydia said...

@Darlene- I'm sorry you didn't see more of Reno when you were there.
If I hear stories of how marvelous the reunion was (to the point of making me perhaps regret my decision) I will simply commit to attending the 55th. :)

@bfk- I. am. so. sorry. As soon as I read you message I could "see" your original words in front of me. I felt horrible (well that may be a bit too strong of a word) to misquote you, because - obviously - I loved the quote, and I love the true quote all the more for your further reminder of Reno's lack of water. One Robert A. Hume, PhD, professor of English at UNR once said one parched summer (this is not a verbatim quote), "We residents of Reno have our water rationed in order for 3000 tourists to flush toilets in hotel rooms." I know he said this because my mother told me, and my mother was Dr. Hume's lover for years. (There is a story there, too.)

Now, as to where the Truckee River is in the old postcard. Yes, I noticed a lack of definition, and I wondered if over on the right side of the street it looks like bridge work but the artist didn't do the same on the left. Over there on the left there is actually a large enough space between the Riverside and that building north of it for a creek to be there, or at least my imagination makes it so. It is truly weird that the artist would not have emphasized the river and I think his use of artistic license would be cause for revoking said artistic license.

I honestly get very confused when I try to see this as looking east from Mill Street. It's so disturbing to think that's the view that I want to cry. :(

I want to pretend that we are looking north, that the Riverside is in its proper place, that the river is there but the artist didn't make nearly a large enough space between the hotel and the building to the north for the river to actually be and that he was an idiot to not draw a bridge there, that there was at that time a city park nearby the library and that the one bearing Wingfield's name may have been established in his honor later.

With all this in mind I'm thinking it is a pity I'm not going to be at the reunion, so that I could ask former classmates for their opinions of this postcard as well. I get kinda hysterical sitting here thinking how weird I'd seem if I could act serious and take it from person-to-person asking them to solve these problems. Except they would think that I had started drinking again. Which I have not. I'm just still crazy after all these years.....and so are you.

Your fond friend,

The Girl who sat to your right (or was it to your left) in 8th grade German class

Kim said...

The postcard on Old Postcard Wednesday is, as usual, gorgeous and thought-provoking.

I'm glad you are at peace with your decision to not go to the reunion. It's hard deciding those things.

Nancy said...

Nice post. I agree Reno has changed immensly. I feel so sad to see the Truckee Meadows look just like parts of California - just paved over. San Jose and Reno, two of the same coin, in my opinion. I guess that's why we live at Tahoe. Reno is just not my home anymore.

But we remember how it used to be, don't we? :-)

Lydia said...

@Kim- Thanks for appreciating it, as usual! It wasn't as weighty a decision as a recent one of yours, but I'm really ok with it.

@Nancy- I haven't been in San Jose for ages but now I have an image in my mind. That's a shame to hear.
No, Reno couldn't be my home anymore, either. Hometown, yes...home, no. And it's true that we remember it how it used to be and I'd love to go back in a time machine for just one day.

Hattie said...

Interesting reminiscences. Those of us who grew up in the West can all sing the same sad song, I guess.

Lydia said...

@Hattie- So true. And it's still growing. To what end, I wonder. My cousin and her husband camped at Glacier this summer so that she could know it before the glaciers disappear forever....



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