Taking a tour around Reno today, downtown, the Virginia Street corridor, Fourth Street, one can understand why the New York Times and Los Angeles Times ran the articles they did. Someone has a very good memory.
It wasn’t that many years ago that Reno was home to major showrooms, big gaudy casinos, nightlife that extended past sunrise, and a plethora of the world’s finest entertainers. Or, you know, maybe it was many years ago. Today, we have climbing walls that are supposed to draw thousands? As Sammy Davis did? We have white water that is supposed to draw thousands? As Liberace did?
Ed Ames, Burl Ives, Sammy, Lee, Jimmy Durante, Rowan and Martin, Red Skelton, my goodness, these major superstars in the late 1950s and through the 1960s, even into the early 1970s, came to town for two week stints, two shows a night, dark one night a week, and the rooms were full.
Men wore coats and ties, women wore cocktail dresses, lines formed after the cocktail show at places like Kiah’s Squeeze Inn for early breakfast, and the party continued, maybe on the second floor at Harold’s, or the Basque Bar at John Ascuaga’s Nugget, after some oyster stew at John’s Oyster Bar. Nothing wrong with a visit with Jack Joseph on the air live from the Waldorf.
Reno was a 24-hour town with the Riverside, Holiday Hotel, and Stein’s vying for the lunch and afternoon crowds, Charley Mapes enticing the early evening business crowd, and the Sword Room lively with sales people all the time. Deals were made, broken, hearts were a-flutter, and casino operators stood by while the giants of the Indian nations put together casinos to rival those in the Biggest Little City in the World.
I was a part of that era, first as a radio type at the original KOH, an NBC affiliate, and did many interviews of major stars, like Cosby, Skelton, Liberace for NBC Monitor, a nationwide program with millions of listeners. Then, I moved to John Ascuaga’s Nugget as publicity director and worked with Jim Thompson, the entertainment director and Fred Davis the public relations director. Yes, Virginia, I worked with Bertha and Tina, sat in on rehearsals of the major stars, quipped and joked and laughed with Debbie Reynolds and Burl Ives. It was an incredible time.
The only casinos left from the glory days are Harrah’s, Cal Neva, and the Nugget. Sil Petrocini’s Palace Club is gone, Harold’s, Holiday, Riverside, Fitzgerald’s, Golden, all gone, along with the glitter and glitz, the real and the phony. Card sharks and card counters are seldom seen, the guy with C notes showing in a brocade vest is gone, the lovely show girl with legs that long, is gone.
One won’t lose the beauty of the old neighborhoods, the magnificent Sierra Nevada as a backyard, the Truckee River meandering through town, those and our memories are all that’s left of the old Reno, and the new has little if any glitz and glamour. When comparing then and now, then wins, and those of us that were part and parcel of then will never forget.
It’s the now that needs help. Reno is no longer filled with bright lights and world class entertainment, but for some, there is enough grit left to keep the old girl alive, with manufacturing, with high tech, with transportation, and of course, with outdoor activities in the mountains, lakes, and rivers. New, young, active leaders need to step forward, not with political ambitions, but with ideas and desire to make the town alive and keep it well. Is bigger better? Many today don’t think so. Make what exists better, make it shine in the eyes of those that live here.
Well, that’s enough for now. Remember to read good books and stay regular.