Aside from its roots as a center for gambling, Reno's past is not a major point of interest, especially for tourists from out of state. But Reno and its neighbors have played key parts in the silver rush, casino-style entertainment and divorce culture for the better part of a century.
For those so inclined, many landmarks still remain to be discovered. Here are a few of the most historically significant structures, as recommended by the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority.
Former sites of the Mapes and Harolds Club hotels (10 N. Virginia St. and 234 N. Virginia St.): Currently the site of a bustling open-air plaza, 10 N. Virginia St. once hosted the Mapes, the first combined hotel-casino in Nevada. Built in 1947, it became a model for the modern gambling-oriented complex, and the Mapes' renowned Sky Room drew some of the biggest entertainers of its day, like Sammy Davis, Jr. and Marilyn Monroe.
A few blocks north, visitors can find the former site of the Harolds Club of the famous "Harolds Club or Bust" advertising campaign. This forefather of the state's gambling scene broke new ground with billboards along America's busiest highways. In its time, the campaign rivaled most other national campaigns for exposure.
A well-known mural of a pioneer scene was added to the club in 1949, reflecting America's pioneering spirit. The mural was saved, and this depiction of Nevada's rich history is on display at the Livestock Events Center, 1350 N. Wells Ave., on the south side of the main arena building.
Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts (100 S. Virginia St.): Another example of forward-thinking architecture can be seen at the Pioneer Theater. Opened in 1968 and designed to look like a bird swooping to the ground with its wings spread, the 140-foot diameter geodesic dome pays homage to Buckminster Fuller's geodesic dome. Today, it is a focal point of Reno's Truckee River Arts District and a key center for Reno's cultural expansion in the last 40 years.
Nevada Historical Society (1650 N. Virginia St.): Established in 1904, this is Nevada's oldest museum. The Shepperson Gallery features the periods and themes of Nevada history Visit the "Neon Nights" exhibit, which focuses on Nevada's sin industries. As part of its efforts, the Society also maintains a unique research library, which is open to the public from noon-4 p.m., Tuesday-Saturday.
Truckee River crossing (S. Virginia St. at the Truckee River): The Washoe County Courthouse is the third courthouse for Washoe County (one of the original nine counties in the Nevada territory established in 1861). Designed by Nevada State Architect, Frederic DeLongchamps, the courthouse was completed in 1911. Its busiest days came during the 1930s, when nearly 33,000 divorces were granted inside.
The nearby Riverside Hotel took full advantage of the booming divorce business, opening in 1927 - the same year the residency requirement before divorce was cut from six to three months. DeLongchamps designed the hotel for George Wingfield, a legendary Nevada power broker whose name remains attached to Reno's main riverfront park. The Riverside was known as one of the town's swankiest hotels and had an excellent reputation among divorce seekers. Reno scenes in Clare Boothe Luce's play "The Women" are set at the Riverside, and it was featured in many other novels and movies about the Reno divorce trade.
Built in 1905, the Virginia Street Bridge itself was designed by John B. Leonard of San Francisco, a pioneer in reinforced concrete. The bridge is not only the site of C.W. Fuller's first crossing of the Truckee River, but also the site of a famous bit of local lore. According to legend, the newly divorced would kiss the courthouse columns, sweep past the Riverside Hotel to the Virginia Street Bridge and toss their wedding rings over the side into the Truckee's cold waters. It remains unclear if this was truly a common practice or simply a publicity stunt.
The two Reno arches (Virginia Street near Commercial Row, Lake Street near downtown): The original arch was built in 1899 to welcome soldiers back from the Spanish-American War. It was replaced in 1929 by one lit by individual light bulbs and bearing the city's current slogan "The Biggest Little City in the World," which dates back to 1910. That arch's replacement was installed in 1935 and was later moved to Lake Street, where it still stands. The modern arch, featuring neon and other modern effects, remains on Virginia Street after being installed in the mid-1900s.
The Cribs (Second St. and Wells Ave.): The remains of a brothel can be found among the trees near the Truckee River. Several brothels operated in Reno until 1942, when, under pressure from the Army, the city outlawed them. Legal brothels continue to operate in eight of Nevada's 17 counties, including nearby Storey County.>
El Cortez Hotel (239 W. Second St.): This Art Deco structure, designed by the firm of George Ferris and Son, was Reno's tallest building when it opened in 1931. It was built to accommodate anticipated divorce traffic when Reno's divorce law was liberalized. Business was so robust that the owner constructed an addition only one year later. The site remains popular for quinceaneras and other Latino cultural events.
Fleischmann Planetarium (University of Nevada, Reno campus near Virginia and 16th streets): The state's first facility to offer views of the heavens along with other atmospheric phenomena, the Fleischmann Planetarium sits at the edge of the University of Nevada, Reno campus. Designed by Reno architect Raymond Hellmann and built in 1963, it is an excellent example of post-modern architecture, characterized by space-age designs depicting motion such as boomerangs, flying saucers, atoms and parabola.
Southern Pacific Depot / Amtrak Station (135 E. Commercial Row): The current station is the third to stand on this site. The first was built in 1869 for the Central Pacific Railroad but was lost in the Great Reno Fire of 1879. A second building opened in 1889, but that too burned. A smaller structure was used until Southern Pacific took over Central Pacific and built the present station in 1925. This was the stopping point for divorce seekers from the east during Reno's divorce heyday, and along with the Lincoln Highway, one of the main routes into the city.
Article written by Matt Farley. Farley is a Nevada native who has worked for the Reno Gazette-Journal and Nevada Magazine and been syndicated by The Associated Press, Gannett News Service and the Las Vegas Review Journal.