How Long?

So Saturday's RGJ announced that the University has received approval to move ahead with their plans for an 80,000-100,000-square-foot College of Business, which will be the "first building in the new Gateway District." The Gateway District is defined as that area between the I80 freeway north to the University gates on E. 9th Street. Ahem, excuse me! There are already buildings in this Gateway District—predominately late 19th century Victorians and other examples of early Reno architecture.

WC Fields as Micawber from the 1935 film David Copperfield

If you walk north on North Center Street beginning at Eighth Street and carefully keep your eyes averted to the left, it's easy to feel transported back to the early days of Reno. This block of homes has withstood fire, floods and earthquakes. The sidewalks may be cracked and here and there pushed up by tree roots but walking them, if you listen closely, you can hear the echoes of 120 years of footsteps behind you. Although built in a similar style, the homes are all unique in their ornamentation. My personal favorite is 829, with its whimsical tower. The tower window was for many years occupied by a poster of W. C. Fields with his trademark hat, cigar and scowling face. Walking to class in the early 1970s, even if I was worrying over an exam, I would always smile, glancing up at that face. It became a symbol for me of my college days. After graduating, I left Reno for two years. The first time I drove back to the campus, I took No. Center Street, looking for that landmark. He was still there. I truly felt as if I had come home. Many years later in speaking with owner Fred Atcheson, I asked him about the poster. He said the actor was his mother's favorite and it was her idea to give him that place of honor. It occupied that space for many years, finally becoming so tattered and faded it had to be removed. I miss seeing him but at least his tower window is still there and my memory fills in the rest. But for how long?

  • Gerda Von de Benda

    Important blog. Good place for history that doesn't fit elsewhere. Ms. Hinman is a treasure. How fortunate that she was born in Reno, and not in Kaloosa.

  • Sheila Callaghan

    I'm really happy to find your Historic Reno website! I was also born in Reno in the fifties, but my family moved to California in 1960. I still have happy memories of the way it was, though. I have a question I've been unable to resolve, in spite of extensive web searches. My family would occasionally visit Idlewild Park on summer evenings, and my sister and I would feed breadcrumbs to the ducks on the lakes. This would have been in the mid-1950's. I vaguely remember that there was also a small enclosure for live bears close by, in the park. I can't remember, though, if it was still in use, and had bears in it, or maybe something from the past. My recollection is that it was fairly small, maybe large enough for only a couple of bears. Does anyone remember this? My sister and I concur that we even called our visits "going to the ducky and bear house", so I know I'm not dreaming! I'm looking forward to having more time to peruse your site, and thanks for any info!

  • Debbie Hinman

    Sheila Callaghan

    There was actually a whole zoo at Idlewild Park in its early days (mid-20s into the 40s). It began with birds but soon expanded to include monkeys, deer, antelope, elk, buffalo and yes, bears. My understanding was that the whole zoo folded in the mid-to-late 1940s but maybe the bears were the last hold-outs. I asked Jerry Fenwick who has forgotten more than I'll ever know about Reno if he remembers a bear cage in the 50s. He doesn't but he was a teenager--he might not have paid attention. I would tend to trust your memory, though, especially as your sister remembers it also. It seems too specific a memory to not be true. Maybe someone else out there will know more? Anyway, thanks for finding us and here's hoping others will as well!

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