Last week we ended our column about the Mapes Hotel with a description of its manager, Walter Ramage. Walter was the premier hotelier of all time in the Biggest Little City. He would have been at home running a hotel in any of the major cities in the country including New York and Chicago.
At the Mapes, standing ramrod straight, Ramage cruised every square inch of the building on a daily basis. Once, shortly after I moved my office to the hotel, I accompanied him on what he called his “inspection tour”. We started in the boiler room, where you could literally eat off the floor and subsequently visited every department on the hotel and checked every nook and cranny. I was especially impressed that we walked up to the Sky Room and then rode the elevator down. Figuring he was somewhere between 50 and 70 years of age, I asked him why we didn’t reverse the procedure. His response was, “Son, I’ll do about sixteen hours in this building today and this is the only time I have to exercise.” Other than that first time, I don’t recall ever accompanying him again.
Ramage did two stints at the Mapes, in between serving as manager of the prestigious San Francisco Press Club (the main reason that the Mapes became the darling of the Bay Area media). His métier was never equaled at the hotel although we had a string of highly qualified managers that included the ubiquitous Arthur Allen, Joe New (who once approached Charles Mapes with the idea of adding “New” to the hotel’s name so that it could be called the New Mapes hotel. I don’t recall seeing Joe around much longer after that meeting), Harold Baker and Gordon Hooley among others.
Since Ramage demanded so much of himself in fulfilling his post, the pride and “work ethic” extended to other department heads. Adeline Murphy, who ruled the roost of the popular Coffee Shop, was probably the most visible and well-known employee – particularly to the locals who frequented her domain – It was said she pulled a twenty-four hour shift and I don’t think it was said in jest.
The hotel always had the top chef in town. The consensus of most town folk was that this was indeed true since eating well was one of the owner’s proclivities.
That owner was the redoubtable Charles Mapes. A native son, he took one of the biggest gambles ever seen in this gambling town when, in his twenties, he spearheaded a project so large that it defied the imagination of most locals. Postwar America was a little scary in 1947. Somehow, World War II had snatched the country out of the Depression, but no one could foresee what was on the horizon. The great mass emigration to the West Coast was only beginning. California was still a state of large farms and orange groves. Industry was fitful at best, since most of the California plants and shipyards had been built to produce war materials. Dwight Eisenhower had yet to offer his plan for freeways and superhighways across the nation and the torturous trip from Reno to San Francisco over narrow Highway 40 took longer than a quick run to Los Angeles via almost empty 395.
So it was with little wonder that the business community looked askance at a local hotel the size of the Mapes. From where would the customers come? Well, they came – mostly by train – a few by cars and even fewer by plane and bus. But they came nonetheless and they filled the Mapes and its fame spread to the four corners of the earth.
Thus was the dream of a young Charles Mapes fulfilled.
Back to the hotel:
The 24-hour coffee shop in the Mapes was well-abetted by the elegant Terrace Room Bar and Restaurant which featured almost floor to ceiling windows, through which diners were afforded a pleasing view of the Truckee River. In 1957, when the windows were covered over with a glass-bottle configuration to go with the décor of the remodeled and renamed Coach Room, the reaction of patrons was mixed. I remember well seeing the ever-present Ramage having his dinner served at the small “deuce” table on the landing that separated the lower and upper levels of the Terrace Room or taking lunch at his tiny corner booth in the coffee shop that had a commanding view of First Street, which he called his “cat bird” seat.
(Author’s note: The Mapes story will continue next week. The iconic hotel was probably the most elegant edifice ever constructed in the Truckee Meadows. Although small in comparison to today’s massive structures, it was still the most photographed building in recent history.)