History buffs at the October meeting of the G.O.D. (Good Old Days) Club were treated to an informative review entitled, “The Genesis of Reno”, the history of the Riverside Hotel and the Virginia Street Bridge. The presenter was one Jack Harpster, who authored his new book of the same name.
Harpster, who is a fastidious researcher, highlighted the various sections of his work verbally while using a Power Point presentation to illustrate many of the key events. For those who do not know the story of the bridge and hotel, Harpster took his listeners back to the very earliest manifestations of the two iconic structures.
It began with the original time when an individual named Myron Lake owned both the bridge and hotel and it was named Lake’s Crossing. This was long before the name “Reno” was given to the tiny hamlet. At that time, the bridge itself was a toll bridge with the money collected going into Lake’s pocket. The bridge was a very active locale since most of the traffic was headed south to supply a much larger Virginia City.
Through the years, both the hotel and the bridge have seen many transformations. The most recent for the hotel was when it was changed from a vibrant hotel casino into a series of artists’ lofts. When that conversion took place, the hotel itself was scaled back to much of its configuration that it had when it opened in May of 1927. The part that was removed was that which was added to the hotel in 1954, which consisted of additional rooms, a showroom, an outdoor swimming pool and a convention space called the Redwood Room. The reason for the expansion at that time was that it could more properly compete with its major adversary, the Mapes Hotel, which opened in 1947.
The recently completed version of the Virginia Street Bridge, which closely resembles the original, was designed to eliminate the substructure that caused problems whenever the Truckee River reached flood stage.
Harpster’s presentation was especially meaningful to the writer since I served as advertising agent, public relations man and publicity director for the Riverside in the late 1950’s. Also, prior to that, I conducted my first newspaper celebrity interview at the Riverside. The interviewee was Irish tenor singer, Dennis Day, who was a regular on the Jack Benny Show.
During my tenure at the Riverside, I recall working with some of the more notable show business celebrities such as Jimmy Durante, Sophie Tucker, Kay Starr, Ted Lewis, Ann-Margret and Wayne Newton. My favorite act happened to be a young comedy duo that was listed on the marquis as a third act under the name Rowan and Martin. It was long before they achieved international fame with their “Laugh In” TV show. I recall many photo shoots with the two in promoting the Riverside. Since they had also been newspaper men prior to their comedic turn, I spent many friendly sessions with them in their dressing room between shows.
During those halcyon days of the Riverside, the building was owned by Roy Crummer, the hotel was managed by Lee Frankovich, Buster McClure was assistant manager and Virgil Smith ran the casino and showroom.