While perusing my copy of local author Jack Harpster’s most recent work entitled “The Genesis of Reno” the story of the Riverside Hotel and the Virginia Street Bridge, a flood of memories came back to me.
As I mentioned in a previous column, my first physical encounter in the hotel occurred when I interviewed Dennis Day. At the time, I was co-editor of the Nevada Register, a statewide weekly Catholic newspaper. A priest named Maurice Welsh and I were a two-man team that put the paper to print each week. Since our office was in the Chancery building, which was a short block from the rear of the Riverside, it was an easy jaunt to the hotel for our morning coffee break.
In those days of yore, the hotel was owned by George Wingfield Sr. and the gaming, entertainment and food was leased to the Wertheimer Brothers, a couple of gentlemen of questionable background. Their point man for PR was a likeable fellow named Eddie O’Dowd with whom Father Welsh and I formed a strong relationship. It was this friendship that made the Day interview possible.
During that era, the hotel featured such veteran headliners as Ted Lewis, Sophie Tucker, Jimmy Durante and Joe E. Lewis. On numerous occasions we would spot the stars in the coffee shop at our mid-morning “soiree”.
Shortly after the Day interview, I received a call from O’Dowd who informed me that as a publicity gag, he was going to pay Dennis Day his weekly salary in a wheel barrow full of silver dollars. He (O’Dowd) thought I could get a good picture of the event. Accordingly, I dashed over to the hotel, snapped a photo and Dennis promptly emptied the contents of the wheelbarrow into the adjoining swimming pool. Just by chance, there were half a dozen bikini-clad Riverside showgirls who dived into the pool to gather up the coins.
Following my stint at the newspaper, I served as publicity and PR Director for the Mapes Hotel. After I had been there for about a year and a half, a seismic shift occurred in the advertising business in Reno. It started with Tom Wilson, who had been the ad agent for Harold’s Club switching over to Harrah’s, Roy Powers who had been the ad man at the Riverside going to Harold’s and an artist friend of mine, Doug Trail inviting me to join him and Jack Myles to form an agency to take over the Riverside. I told Trail I would have to check with Mapes first to see if I could have his ad account before I left him. Mapes replied that Wilson had been his ad man since the hotel opened and he felt a sense of loyalty to him.
At that time, the Riverside ownership had changed with the building owned by Roy Crummer, the hotel managed by Lee Frankovich and the gaming and entertainment run by Virgil Smith.
It will take another column to list a continuing bag full of memories.