Looking at the current expansion and renovation of the University of Nevada campus, it might be a good time to reimagine what the school looked like in the by-gone era of the middle of the last century.
At that time the compact little campus extended as far north as the new (Virginia Street) gym. Beyond the gym were the hilly grounds covered mostly by sagebrush.
Even the main entrance to the school has been changed and now exists on North Virginia Street. Massive garages have been built to accommodate the burgeoning population of the university and to provide easy access for fans of sporting events.
With most of the new buildings being of a magnificent size, it might be a good time to revisit what the central part of a campus used to look like.
For anyone who has ever attended, or had other connections to the University of Nevada, there is a special treat in taking a leisurely stroll around the “Quad” and Manzanita Lake from time to time.
The best time, of course, is on one of Reno’s patented crystal days when no clouds appear on the cerulean canopy and the weather is ambient enough to warrant shirtsleeve dress.
The Quad, which is where the only measurable foot traffic occurred a half-century ago when my contemporaries and I attended classes, is still a well-preserved venue of the past. Naturally, the trees are taller today and one or two buildings have disappeared, but the same aura still exists.
The long, rectangular lawn has been the location of many memorable events. To name only two: the main “set” for movies that Hollywood chose to shoot here and the appearance of President Ronald Reagan in the Fall of 1982.
As for the movies, the two that come most quickly to mind are ”Apartment for Peggy”, which starred William Holden, Jean Crain, and Edmund Gwenn; and “Belvedere Goes to College” which starred Clifton Webb, Shirley Temple, and Tom Drake. The two were shot in 1947 and 1948 respectively.
The former was a postwar melodrama about the choices facing GIs who were returning to college after World War II and the latter was one in the series that featured Webb as “Belvedere”, an amazing gentleman who had extraordinary mental and physical prowess.
I was lucky enough to double for Webb on “long” shots that featured us wearing freshman “beanies” (which I don’t ever recall being a part of the U of N experience) and letter sweaters while carrying a pole vault pole at various spots on the Quad. In the movie, Webb made the winning pole vault at a track meet.
During Reagan’s appearance, to boost the fortunes of Republican candidates running in that year’s election, one of those “perfect” days occurred and the Quad was filled to the max. Secret Service personnel was in evidence on the tops of every building surrounding the Quad and security was “tight”.
Reagan charmed the audience and was genuinely pleased as he accepted a pearl Stetson cowboy hat as a memento of his visit to the Silver State.
Today, the Quad serves as a perfect setting for graduation ceremonies, weather permitting.
Equally used by students then and now is the Tram that runs along the south end of Manzanita Lake. It is the route of choice between classroom buildings and student housing that surrounds the western edge of the core campus.
One of the early scenes in “Apartment for Peggy” occurred on the Tram where my roommate Pete Pridgen and I walked into an “off” camera in front of Holden. During the breaks between shots, Holden proceeded to give us some acting lessons, the most important of which was not to look at the camera we were walking into.
Equally important as the physical structure of the then small campus was the ability in those halcyon days to greet practically every student enrolled by his or her first name. The members of the athletic teams were the easiest because they received the most coverage.
Working for the university newspaper, The Sagebrush, was another surefire way to be able to identify the “movers and shakers” of the student body. The frats and sororities also provided for easy ID as well as did the many campus organizations that were in vogue in those days. The faculty and staff were also small enough to provide instant recognition. Even buildings and grounds personnel evoked a familiar “hello”, followed by first names.
While it is true that most of that has changed nowadays, it is still easy to go up to the “Hill” during this month that starts with “Auld Lang Syne” and picture in your mind’s eye the students, athletes and friends that once stood, strolled or jogged along those well-travelled portions of the campus.