Exactly seventy years and ten days ago, one of the most memorable events of the twentieth century occurred in Reno. It was the opening of the fabled Mapes Hotel. Overnight, the City of Reno was transformed from a rambunctious town of cowboys, miners, divorcees and a host of roustabouts into a slightly sophisticated entity.
Physically, the Mapes was a towering twelve-story structure. It featured an art deco style of architecture that was mostly russet brick in color with white alabaster trim including the finials at the top of the building. The ground floor was a two-story affair complete with a mezzanine. It contained a number of high-end retail shops along with a spacious drug store on the northwest corner. On the side facing the Truckee River there was an elegant restaurant and bar known as the Terrace Room. The large lobby occupied the center of the first floor and it was reminiscent of the finest hostelries in the East. Off the lobby there was an entrance to the largest Coffee Shop in the City of Reno at that time.
Opening night, the hotel attracted an enormous amount of the citizenry of Reno, of which I happened to be one.
The most exciting part of the evening was taking one of the three elevators to the imposing Sky Room atop the building. In its initial configuration, the Sky Room contained a 300-seat showroom, a large serpentine bar and a small casino plus an adjoining meeting room, which was called the Indian Room. Most impressive feature of the Sky Room was the floor-to-ceiling windows that encircled the building. Through these windows, patrons were afforded a three-way view of the Truckee Meadows all the way to the Sierra Nevada.
It wasn’t the combination of building materials or the stately height of the structure. It was the people who brought life and vitality to the Mapes; the people who worked there, the people who guested there and the locals who partied, ate and drank there.
The synergy that all those people created made the Mapes pulse and vibrate with the “life force” that we all know has left the vacant building.
When you remember the staff of the Mapes, from the bootblack in the basement to the all-powerful General Manager on the mezzanine, you recall how proud the employees were to get their ten-year pins, and eventually their twenty-year mementos for having served such a grand lady.
Longevity of service and loyalty to the property were the true hallmarks of people who worked at the Mapes. Every employee knew every other employee and there was an incredible sense of pride in performance and a genuine interest in serving the patron. You could feel this as bellman Nick Mansfield picked up your luggage and carried it to the front desk, where you were checked-in by a smiling and unctuous Fritz. The hand-operated elevators that whisked you to your rooms were controlled by operators young and old, who exulted when the floor of the elevator came out exactly on line with the floor to which they were ascending and they needn’t utter the phrase, “Watch your step!” which meant you had to gingerly step down or climb a few inches upward.
Maid service was always timely and courteous, usually performed by the same women for decades. And while the size of their uniform might change, their pleasant demeanor never did.
Room service came in two forms at the Mapes. Strictly libations were always delivered by the bellman, usually the one who had brought your bags to the room, and food and beverage by a well turned-out waiter, anxious to make the quantum leap from “room service” to the elegant Terrace (later the Coach) Room or to the even more prestigious Sky Room.
As a guest at the Mapes you were treated to service that was comparable to that of any hotel in the world at the time. One of the reasons the Mapes standard was so high was because of manager Walter Ramage. Ramage was an hotelier of the highest caliber- – one of those “world class” people that Reno occasionally goes shopping for. Turned-out in a freshly pressed – – and different – – suit every day, with his shirt starched and pleated and the cuffs fastened with distinctive cufflinks, his foulard tie knotted faultlessly and his shoes burnished by that bootblack in the basement, he cut an imposing figure. His personal grooming matched his attire and in the twenty or so years that I knew him I never saw him looking like he needed a haircut, or had just gotten one. On more than one occasion I questioned him whether he and assistant maître de, Johnny Thomas, had a two-for-one deal on manicures in the Mapes barber shop.
(To be continued…)