With the 2018 Winter Olympics a few weeks away in South Korea, it might be well to remember when the Games were held at Squaw Valley some fifty eight years ago.
In Reno’s case the nearby Games of ’60 provided a strong economic boom in the usually dead winter months. In fact, rooms were filled all over the Reno/Sparks area.
As I remember, the first physical contact locals had with the Games occurred when a Reno sports organization awarded their “Sportsman of the Year” plaque to Alex Cushing, who almost single-handedly acquired the Games for his resort at Squaw.
That sports organization was the brain-child of Nevada State Journal’s Ty Cobb. It was called Sierra Nevada Sports Writers and Broadcasters Association. It met on a weekly basis and it acted as a clearinghouse for sports news from coaches at the various schools. It was well-attended by members of the Press, who could get a wealth of information in a single stop.
Cobb was the Charter president, Link Piazzo the second pres, Carl Tigino the third and the writer the fourth.
The next big move locally was for Walter Ramage, manager of the Mapes Hotel, to initiate plans to establish the International Olympic Press Club at the hotel. He was aided in this effort by San Francisco ad man Ken Macker, who contacted Olympic Press agent Pete Rozelle. Rozelle was able to achieve accreditation for the club, even to it being able to use the Olympic Rings in all of its postings.
In 1960 the dean of sports writers was one Red Smith of New York closely followed by Chicago and LA sports writers. These gentlemen appeared on the board of directors of the Press Club.
Also, for the first time, the Olympics were scheduled to be televised world-wide by CBS. Anchor for the broadcast would be one Walter Cronkite.
Physically, the Press Club was located on the top floor of the Mapes in the southeast corner room that had been previously called the Indian Room which had also been the initial site of the local Prospector’s Club. The Club room was equipped with a bank of typewriters, several closed-circuit television screens hooked up directly to Squaw, comfortable couches, teletype service, a couple of Western Union runners and a 24-hour bar. For the bar, Ramage had secured an old SF traffic light that indicated when the facility was open and closed. When the green light was on, the bar was free of charge and when the red light flashed, patrons were expected to pay. Since Ramage had given me keys to the room and told me I was in charge for the duration of the Games, I immediately removed the bulb from the red light.
Because of the many services the room provided, a lot of the Press could cover the Games without even travelling to Squaw.
Probably the most significant event that occurred within the Club rooms was late one night when I received a call from Dale Kraemer, Manager of the Mapes facilities at the Reno Airport. He told me that the Russian Press Corps was due to arrive sometime after midnight. By chance, Jim Wood, the owner of a local bus company happened to be in the Club that evening. I asked him if it would be possible to get one of his large carriers to the airport. He said, “Sure. I’ll drive it myself.” True to his word, in about a half hour he and I were speeding to the airport. Once there, we saw another large bus idling beside the building. Seated on an outside bench was Reno’s lone FBI Agent. He informed us he was there to pick up the Russians and take them to Squaw. We convinced him that the Commies had to be registered at the official Press Club before travelling to the Olympic site. To that end, we said that we would probably entertain the Russians at Kreamer’s bar, the Ambassador Room, inside the terminal. The FBI was happy to be relieved and jumped in his bus and left.
When the Russians had exhausted Kreamer’s supply of vodka, we herded the men into the bus and took them to the top of the hotel. It proved to be a very salubrious occasion because the Prince of Sweden and his retinue happened to be in the room at that time. In addition, Reno’s UPI Chief Russ Nielsen was also present. He suggested we get a picture of the Prince and the head of the Russian delegation together and that he would entitle it “East Meets West” and get it on the International Wire Service. The only hiccup of the evening occurred when Squaw Valley officials sent out a number of panic calls as to the whereabouts of the Russian Press Corps.
As it turned out, the Games themselves were a huge success and the City of Reno gained international coverage by virtue of the International Olympic Press Club.