Rummaging through some old files recently I came across a number of articles on the Mapes Hotel. The following probably best describes the iconic building that went down almost 20 years ago.
The Mapes stood alone as the symbol of what Reno was for more than three decades. She transformed what was once a honkytonk little cowtown with dark and dangerous gambling clubs into a city with a worldclass reputation.
She embodied the grace, gentility and savoir faire that many Americans were searching for after suffering through the twin misfortunes of the Great Depression and World War II. She added a fine patina of class to the Biggest Little City which previously was best known for its loose and lucrative divorce business. Before her emergence, only Harold’s Club gave a hoot about promoting Reno as a tourist attraction.
The Mapes, built by a young man in his twenties, was to do what no other entity in Reno had been able to accomplish up until that time: Attract the rich and famous from every walk of life to come visit the tiny town on the Truckee River. By booking world-famous celebrities in the Sky Room and advertising them nationwide, the Mapes appealed to a market that was a far cry from the hard-case gamblers and forlorn divorcees that had previously been the breadand-butter of the town.
Located at what started as a train stop to service Virginia City, the Mapes soon positioned itself just as strongly as the Reno Arch as an icon of the community.
It was at the Mapes that seasoned world travelers would stay. Her major market was the affluent upper crust of San Francisco society and the people from the more pricey suburbs of the Bay area. Her gaming area was small and understated because she sought quality clientele rather than the masses.
Situated at ground zero in the Reno of yesteryear, the Mapes was positioned near City Hall, across the river from the downtown post office and a leisurely stroll from the Washoe County courthouse. The Mapes was the center of all the merchants and professional people in Reno at that time. It is little wonder then that most of the downtown habitues criss-crossed her carpet on a daily basis.
Even in death she was graceful and magnificent when the fatal blow was delivered. She bent her knee, bowed her head and settled serenely as the enormous cloud of dust that was her life’s breath soared heavenward.
As the smoke rose it contained many forms of famous DNA. Among that DNA were tiny bits of leather from the dancing shoes of Shirley Temple, Ray Bolger and Sammy Davis, Jr. Some of Olympic weight-lifting champion Paul Anderson’s sweat as he lifted hundreds of pounds twice a night in the Skyroom shows. The dried Pabst Blue Ribbon beer that Rowan and Martin routinely sprinkled on the stage. Some remnants of the soap in the bubble baths that Lili St. Cyr took in her famous shows. Ashes from Milton Berle’s and Ken Murray’s cigars; plus Sammy’s and Frank’s ever present cigarettes that they puffed every night. A little sawdust left by Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd. Some white and red wine stains from imbibers such as Nelson Rockefeller, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Rooney, Debbie Reynolds, Joe E. Lewis, Jimmy Durante, Clark Gable, Arthur Miller, Walt Disney and Art Linkletter. A little ivory dust scattered from the keyboard of Liberace’s piano. Some high notes sung by Andy Williams, Nelson Eddy and Billy Eckstine. Some vestiges of ink or pencil that remained from scribblings by Herb Caen and Arthur Miller. Some traces of resin rubbed on Sonny Liston’s Skyroom training ring. An aroma from John Wayne’s chaw of tobacco.
A simple amorphous cloud of smoke – no! A tangible vestige of a thirty-five year collection of spores and mites from the famous, near famous and not so famous – yes!