Vacant hotels hold keys to Reno's heritage

by Jennifer Sweeney, Outpost contributor

In this package

Residents remember
Reno's glory days

Reno's glitter fades with suburban expansion

On the Web

Save the Mapes

The Art Deco Society of Washington

National Trust of
Historic Places

The Riverside and the Mapes have been sitting vacant for several years. Debates have raged over whether to tear them down or fix them up. Within the month the Holiday Hotel and Casino announced it was closing its doors. A decision was made in early October to turn it and the Mapes into timeshares. The fate of the Riverside is still unknown.

Binney Evans, a Reno resident since 1931, said she was thrilled to know that The Mapes would not be destroyed.

"The Mapes is being preserved for its memories not because it is structurally a beautiful building," Evans said.

Evans said the old hotel was designed to resemble a building in New York that Gladys Mapes loved. Her son was the contractor on the Mapes and modeled it to his mother's wishes.

The Mapes, an icon of Reno's glory days, waits for renovation. Photo by Amanda Hammon

The Mapes opened its doors in 1947. It was the first structure that combined gaming, entertainment and a hotel under one roof. But the Mapes' crown jewel was its Skyroom.

Originally intended to be top-rate gaming room, the Mapes' owners found that gamblers did not like to go up 20 floors to gamble. The panoramic ballroom became the hotel's premier showroom while offering the finest views of Reno.

In 1955 the Riverside upped the ante as competition for Reno's swankiest spot. Top name entertainers headlined in the Riverside's showroom.

Charles "Lucky" Lindbergh chose Reno as a stop for the Spirit of '76. He delivered a speech to the downtown crowd and was interviewed by local journalist Cornelius Vanderbilt in Lindbergh's room at the Riverside. Vanderbilt had himself moved to Reno for a divorce and stayed to marry a Reno girl.

The Holiday Hotel and Casino announced that it will close at the end of October. 

Photo by Amanda Hammon

The Holiday Hotel was built on the other side of the Truckee River and opened without gambling. It was an experiment that didn't work. Within the first year of operation the Holiday was close to $300,000 in debt and barely holding at 5 percent occupancy. Once gaming was added that occupancy figure rose to 95 percent.

Today, these landmarks that hold Reno's heritage are disappearing or being transformed into rental properties.

Evans said the timeshare project was bound to happen. She said it is part of American psychology to destroy the past and keep building the new.

Phillip Earl, curator of history at the Nevada Historical Society, said that timeshares are the wave of the future.

"Right now it is the best way to save the Mapes and perhaps the Holiday," he said.

Posted Oct. 19, 1998
Copyright 1998 Nevada Oupost