As you arrive into downtown Reno, on the southeast corner of First and Virginia Streets you will notice a large expanse of concrete often frequented by skateboarders and the like. The City of Reno purchased this designated park in 2005 and soon added in the massive BELIEVE sign along with the colorful stained glass Space Whale.
What is the intended purpose of this space? One might never learn unless they take the time to read this blog or the display posts at the northeast corner of the property and discover that they are standing on one of the oldest and most historic spots in all of Reno. This historic piece by Deb Hinman will transport you back in time to the historic days of the Biggest Little City.
Step Back in Time at the Reno City Plaza by Debbie Hinman, HRPS
How it All Began: Lake’s Grist Mill and the Alhambra Hall 1867 – 1904
“In 1861, seven years before Reno was to become a town, a successful rancher from Honey Lake, California named Myron Lake happened upon a deal that he couldn’t refuse. In a remote outpost between Honey Lake and the Comstock, beside a river that frequently overflowed its banks causing mayhem for the operator of a way station and his series of makeshift bridges, Lake saw a golden opportunity. The timing was right and Charles Fuller accepted Lake’s offer of land in Honey Lake in
trade for the station and the toll road itself, for a considerable distance north and south of the crossing. Lake also purchased land on either side abutting the road.
By 1867, Lake was doing well enough that he began working on a new building across the river, at the northeast edge of his bridge. Lake had decided to build a grist mill, as he was growing a crop of wheat. Most accounts say the structure was
never used for this purpose but one reference claims Lake pioneered industrial use of Truckee water power on this site. And little did Lake know he was also erecting Reno’s pioneer establishment—its first saloon. For the duration of its relatively
short life of less than 40 years, this building had a plethora of uses—once the railroad was completed through Reno on May 4, 1868, the town began to grow and there were at that time no other community buildings.
In 1868, two men of the cloth, Rev. J. W. Atherton and Rev. T. H. McGraw, held services at the mill, now known as Alhambra Hall. There is no mention of the origin of the name in newspapers of the day. Could someone with a grand sense of
humor have named it for the Spanish palace or the massive and highly ornamental London Alhambra Theater from the mid-1850s? Reno’s Alhambra was a barn-like structure of weathered wood, as seen in the photo on the left.
At some point that year, a Mr. W. B. Whittemore acquired the building and began operating a very welcome saloon and lodging house. He added a half-story
creating, as reported in the Reno Crescent, “a splendid hall, 30 by 50
feet, the finest room probably in all the state.” At this time, it was Reno’s only schoolroom, civic auditorium, meeting hall, theater and house of worship until the beginning of 1869. The first school was held in the Alhambra in September of 1868 with 31 students and one teacher, Miss Lucy Scott. At Christmastime, the Hook and Ladder Co. No. 1 held a benefit ball in the new hall at $3 a ticket—supper extra—which was reportedly “a little short of colossal” and most of the town attended.
In 1869, the first meeting of Reno Lodge No. 13 of the Masons met in
the Alhambra; it would be another three years before they would have their own building. The Odd Fellows also held meetings in the Alhambra.
In early August of 1878, fire consumed the Chinese quarter of town. A Chinese firm had recently been awarded a contract to build the 33-mile Steamboat Ditch and the existing disdain for the Chinese was reaching a fever pitch. Coincidentally (or not), an anti-Chinese group had met that same evening to discuss “the Chinese question.” With their homes and possessions suddenly turned to ashes, Alhambra Hall became a short-term home for displaced persons. A local newspaper unsympathetically reported the following on August 17th: In the basement story of the old Alhambra Hall are stowed away from 150 to 200 moon eyes, who live like so many sardines in a box. In the dimly lighted room we see them reclining in every corner, some smoking, a few gambling, others cooking, more eating and all jabbering and gesticulating. The town would not put up with this situation much longer. In early October the following news item appeared: The notice to leave given by the Pavilion Committee to the Chinese who still lingered around the old town, had a decided effect, for not a heathen was left yesterday. It is interesting to go over the vacated places and imagine how like hogs they must have lived.
Somewhat ironically, in 1901, the Alhambra was mentioned as being occupied by the Volunteers of America, a faith-based non-profit organization established in 1896 to provide housing assistance to low–income people. In 1903, the building was referred to as the Salvation Army barracks and was demolished in December of that year. A few weeks later, a Nevada State Journal [NSJ] editorial entitled “Another Landmark Doomed” delivered a statement that we might well consider today. Said the writer, “It is all very well to brush away the musty past to make room for the present and give the future a chance, but it is also well to stop and meditate a
while.” The land would lie vacant for the next six years.”
Enjoying the time capsule article? Click here to read the remaining two chapters!
Image couresty of City of Reno blog
Realtor® Sierra Nevada Properties