The Beatles’ Slept Here (or not)

Last week I wrote about the legendary Mapes Hotel in downtown Reno Nevada. Well, if you cross the Truckee River and walk down a block you’ll run into another landmark hotel, the Riverside.

The Riverside. Today, low cost artist lofts and studios.

The Riverside. Today it contains low cost artist lofts and studios.

As you can see, it’s a good, solid structure, almost boring in design. However, at one time it was more notorious than the Mapes.  Not because it was a rocking, rioting fun place to stay but for a different, almost more scandalous, reason.

The current structure was built in 1927 reportedly on the spot where the city of Reno was founded in 1861.  During its heyday (1930 to approximately 1950) its select clientele stayed in two or three bedroom suites on the upper floors which were equipped with kitchenettes and had been designed specifically for them.  Generally they were women traveling alone or with children and servants in tow.  Many books and movies set during that time contain references to the Riverside including the “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand and the movie “The Women.”th-4

Another clue to the hotel’s notoriety (if you haven’t guessed yet), the old courthouse is virtually right next door. 

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Lobby of the Riverside from Historic Reno

After the women no longer needed to trek to Reno for its special services, the hotel went into a tailspin and by the time I knew of its existence it was a moldy though dignified and staid sort of place where one’s grandparents might stay.  Finally it closed in 1987.  But, unlike the Mapes, preservationists prevailed and the building now serves a community of artists and has an organic coffeeshop in the lobby. What an interesting life that old gal has had!

As to why the Riverside has a place in my heart, well, according to a popular urban myth the Beatles once stayed in one of those multi-room suites on the sixth floor. Only, I know it never happened. It was just the mind fart of a couple of silly girls that somehow got out of control, resulting in an assault on the sixth floor of the Riverside.  Unfortunately the word got out at school and for years after I was the butt of many jokes.

I left Reno shortly after high school and only returned for short visits with my family thus I rarely saw any of my old classmates. So when I found out at my 10 year reunion that the kids who’d made fun of me now firmly believed (and supposedly had evidence) that in October 1965 the Beatles hid out in the Riverside Hotel, I felt like I was on an episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.  Even when I told them it was hokum, they stuck by their stories. I, the instigator, was irrelevant.  The story had a life of its own and was now entrenched in the minds of people who wanted to believe. (I fictionalized the whole thing a few years back on Wattpad.)

So if you haven’t guessed the Riverside’s claim to fame, here’s one last clue: For many years the phrase “I’m going to Reno” meant only one thing and it generally wasn’t something any man wanted to hear.

#ThursdayDoors: Marilyn Slept Here

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A warehouse door with obvious fire damage which a graffiti artist decided to cover up appropriately with a fire scene.  Downtown Reno Nevada

Paris has the Eiffel Tower and New York City, the Statue of Liberty. But poor old Reno Nevada’s iconic landmark is a sign spanning the main drag that reads “Biggest Little City in The World.”

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If you can’t figure out what the heck that means, don’t worry.  No one can. The slogan is the result of a contest won by “one G.A. Burns of Sacramento” who was awarded $100 for his brilliance by the “City Fathers.” That was back in 1927 when Reno was being run by railroad men, merchants and ranchers. They had officially approved gambling and the town needed some glitz. Thus, a sign was born.

As an aside, the town’s original name was “River Crossing” but it was changed to Reno in honor of a Civil War general who was killed by friendly fire and whose last words were “Sam, I’m dead.”

There is no downtown Reno any more. Not really. Unlike Vegas, the casinos and resorts are spread out all around town.

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Downtown Reno (seen from across the Truckee River) sometime in the 1960s

Once there was a downtown Reno, a stretch along the Truckee River where the casinos intermingled with banks, city offices and department stores.  Today some of the older casinos remain (Harrahs and the El Dorado), cramped in between pawn shops and check-cashing places. It’s four blocks square that hold all the joy of an abortion clinic unless the Hells Angels and their buddies are holding their yearly jamboree. Then it feels a bit like Armageddon.

The casinos try to woo potential gamblers by creating magical and surreal environments where no one could possibly lose all their money but to me they feel like neon-lit fish tanks where I am the fish.

But it wasn’t always that way.  Once upon time there was The Mapes.

The Maples Hotel had an old-fashioned coffee shop in its lobby. Red velvet booths and a counter where you could watch soda jerks create the greatest chocolate malts and floats.  And the french fries, oh my! Trust me, the chocolate malt you buy with hard-earned baby-sitting money at age thirteen will forever be the best one on earth.

But the hotel had another claim to fame.  For a stretch in the fifties and sixties it was a prime spot for catching a glimpse of celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, Montgomery Cliff and the Rat Pack (Sinatra et al).  Monroe stayed there with her husband Arthur Miller during the months of filming “The Misfits” which meant the hotel was always surrounded by news crews.

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I always thought the Mapes’ marquee (above) represented the town far better that a sign no one understands. I can remember hitches outside the casinos for cowboys who would ride into town on the weekends from one of the many nearby ranches.  Of course I’m not quite old enough to remember actual horses being attached to them.  But I do remember stepping in cow dung on my way across the field between my house and the school.

Unfortunately, the so-called “city fathers” had no sacred memories of chocolate malts and no desire to preserve the room wherein Marilyn Monroe slept. Despite the all-out efforts of preservationists, this was the Mapes’ fate:th-1

So famous was this building that it’s destruction was broadcast on the evening news here in San Francisco. I felt like I was watching an execution.

I have veered (as usual) wildly off Norm Frampton’s prompt of ThursdayDoors.

Trumps Come and Go

One of my favorite blogging buddies left this comment on a recent post:

Trumps come and go. Sometimes humanity has to step back to make a bigger step forward. Most important is to stay human in any circumstances. Better future comes when people change their mentality, not when they change their government.

And she should know. She’s Irish and they’ve had their fair share of Trumps. A few years back we embarked on a suicidal mission to see as many historic sights in the United Kingdom as possible in just two weeks.  We undertook this mission with only rudimentary knowledge of the English monarchy.  This is akin to mowing the lawn with nail clippers.  After only a couple of tours of places like the Tower of London and Westminster Cathedral we were forever lost in all those Plantagenet, Norman, Beaufort and Tudor spats and back stabbings. So we bought this book to help us make sense of it all:

img_2541It promised to transport the reader “on a regal journey from the earliest days of anglo-saxon monarchs, through famous battles and the foundations of historic buildings.” Those of you who know a lot more about the British Royal Family than I do will probably scoff.  You can’t really learn much from a 126-page book whose aim is to leave tourists marveling at the enduring institution of the monarchy.  For example, the five pages devoted to the current royal family contain not one picture of Princess Diana nor is there mention of the Duke of Windsor’s ties to Adolph Hitler.  Indeed, the book ends with this sentence: The monarchy continues to be a strong thread in the fabric of national life, its powers reduced, its pageantry more symbolic but its magic at times hardly any the less diminished.

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“Bloody Mary” – so named because she liked to slaughter non-Catholics. Black magic must have been her thing.

In the United States we number our presidents and, from the results of the last election, do not favor the idea of dynasties. But it was interesting to read that from the 9th century to the 21st there have only been 56 kings and queens (not counting the formerly separate realms of Wales and Scotland). Since 1776 the US has had 45 presidents. Of course the more frequent turnover, in my humble opinion, has not always been positive. When the Dems get in power they undo what the GOP has done and vice versa.  This seesaw only hurts people and the environment. 

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Lady Jane Grey 16, convicted of treason and beheaded.

Another difference between our two systems is we do not elect infant presidents (until now that is), whereas many of the British monarchs were preteens used as pawns in bloody struggles for the crown. Those who had “protectors” with their best interests at heart might just make it to adulthood but most were left in the hands of murderous rival gangs. 

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Edward V and his brother Richard probably around 11 when they “disappeared.”

One thing I particularly enjoyed while reading the history of the Kings and Queen was learning how monarchs earned their nicknames:

  • Harold Harefoot (Harold I) so named not because of his hairy feet but because he was “fleet of foot.” 
  • And Silly Billy (William IV) who never expected to be king and apparently enjoyed his youth enough to be thought of as “frivolous.” He was also the oldest person to be crowned (64) but it appears Prince Charles will beat that record.

The kings were often known for their interests: there were warrior kings, sailor kings, farmer kings and kings who just liked to ride around on their horses and hunt. There was even one king with a passion for digging ditches (Edward II). The queens also got nicknames: Elizabeth I, the Virgin Queen (no sex for her) and Mary I, Bloody Mary (no Protestants for her).

So Inese is right.  We will somehow survive and perhaps learn something. Is that too much to ask? By the way – please check out Inese’s blog.  She’s an amazing photographer/blogger.  And to all my friends in the UK, kindly remember that I got my facts from a book written for clueless tourists!