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.”
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.
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.
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:
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.