Good Reads: The Other Side of the Mountain |

Good Reads: The Other Side of the Mountain

The location that would become Reno had no permanent residents until the middle of the nineteenth century. Donnelyn Curtis (in Historic Photos of Reno)

With its colorful past, Reno was the largest city in the state of Nevada until the late 1950s. It took advantage of its lax political environment to become everyones urban playground. Defying conventional morality from the onset, politicians from its beginnings kept the economy going by allowing activities that were illegal elsewhere: prizefighting, gambling, and uncontested divorce. But Reno had another side. It was home to ordinary hard working ethical people: merchants, railroad workers, families, university students and professors. Rarely did these two dichotomous sides intersect. With its parallel universes, the history of Reno is actually a study in contrasts.A brand new coffee table book, Historic Photos of Reno, with text and captions on a large selection of photographs taken from 1868 through 1979, written by Donnelyn Curtis, captures the flavor of Renos multi-faceted personality. Curtis is the Director of Research Collections andamp; Services and Head of Special Collections at the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries where she has been a librarian since 1998. She has done an outstanding job in giving definition and historical reference to the pictures. Wonderful black-and-white pictures reflect the beauty of the natural environment as well as the buildings, businesses and main events which put The Biggest Little City in the World on the mapCurtis has divided the book into four sections beginning with first with the Hub of the Mining Booms (1868-1909). It is in this section that we see, in addition to mining, ranching, and early Reno lifestyle, pictures of Tahoe during the logging and flume days as well as the maintenance of the Southern Pacific railroad in the Sierra. (And we thought we were cold this winter) We move from there to the second section Emerging Playground (1910-1929). These two decades were lively years. It was during these times that Reno became the original sin city and drove a wedge between the standards of the locals and the leadership. Beginning with the fight of the century between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries in 1910, Renos population tripled temporarily. Entertainment and good times were discovered to have economic merit, particularly if it provided activities you could not do in other places. It was in 1919 the Reno Rodeo began, hosting large crowds for several days each year. This tradition continues into present day. The Transcontinental Highways Exposition, held in 1927, celebrated the completion of the Lincoln Highway and the Victory Highway, which directed cross-country automobile and trucking traffic through town. And then the stock market crashed in 1929! Reno was hurt. The banks closed, George Wingfield, Nevada wealthy kingpin, lost everything by 1932. The third section brings us to New Approaches to Economic Development (1930-1949). Reno was able to limp through the Great Depression with its unconventional economy legalized gambling, quick divorces and wedding chapels for elopement and impulse weddings. With the pleasant weather much of the year, sporting events and competition, indoors and out drew crowds. Recreation for the wealthy such as golf and tennis along with favorable tax laws made the Reno area a perfect playground. The arts and the university in Reno benefited from the philanthropy of the millionaires who bought property up around Lake Tahoe. And the casinos began advertising quietly around the world. Hotel rooms were added to the gaming rooms. Big name entertainers began performing under neon lights. Slot machines started showing up in grocery stores and with the men away at war, women began working as croupiers and dealers.In the fourth and final section, Growing and Thriving (1950-1979) we see Renos rapid growth and development following World War II. New highways, improved air travel and a more mobile society gave rise to a large growth in tourism. The Winter Olympics in Squaw Valley brought international attention to the region and strengthened the infrastructure. But competition was on the rise from the southern part of the state as Las Vegas had begun to take over the gaming and wedding industries. Reno began to look for a new image and outreach to new markets. Festivals such as the Basque Festival and the Reno Air Races became annual events, and Reno-Tahoe was marketed as a recreational component for its image. Reno grew rapidly and most of its population had little if any involvement with either gaming or tourism. The University of Nevada-Reno (UNR) expanded quickly, and in 1957 a new branch was begun in Las Vegas. By 1968, the Las Vegas campus became autonomous, and UNR was no long the only university in the state. Suddenly a new industry sprung up: warehousing. It prospered due Renos ideal location on transportation routes and its pro-business tax structure. Reno became a distribution center for goods arriving from the West Coast ports heading to destinations in the east. Nevadas political traditions supported free enterprise, lack of regulations and right of individuals to make personal choices. As result, Renos businesses and organizations continued to play developmental and social roles that government would assume in other cities and states.This book is an outstanding addition for all of you who appreciate the growth, development, history and culture of the region in which we live and play. I know it will be found on my coffee table.

This years Reno Rodeo, June 19-28, is now a 10-day event in its 89th year and is a PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) sanctioned sporting event. Reno Rodeo is a non-profit organization made up more than 500 volunteers. Over 120,000 fans will be in attendance. The event impacts the Reno/Sparks area economy with $40 million for, casinos, restaurants and retail. In 1986 the Reno Rodeo established the Reno Rodeo Foundation as the giving arm of the Reno Rodeo and have since donated more than $2.5 million to educational scholarships. The Reno Rodeo Foundation also receives proceeds from the Rodeo State license plate sales through Nevada DMV and Rhythm and Rawhide concert with Reno Philharmonic. This past year the Reno Rodeo Foundation donated over $400,000 back to our community. Tickets are available at or call 1-800-225-2277. Tickets range in price from $12 – $22 based on seating and performance date. For more information please call (775) 329-3877.

Barbara Perlman-Whyman’s Good Reads column appears in the Sun on Fridays. E-mail

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