A Historical walk down Truckee’s ‘Whiskey Row’
I knew that Truckee was a very special place the first time I strolled through town back in 1978. Although I had visited other historic towns, none of them seemed to possess Truckee’s dreamlike quality, existing both in the past and present, in a beautiful alpine setting of green forest and snow-capped mountains.Once a lawless boomtown, Truckee has been continuously tried by both fire and ice. It survived the plague of 1918, two world wars, the great depression, prohibition and the construction of an interstate highway in its own back yard.Despite 21st century progress and continuous community development, Truckee’s downtown corridor remains uniquely recognizable from its earliest days, as evidenced in the historical society’s old photographs. Many residents have fought a long and hard battle to maintain the town’s unique character.In 2003, Truckee celebrates its 140th birthday. To commemorate this occasion, I thought it might be fun to take a historic stroll down Commercial Row, which might have been more appropriately dubbed “Whiskey Row.”Most of the information that follows was provided to the Truckee-Donner Historical Society by old-time residents and is only a very small excerpt from a much larger ongoing historical project.Our tour begins at the Amtrak Passenger Depot.Built in 1900. This depot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places in commemoration of the First Transcontinental Railroad, which reached Truckee on April 3, 1868.Walking west to “Jackass Ridge,” you’ll find a structure constructed in 1891 as a freight depot and is the oldest building still standing on what was known as the “Plaza.” It was retired from freight service and remodeled by Stefanie Olivieri in the 1970s to accommodate retail shops.Crossing to the north side of Donner Pass Road, also known as Commercial Row, also known as Front Street, is the site of many devastating fires that plagued Truckee in its early years. Many of today’s buildings were constructed to replace the original burned out wooden structures.”Down by the River” is the first building at east corner of Spring Street. From 1890 to 1898, this was the location of a local pub known as the “First and Last Chance Saloon.” It was called that because it was the first saloon you came to if you were headed east and the last saloon if you were headed west. The present brick building was built in 1907 and was once Truckee’s original telephone office.Continuing east, you’ll pass “Tahoe Truckee T-Shirtory,” “Tahoe Candle,” and “Sierra Shades.” This building occupies the 1898 site of John Moody’s Feed and Livery stables, which later became the Old Bingham Corral.After that it became the “O.K. Restaurant & Saloon,” and many years later was the location of the “Donner Theater” which burned to the ground in 1960.”Molly’s Cupboard” was once the location of the rip-roaring “St. Louis Saloon,” operated by the Cazzalio brothers. One evening a disgruntled customer fired a shotgun into the ceiling. The pattern of pellets is still visible on the ceiling just inside the entrance. In the early part of the twentieth century, it became the “Alpine Saloon.”The “Porter-Simon Building” is a newer building, constructed with respect to the Old Masonic Building that was destroyed in a tragic propane explosion in 1993. This attractive brick building now houses “Sweets Homemade Candies,” “Truckee Shoe Company,” and “St. Nick’s Christmas Shoppe.” Upstairs is the “Dragonfly Restaurant,” and the offices of MWA Architecture/Engineering.”The Sierra Tavern” was built in 1928. On the bottom floor, you’ll find “The White Buffalo.” Prior to the Sierra Tavern, this was the location of a local’s hangout known as “The Yellowstone Saloon.”Next door is the “The Village Shoppe.” For many years, this was the site of “Lloynd’s Drug Store,” while “La Galleria” was the bar and lobby for the Hotel where film stars, including Charlie Chaplin, spent time hanging out with locals while filming in this area.”The Tourist Club” is a popular local’s pub established by John Firpo. This location has always been either a saloon or restaurant.”Coffee And” was once Rufus Gregory Pool Hall and before that it was August Sassarini’s Grocery Store. Between 1885 and 1898 it was site of W.M. Burckhalter’s Dry Goods Store.”Bud’s Sporting Goods” is an old- fashioned soda fountain and sporting goods store. It was previously a variety store owned by Joe and Hazel Lewis, at which time it also served as the town’s bus depot. Before that, it was, as you might have guessed, a saloon.”The Treehouse” was once Sarge’s Coffee Shop and Saloon. In the 1800s it served as a drug store, a post office, a dry goods store. Upstairs is “R.W.R. Architecture,” which was once the office of Dr. J.H. Bernard who, for many years, was Truckee’s only physician. Later, Dr. Affeldt practiced dentistry upstairs.”Cabona’s” is the oldest retail establishment on Commercial Row. Founded in 1918. Dave Cabona originally sold fishing tackle, appliances and general merchandise. It later evolved into a clothing store and is still owned and operated by members of the Cabona/Firpo family. The store is now housed in two buildings. The second building was once Goodfellow’s Coffee Shop, (You can still see the coffee cup engraved on the sidewalk) operated by Reg Smart until 1947 when he moved the business to today’s Smart’s Wagon Train.”Pianeta,” now a fine Italian restaurant with a friendly bar, is another popular locals hangout. This was once the site of the “Exchange Saloon” which later became the “Shamrock Saloon.” In the early l930s it was restaurant nicknamed the “Firecracker,” owned by George Carter. Then, for nearly three decades, this was the U.S. Post Office. In 1976, when the floor was dug out for expansion, various artifacts were found, including a Chinese opium bottle, suggesting that the basement may have once been a Chinese opium den.”The Pastime Club” was established in 1890 and is a tangible reminder of Truckee’s whiskey row. Originally the “Louver Bar,” built and owned by Charles Crocker, it was eventually purchased by Dick Joseph, who also owned “The Bucket of Blood” Saloon once located in the alley directly behind. During prohibition, the Pastime Club operated as a speakeasy, complete with slot machines, until the 1950s. Upstairs is “Manstyle Barbers,” a traditional barbershop favored by locals. Its first barber was Dick Joseph.”Different People Gifts and Clothing,” previously “Tourist Liquors,” was once the site of the Guilt Edge Saloon.”Truckee Variety Store” was previously known “Truckee 5 & 10 Cent Store.” It was here, in the 1930s, that “Machine Gun Kelly” got caught shop-lifting and was thrown in the calaboose by deputy constable Frank Titus, but he was released on bail before anyone realized who he was. Previously, this building was also a saloon.”The Cooking Gallery” has operated as a hardware/dry goods store for almost 100 years. It was best known as “Rossarini’s Clothing and Dry Goods,” and later as “The White Front.””Smart’s Wagon Train” was previously “The Stage Coach Cafe,” and before that “Brown’s Cafe,” and before that “The Truckee Cafe,” In its 100 years as a commercial building, this location has always served as either a saloon or restaurant.”Thomas Kinkaid” was, for many years, a grocery store run by Bob and Anne Tonini until the business moved to the I.O.O.F. In 1885 a mortuary operated in the back with a variety store in the front. .The Capitol Building is the oldest structure on Commercial Row. It is, arguably, the most historic building in downtown Truckee. It was originally known as “Hurd’s Saloon and Opera House.” This building has been in continuous use since 1870.The Capitol’s large upstairs hall, with its raised stage, hosted many popular entertainers of the times, such as the Templeton Theatrical Group, the Georgia Minstrels, Piper’s Opera House Troupe, and even served as a roller skating rink, and at times as a funeral parlor. This was the center for all the community’s social events from “Grand Balls” to secret meetings by vigilante groups such as the “601” and the “Caucasian League.””The Pharmacy,” located downstairs, was once the famous “Capitol Saloon.” It was here that many old west gunfights occurred, the best-known being the violent shootout in 1891 between two of Truckee’s constables, Jacob Teeter and James Reed, in which Teeter was killed.The I.O.O.F. Building was constructed in 1871, and is the second oldest building on Commercial Row. From 1885 to 1907 “The Ponderosa Delicatessen” location housed “Marzen’s Butcher Shop,” which later became the “Ponderosa Grocery Store.” Before that it was Barton’s Red and White Grocery Store, which was sold to Elden Tonini in the 1930s and it became “Tonini’s Grocery Store.” In 1873 this was the site of Shinn’s Drug Store.The Rex Hotel Building was constructed over 100 years ago and converted into a hotel in 1913. During prohibition years, the space now occupied by “Joann’s Stained Glass and Gallery,” was a speakeasy called the “Silver Mirror” which sold Truckee’s finest bootleg whiskey for $1 a shot. Entrance to the Silver Mirror was gained only after passage through thick electric doors and examination of the entrant through peepholes. In the hotel’s barbershop you could get a bath for a quarter, but it was said you might have to share the water.”The Squeeze Inn” and “Truckee Realty” occupy a building that was built after the old building was destroyed by fire in 1913. The original building was once the location of the town’s first bank, operated by Frank Burckhalter.In 1869 a daring bank robbery attempt was thwarted by the heroic action of bank employees and town residents who resisted the robbers, aiding in their capture and arrest. There have been at least eight different businesses at this location. Before 1895 it was an indoor roller skating rink.The original building that housed “Robert’s Jewelers” and “Marilyn’s Cat Walk” was destroyed in the fire of 1913. From the 1930s to the 1940s, this was George’s cafZ, then the M & E Club owned by Mary and Ernie DeLisle. Many years ago, this was the location of the “Eagle Saloon.” The basement below is rumored to have once housed a Chinese opium den.Today’s “Truckee River Llama Ranch,” was previously “Truckee Mercantile,” owned and operated by Tony and Jeanne Pace. This was the site of two fires, one in 1891 that destroyed a portion of the Sherritt Hotel, and the fire of 1913. The Mercantile store operated here from 1898 to 1984. At one time this location served as a grocery store with a saloon in the basement called “Benny’s Gray Mule.”At least one man was killed in this saloon during a gunfight.The bar area of “O.B.’s Board” Restaurant was a hardware store attached to Truckee Mercantile until 1968, at which time it was remodeled into a bar and restaurant.The dining room on the east side was a bakery. The large iron oven doors can still be seen in the back of the dining room. In prohibition years, the dining room area was a restaurant and speakeasy known as the Roma Club.”Earthsongs” building was rebuilt following the 1913 fire. Before that it was part of the Sherritt House Hotel that housed a saloon owned and operated by Frank Zunino. Before that the saloon was known as the “Fireproof Saloon,” and before that it was William McDougald’s “Fountain Saloon.””Pacific Crest Bistro” was also the location of a saloon that comprised the bar of the Sherritt House Hotel, which burned in 1913. Before that, it was the location of Frank Ashton’s Saloon.Finally, we come to “Bar of America” a very popular sports bar and grille, which is a throwback to Truckee’s Wild West saloons. It is an after-work hangout for many locals. As the name suggests, this building was once the location of “Bank of America,” until 1968. Before that it was the California Restaurant and prior to that it was the main portion a four-story Victorian hotel owned by the Sherritt brothers that burned in 1913.This concludes a very abbreviated tour of downtown Truckee’s whiskey row.For brevity a lots of information has been omitted, so before you call or write, I suggest checking out the more complete historical tour of Truckee by visiting the Truckee-Donner Historical Society’s Web site at http://truckeehistory.tripod.com/index.htm.