Without warning on December 29, 1997, the Nevada Club, a fixture for decades on Reno's Virginia Street, closed its doors forever. One of the oldest casinos in the state of Nevada, the club opened in 1946 and lived long enough to celebrate its golden anniversary.
While the Nevada Club experienced a decline in business during its final years, it was the favorite of many gamblers. Of particular interest were the mechanical slot machines dating from the 1940s and the general lack of ostentation in the club. This was a place lost somewhere back in the mid-1960s, and that's just what a lot of folks liked.
The closest the Nevada Club came to a restaurant was a greasy spoon diner by the name of Kilroy's, situated upstairs by the Keno counter. The plastic glitz of the Planet Hollywood, next door at Harrah's, could have been a continent away and not a soul would have missed it. Now Kilroy's broken neon sign is just another fixture waiting for the lucky bidder to come over and take it away. You see, the Kilroy sign, along with the old Jennings slots and the Keno board and everything right down to the napkin dispensers were auctioned off January 24,1998. If you missed it, as I did, then you've run out of luck. My favorite old Jennings quarter slot machine, the one I emptied so many times I called it the Miracle Machine, is gone forever in someone's collection. Here's a picture of a similar Nevada Club slot machine. Rumor has it you can still pick up a Nevada Club Blackjack table down on South Virginia for $950.
Other rumors abound on Virginia Street. Harrah's allegedly bought the Nevada Club (see update below), which makes perfect sense when you envision Harrah's tentacles reaching up the block grabbing everything in sight. A few years back it was the First Interstate Bank on the corner which Harrah's turned into that burger joint from another planet (with mediocre burgers for $8.50). UPDATE July 2003: Along with everything else on Virginia Street, the Planet Hollywood has closed. Now Harrah's, the largest gaming concern on this planet, has replaced the classic mechanical slots with modern versions that have video screens and make a lot of noise. After all, that's what it takes to hold the attention of today's 'gaming guest'. I can't imagine if Bill Harrah was alive that he would have allowed all his old mechanical Pace slots to be phased out...as his namesake company did awhile back. There's still a handful of 16 old mechanicals at Bill's South Lake Tahoe Casino, and an employee told me those were the last mechanical slot machines available for public play anywhere in the state of Nevada. Based on the hundreds of emails I've received on the subject, it seems one of the older casinos would have the good sense to re-introduce some mechanical slots just for nostalgia's sake as a way to pull in some very discriminating customers (Downtown Reno Nugget Casino, the friendliest casino in Nevada: ARE YOU LISTENING?). For those who are curious, I've heard all the old Pace slots from the nearby Harolds Club were purchased in a single lot and shipped to South Africa years ago.
For those who prefer the older, smaller clubs...good luck! They're just not around in the new, improved Reno, Nevada. No, in fact the old Horseshoe is a pawn shop, Harold's has been boarded up for years and the mega-casinos such as El Dorado-Silver Legacy-Circus Circus and Harrah's are just a sign of things to come. The Nevada Club has become a footnote in Nevada history, a really fun place that simply wore out its usefulness. And as far as I'm concerned there will always be a huge gap on Virginia Street that Harrah's will never be able to adequately fill. Shown here is a picture of the Nevada Club's chained up back door.
Update October 27, 1999
And now for the really bad news. On October 27, 1999 both the Nevada Club and Harold's were demolished in preparation for Harrah's to take over the property. Of course this comes as no surprise. The property is now a huge empty lot between Harrah's and the Virginia Street Arch. As with so many buildings in Reno, the mentality is to tear it down, then figure out what to do with the land. Harrah's intends to use it as an 'urban plaza' and eventually proceed with some type of development (Click here to see Harrah's urban plaza, January 2001). In the meantime, the empty lot creates an even greater visual gap than a boarded up casino. We now anticipate Harrah's will eventually use the property to construct Reno's next example of today's standard in gaming entertainment, the ever-popular Mega Casino.
Update, December 27, 2001
Downtown Reno continues its downward spiral towards oblivion. The Gambler casino has recently been boarded up, and the Flamingo is closed. Now there are more vacant lots, vacant buildings and pawnshops on the main block of Virginia Street than there are casinos. I think it's time to go to Tahoe.
Thanks for visiting my unofficial Nevada Club site.
On January 30, 2000, at 8:03 a.m., the last great vestige of Reno's historic gaming past, the Mapes Hotel, passed into Nevada History. The hotel was built in 1947 and was the last major American building created in the art deco style. It was the first to combine a casino, hotel and entertainment venue under the same roof. Numerous plans to save the structure were presented to Reno's City Council, but the Group of Seven apparently had its mind made up long before the final vote in September, 1999, to blow up the hotel. A major campaign by preservation groups throughout the country, including the National Trust for Historic Preservation, resulted in further intractability by the Council. The effort to save the Mapes even resulted in an editorial in the New York Times castigating the city for its lack of foresight, to no avail. It should be noted that the building was on the National Register of Historic Places, and was listed by the National Trust as one of the eleven most endangered builidings in 1998. This was a significant building that should have been saved!
Mayor Griffin, along with Councilmembers Rigdon, Herndon, Newberg, Doyle, Aiazzi and Hascheff will now be forever known as the Group of Seven who took down the Mapes Hotel. As is nearly always the case, several years down the road we can expect universal regret that the beautiful Mapes was destroyed. Even those who vote to destroy the irreplacable usually share in the remorse. This will be an especially tragic event if the land lies vacant or an insignificant structure takes the place of the Mapes. Mayor Jeff Griffin was reelected following his September 1998 statement that he was "98 percent sure" the Mapes would be saved. Twelve months later he cast the seventh vote to destroy the Mapes, making it a unanimous decision. The Council never allowed the Mapes issue to go before the voters of Reno. Here's what was left of the Mapes Hotel in June 2001.
June 25, 2001 -- Just as we predicted, crushed asphalt has replaced the blowing dust in the Mapes Hotel lot. As of June 25, 2001, there is now a large piece of art, undoubtedly temporary, dedicated to Burning Man, and it fills the entire vacant Mapes block.
Sept. 25, 2001 -- It was temporary, and has since been removed from the site. Once again, the Mapes is nothing more than a vacant lot. (Surprised?)
Dec. 27, 2001 -- Now it's the site of an ice skating rink, which will be removed at the end of winter. One of these days they're bound to hit on something permanent...
August 2002 - It's back to a vacant lot, now with an iron fence completely surrounding the property (Trespassers will be prosecuted). This is progress for downtown Reno? Great job, Mayor Griffin. The third anniversary of the Mape's destruction is just around the corner and what brilliant ideas do you have for the Mapes property now?
July 2003 - 42 months later, and the Mapes is a weekend flea market.
August 2005 - FINALLY after nearly six years, something is happening at the Mapes. The 'City Plaza' appears to be yet another downtown Reno 'open space'. Time will tell if this beautification project proves to be worth the loss of the Mapes Hotel...remember the Mapes Hotel? We'll be watching this one. Here's what the construction looks like from the Cal Neva parking garage.
October 2008 - And here's how the 'City Plaza' looks on a rainy October night. Almost NINE YEARS after the death of the Mapes, we've ended up with nothing more than a concrete parking lot.
January 2009 - And to make matters worse, Fitzgerald's Hotel-Casino two blocks to the north has closed. Will it be condos, or are we going to blow this one up too? (Click on the Fitzgerald's link at the top of the page for news that it reopened as CommRow in 2011).
There's a book that will interest most visitors to this site called I Want To Quit Winners by the founder of Harolds Club, Harold S. Smith, Sr. It was written in 1961, and in it you will find the most incredible story on Reno's golden era, from the 1930s through 60s. Copies are occasionally available on eBay.
"I Want To Quit Winners is more than an autobiography, it is an amazing account of a gigantic business, a fabulous operation in hard cash and human emotions. It tells the inside story of Harolds Club in Reno, the largest casino in the world, where 1100 persons work around the clock. And if you think you know gambling, check first with Harold Smith."
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Last update: September 6, 2009