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The iron arch is gone now, replaced by a brighter version much jazzier than the Jazz Age original, and Reno's golden age of society divorcees, bootleg whiskey and basement gambling rooms is gone with it.
Modern Reno dates from another fine spring noontime, almost 50 years to the day after that gaudy little celebration, when an enormous tan tower rose 26 stories from its bright, light-bejewelled base on an enormous asphalt pad near the edge of the airport. The $131,000,000 MGM Grand Hotel greeted every incoming flight to Reno-Cannon International the same way the old arch greeted every train at the railroad depot downtown.
The MGM Grand - it's the freshly painted Reno Hilton now - was the flagship of Nevada's gamblinghouse fleet, the most magnificent pleasure liner ever launched on Nevada's desert sands, and its crew was the pick of the industry. There were glamorous big-name stars and the fabulous Hello, Hollywood review, a magnificent arcade of expensive shops and a gambling floor as big as two football fields. It was the class of the wagering world, and if the title has since been taken by the astonishing new resorts being built in Las Vegas, the huge hotel is still a potent reminder that Reno offers every pleasure a fun-seeking visitor could want, from world class cuisine to pee wee golf.
A River Walk extends in both directions. Eastward it follows the river all the way past the Hilton and through Sparks nearly to the enclosing hills. You'll pass trout fishermen if you walk this way. To the west it leads past the little amphitheater where the pleasing noon concerts are performed in the summer months, and on across Arlington Street into the "City of Trembling Leaves" (as author Walter Van Tilburg Clark described it) where cottonwoods and elms shade rambling Victorians, left over from a time when divorcees waited out the six-week residence required for their freedom. Continue on another pleasant half-mile to Idlewild Park with its rose gardens, broad lawns and ducky ponds. The trail proceeds on, and on, and on and on about as far as you're prepared to hike, with a small picnic and rest area at its end, miles from Lake's Crossing.
To the north, Virginia Street between the river and the railroad track is brilliant with names famous in the annals of gambling: Harolds Club, with Pappy Smith's beloved "mural" out front, the glittering Harrah's, the 1950s time capsule called the Nevada Club. Newcomers have added to the city's downtown dimensions: the Eldorado, the Sundowner, the Flamingo Hilton, Circus Circus and the might Silver Legacy. Smaller gambling spots have taken over what were once the prime retail locations in the city so that these downtown blocks of Virginia Street are a bright arcade.
The Eldorado. Here you can choose from one of the state's finest gourmet dining rooms, La Strada, or the city's most highly praised buffet, or six other stylish and distinctive dining choices. The Carano family has adopted the strategy that brought John Asquaga his fame and success in Sparks: serve the best food. Harrah's and the Flamingo Hilton offer first class gourmet dining also, the Cal-Neva always has an inexpensive special or two, and the Circus Circus buffet is a bargain.
You don't have to find a casino to have something to eat, of course. One of the city's finest restaurants is Adele's, the exquisite New York French restaurant at Liberty and South Virginia. If you prefer New York Italian there's Colombo's on the river for dinners. Deux Gros Nez, upstairs over the Hermitage Gallery at California and Humboldt streets, is the inspired setting for a cup of fancy coffee or a cool beer from England. The Santa Fe Hotel on Lake Street is one of Reno's best-known Basque restaurants, having served most of four generations of local folks their hearty working-man's family style suppers. Louis' Basque Corner, at Fourth and Evans is another local favorite.
A few suggestions a little farther afield from the center of town: The best cheeseburger in Reno is either at the Keystone Cue & Cushion, at Fifth and Keystone, or Juicy's at 310 S. Wells (and other locations), you choose.
Wheel's Roadhouse Cafe at the National Automobile Museum provides a unique setting for a light lunch with patio service during pleasant weather and inside seating when it's cold. The collection itself, pure automotive confection, will intrigue and delight.
Art abounds in downtown Reno above and beyond the arresting colors, carefully sculpted shapes and gleaming surfaces of these wonderful cars, and there are two more places where you can combine a snack or a meal with a unique collection of colorful artifacts. One is the Liberty Belle Saloon on south Virginia Street beside the Convention Center. Here you can have an informal lunch or dinner and see the magnificent collection of slot machines assembled by the grandsons of the man who invented this entertaining device. And the Harolds Club Gun Collection has been an attraction at the downtown club for decades and still draws interested visitors to the second floor of the casino - during a recent visit I met a young Indian man inspecting the tools used to kill his grandparents at Wounded Knee. "Look at the size of those bullets," he said
For art without the calories, the Sierra Nevada Museum of Art occupies two near-downtown locations. At the E.L. Weigand Museum, 160 W. Liberty, the exhibits are an eclectic mix of traveling shows and local artists. The Stremmel Gallery on south Virginia Street is a busy showplace of leading artists.
The University of Nevada Reno campus adjoining north Virginia Street is another locus for artists, exhibits and performances of every kind. Campus events are listed at the Jot Travis Student Union (Tel-784-6589). The Gutzon Borglum statue of Comstock mining tycoon John Mackay has been a landmark for 80 years, and you'll enjoy the minerals collection inside the Mackay School of Mines building behind him. If you're a late-night movie watcher, you may feel a shock or recognition as you cross the great lawn of this classical quadrangle. It's not merely that it's modeled after Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia, it's - can it be? Yes! This is where Andy Hardy went to College! (in the 1937 movie starring Mickey Rooney.)
The more recent "Peavine Installation" by John Mason invites your visit: park at the Lawlor Events Center parking area on North Virginia Street, and walk uphill until you see the black and white rectangles planted in the lawn outside the Lombardi Recreation Building.
When you've finished playing eye games with the beguiling piece, walk a little farther up the hill and calm down at the Nevada State Historical Society. You'll find handsomely mounted and informative exhibits depicting the physical and social environments established in the ebb and flow of Nevada history, as well as research collections and facilities.
The oddly shaped building across the way is the Fleischmann Planetarium. Inside is a specially constructed domed theater where a unique cinematic process provides visitors with the "experience" of space flights, an eagle's eye view of the growth and development of a fluffy wisp of cloud into a ferocious thunderstorm, the birth and death of a star, and other cosmic wonders of the universe.
The Rancho San Rafael a few blocks west of the University is an enormous county park, with open green space, playgrounds and a gallery devoted to the interests of Wilbur May, the May Co. Department Store heir whose charmed life ended peacefully a few years ago. The exhibits center on the animals whose lives he ended on hunting trips, and on the art which he collected as avidly as he collected heads. The autumn Great Reno Balloon Race ascensions are made from here in a scene of magical frenzy.
Speaking of green space, no law says you have to confine your graveyard strolling to old mining towns. You can enjoy a half hour at Mountain View Cemetery, accessible from Stoker Avenue via west Fourth Street. Only a few of the old-fashioned angels, lambs and obelisks survive the trend to gang-mowing, but this burying ground contains the earthly remains of some of Nevada's greatest figures from the past. Pay your respects to Senator Pat McCarran, Mayor Ed Roberts, the Pittman Brothers, Bill Stead, Alf Doten and thousands of others more or less prominent in their lifetimes. Their present serenity belies the passions that once stirred them, and the neat rows and simple plaques bear no relation to the complex and sometimes tangled lives they lived. Mausoleums of the rich and famous still stand in great gloomy rows, and a dirt-surfaced Potter's Field on the downslope behind the maintenance sheds provides additional food for thought.
And for miniature golf, there are three fantastic courses at Magic Carpet Golf, four miles south of downtown on Virginia Street, and it's open every day, weather permitting.
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RENO NEWS & REVIEW
GREATER RENO-SPARKS Chamber of Commerce.
NATIONAL AUTOMOTIVE MUSEUM.