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The Mapes Hotel: Reno’s Lost Art Deco Jewel

by on Jul.31, 2010, under Travel

  • Sumo

On a cold, gray morning in late January 2000, the historic Mapes Hotel in Reno was imploded by 75 pounds of explosives tucked into the art-deco structures support columns. The controlled demolition came despite years of effort by a number of groups within the community and nationally to preserve the building with lawsuits, redevelopment proposals, and grass roots lobbying efforts.

While the logic and necessity of demolishing the Mapes is very questionable, one thing that is certain is that the hotel was an important part of Northern Nevada history. The opening of the Mapes in’47 ushered in a new era in casino gambling, and changed the economy and way of life in Nevada forever. The Mapes was actually the first property in the country to combine a hotel, casino and live entertainment under the same roof. It also became the hotel of choice for celebrities staying in Northern Nevada. Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe stayed at The Mapes during the filming of ‘The Misfits’. Joseph McCarthy, America’s famed anti-Communist crusader, admitted to a reporter over cocktails in the Mapes Lounge that he really didn’t have a list of Communists in the US despite his frequent and vitriolic insistence to the contrary.

In the 50s and 60s it became, along with Lake Tahoes Cal-Neva Lodge the place to be seen in Northern Nevada. The top floor, window-walled Sky Room showcased performances by the legends: Sinatra, Louis Prima, Mae West, Milton Berle, Sammy Davis, Jr., and the Marx Brothers among others. Subsequent years were not kind to downtown Reno but the Mapes prospered during the 60’s and 70’s. The hotel finally closed in’82, due more to financial difficulties experienced by the Mapes family caused by one of their other Northern Nevada gaming properties than anything else.

Reno never experienced the massive growth that occurred in Las Vegas and southern Nevada, and for that reason the destruction of the Mapes is more open to debate than the hotel demolitions to the south. Even the demolition of The Sands–perhaps the most historically significant casino in the state–is hard to argue against given the inability of such a small property to compete in the current Las Vegas marketplace and in light of the value of the mid-strip real estate. The old properties may have historic value to pop culture historians, but their survival doesn’t make economic sense. They’re simply ‘analog players in a digital world’.

This is not the case in Reno, where land and buildings for development in virtually every casino area are abundant. The official reason that the Mapes had to come down was that the city needed the land–which sits along the banks of the Truckee River–to expand its riverside district of art galleries, restaurants and shops. The revitalization of downtown Reno is definitely needed and a legitimate goal, but at the same time it is hard to think that the Mapes was a barrier to this. Indeed, a number of proposals for redevelopment including office space, artists lofts and upscale senior housing would have probably served to enhance the livability of the downtown area. For whatever reason, the City Redevelopment Authority wouldn’t approve any of the proposals and the fate of the Mapes was sealed.

The role of the City Redevelopment Authority was questioned throughout the process. Overlooking the Truckee River, the hotel was on a prime location between the downtown casino area and the riverfront district. A number of sound financial proposals were presented that would preserve the integrity of the structure including condominiums, office space, and perhaps most viable, upscale senior apartments. Oddly, all of these proposals were turned down by the citys Redevelopment Agency which continued to maintain that demolition was the only viable option despite copious evidence to the contrary.

Following the 2000 demolition, the lot remained vacant for over a year until a temporary ice skating rink was hastily constructed the following winter. The property has been improved and the rink is now permanent which, while not in itself a bad use for the land, further calls into question the efficacy of demolishing the structure. It would appear that the city had no clue what to do with the land, but for whatever reason wanted the building brought down. This has led to all sorts of conspiracy theories, from the City Development Agency having financial incentive to raze the hotel to rumors that the building was haunted and was destroyed to keep the Reno area from being overrun with paranormal activity. Whatever the reason for the decision, the city of Reno has lost a beautiful art deco treasure that played a significant part in the economic growth of the state.

Ross Everett is a freelance sports writer and noted authority on World Series betting. His writing has appeared on a variety of sports sites including sports news and sportsbook review sites. He lives in Southern Nevada with three Jack Russell Terriers and a kangaroo. He is currently working on an autobiography of former interior secretary James Watt.

categories: hotels,travel,entertainment,recreation,destinations,hobbies,marketing

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