Sunday, September 20, 2009

Reno's Famous Arches

Reno has a thing about arches.

For more than a century, the community has erected various arches over its main thoroughfares to commemorate special events or to promote an image.

Historian Phillip I. Earl has found photographs showing an arch built in 1899 atop the Virginia Street Bridge. The span commemorated Nevada troops returning from duty during the Spanish-American War.

In 1914, Reno erected an arch over Virginia Street, this time greeting visitors passing through the city on their way to the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco. A third arch was temporarily installed over the city’s main street in June 1920 to promote the Reno Rodeo.

In October 1926, a more substantial arch was constructed for an exposition celebrating the completion of the Lincoln and Victory highways, the nation’s first transcontinental roads. In addition to a welcome message about the roads, the arch also had the city’s name spelled in large letters.

This time, the arch wasn’t removed immediately after the event concluded. Instead, city leaders conducted a contest to select a slogan to be affixed to the sign.

The $100 prize attracted thousands of entries including one from a Sacramento man who suggested “The Biggest Little City in the World.” While not the most original suggestion—Earl notes that the slogan had been used several times before during boxing matches and promotional events—it was selected as the most appropriate entry.

In June 1929, the arch was renovated with the new slogan and illuminated. It was changed in 1934, when the city removed its famous slogan because some business folks thought it sounded obsolete. The arch was revamped again in 1935, when it was given a neon face lift and the slogan returned.

This version of the arch stood over Reno for the next 28 years. It appeared on postcards, in movies and books, and in a thousand tourist snapshots.

In the early 1960s, executives of the former Harolds Club casino spearheaded a drive to raise funds to build a new, more modern arch. The new one, erected in 1964, still contained the city’s slogan and name but was constructed of sleek plastic and steel.

In the meantime, the outdated, neon, 1930s arch was moved to Idlewild Park and later to Paradise Park on the Reno-Sparks border.

In 1987, the city felt a need to update its arch once again and replaced the 1960s version with the present arch. The current arch is contemporary, colorful and bright—and serves as the backdrop for many downtown Reno special events such as the New Year’s Eve celebration, which attracts thousands of visitors.

As for the 60s version of the arch, a few years ago it was given to the city of Willits, California. Today, it has been reconstructed with a new message that welcomes people to “Willits: Gateway to the Redwoods.”

As for the historic 1930s arch, it was removed from Paradise Park in the late 1980s and placed in storage while city leaders discussed its future. Despite discussions about putting it back on Virginia Street—making Reno a “city of arches”—it didn’t resurface until a few years ago, when the city allowed it to be used by a movie company, which wanted to re-create the Reno of the 1930s.

In more recent years, the venerable old arch, pictured above, was refurbished and relocated to a new home on Lake Street in front of the National Automobile Museum.

It looks pretty good there, too.

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