Thursday, March 30, 2023

New Reno Public Market Offers a Little Something for Everyone

   A trend in many cities in recent years is the creation of “public markets,” which typically are large, open public spaces with a variety of different restaurants available.

   Unlike the old mall food courts, which mostly offered fast-food chain options, restaurants in public market food halls are usually locally-owned and offer a wider variety of more ethnically-diverse dining choices.

   Earlier this year, Reno gained its first one of these types of places with the opening of the Reno Public Market on the site of the former Shopper’s Square mall on the northeast corner of Plumb Lane and South Virginia Street.

   Additionally, the project includes new retail businesses, including the Maker’s Paradise Art Collective, a Sprouts Farmers Market and Wandering Wyld Collective, which supports local crafts people and artists.

   The centerpiece of the market, however, is the food hall, which offers some 18 different vendors ranging from Life’s a Batch, a delightful cupcakery with organic, paleo, and vegan baked creations, to Bone Appetit Bar-B-Que Grill, which serves up delicious ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, and other smoked dishes.

   Other vendors include: A La Parrilla Latin Food, Burger NV, Brazilian Gourmet Market, Pie-Ya pizza, Bite Me, offering sliders and loaded fries, Crepes and Craft, Fuego Street Tacos, Wok & Roll, V’s Churro Bar and Los Cipotes Salvadoran restaurant.

   For drinks, the food hall has Miches Vatos, which specializes in michelada cocktails, the Morning Glory juice bar and the Honey Bar, with a wide selection of beers, wine and cocktails.

   Future tenants will include the Truckee-based FiftyFifty Brewing Company, which will offer a selection of its award-winning craft beers, and the Noodle Station, which will serve noodles (naturally) as well as bao and beer.

   The food hall dining area, which covers two stories of the market, is enhanced by the presence of a small stage, called “Faye’s,” where diners are regularly entertained by local musicians, DJs and other performers.

   The Reno Public Market sits on the former site of the Casazza family ranch. In 1923, Anthony Casazza purchased 140 acres of ranchland situated between what is now Plumb Lane and Vassar Street.

   After operating the ranch for the next four decades, in the early 1960s the Casazza family converted the property into a retail shopping complex called Shoppers Square. Over the years, Shoppers Square was home to a variety of small businesses, a grocery store, and big box stories, such as Marshall’s.

   With the development of the massive Reno Experience District, on the opposite side of Plumb Lane, a luxury apartment and retail complex, which replaced the former Park Lane Mall, the Casazza family, along with developer Foothill Partners, embarked on a complete revitalization of the Shoppers Square property, which was transformed into the Reno Public Market.

   Visitors to the market will find an attractive, kind of post-industrial vibe to the place, with its exposed metal beams and girders and concrete floors. During the first four days of its opening last January, more than 12,000 people streamed through the market to sample its offerings.

   Reno Public Market is located at 299 E. Plumb Lane in Reno. Its hours are Monday, Wednesday and Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., and closed on Tuesdays.

   For more information, go to:

Monday, March 20, 2023

Frontier Nevada was Once a Hot Bed of Fake News


   One of the things that has always fascinated me about Nevada’s frontier journalism scene was the fact that many indulged in the art of the hoax.

   While the best-known practitioners of this were Mark Twain and Dan De Quille, who both worked at the legendary Territorial Enterprise newspaper in Virginia City, there were a number of others who wrote equally witty, clever, or humorous works.

   My fascination, in fact, inspired me to write a new book, “Frontier Fake News: Nevada’s Sagebrush Humorists and Hoaxsters,” which was recently published by the University of Nevada Press.

   In the book, I traced the history of such fake news back to Benjamin Franklin, who once concocted an entire fake newspaper to trick the British, and then to New York newspaper writers in the early 19th century, who wrote about flying bat-people on the moon and other incredible topics.

   In Nevada, Twain and De Quille were among the most prolific hoaxsters, writing about fake massacres, petrified men, solar-powered armor, amazing traveling stones in eastern Nevada and other fantastic subjects.

   But there were, of course, others during that time who amused their readers with such things as the tale of a luminescent bush near Tuscarora that attracted the attention of the scientific community (longtime Tuscarora editor John Dennis) and the proceedings of a special social club devoted to prevarication (Austin editor Fred Hart’s famous Sazerac Lying Club).

   In the course of my research, I found a deep appreciation for the creative and very fake stories written by Carson City editor Sam Davis, the terrible but funny puns of peripatetic editor William J. Forbes, and the unbelievable accounts of an eastern California mining camp, written by the aptly-nicknamed “Lying” Jim Townsend.

   Newspaper hoaxes did not disappear after the 19th century but continued into the early 20th century in the pages of the San Francisco Examiner, the Los Angeles Times and, perhaps appropriately, in the revived Territorial Enterprise in the 1950s.

   It was in the latter paper that editor Bob Richards, with the blessing of owners Lucius Beebe and Charles Clegg, cooked up the idea of camel racing in Virginia City, which eventually became a real thing—sort of the tail wagging the dog, so to speak.

   I think the thing that impressed me most in writing this book was the enormous talent of Nevada’s 19th century ink-stained wretches (who, collectively, have been called the “Sagebrush School” of writers by many scholars).

   Mostly self-taught, they came to Nevada seeking riches and, after failing in the mines or other businesses, were gifted enough to use humor, hoaxes and side-eye writing to make a point about politics, life, or other higher-level matters.

   They fought with each other (in print), made-up, sometimes got drunk together, and crafted a style of writing that was quirky, memorable and substantial—and, I believe, we are all richer for them having done so.

   For more information about (or to order a copy of) “Frontier Fake News: Nevada’s Sagebrush Humorists and Hoaxsters,” go to the University of Nevada Press website,

Monday, March 13, 2023

Oldest House on Reno's Original Townsite Remains in Limbo


   During all the years I have wandered Reno, I never thought much about the unassuming brown and yellow house at 347 West Street in downtown Reno. I recall thinking it had some interesting architectural features, such as the little Victorian touches on the top of the porch columns, but otherwise it just seemed like an old house with bay windows.

   In recent years, the area around the house, which, at least since the 1940s, has been populated largely by small hotels, began to change. A developer, working with the city of Reno, announced plans to create the “Reno Neon Line” district, along West Fourth Street, which will be some combination of resorts, restaurants, nightclubs, residential uses, and other businesses (the exact plans are still being developed).

   The developer began acquiring property in the area for its $1 billion arts, entertainment and residential development and, to date, more than a dozen of the small motels have been demolished, leaving the little brown and yellow house to stand, looking somewhat forlorn, amidst empty lots filled with debris.

   Earlier this year, however, Reno historian Alicia Barber discovered the home, known as the Benham-Belz House, which is not owned by the developer, was most likely built in 1868, making it the oldest house still standing on the original Reno townsite, which was established that same year.

   Barber told the Reno Gazette-Journal in April 2022 that “when this was built, Reno was a little rail town, the Comstock lode was still booming, and it was a place to get to somewhere else, but the people that stayed here had this faith that it would be something else.”

   According to Barber’s research, the first owners of the house were Issac and Melinda Benham. Issac was a stonemason from New York, who likely built the seven-room dwelling, which originally had a barn and small fruit tree orchard. He would later build the brick Belmont Courthouse in Nye County and the Central School in Reno in 1879.

   The house was sold to John and Lizzie Belz in the early 1880s. John, who was originally from Germany, was a popular local barber. Following his sudden death in 1900, his wife remained in the house, raising their four children.

   Lizzie Belz continued to live in the house until her death in 1953 at the age of 93. After that, one of her daughters, Florence, who was a nurse, resided in the house until she died in 1981 at the age of 87.

   In the 1980s, the house was purchased by the Gorham family, which continues to own it. In the 2022 Reno Gazette-Journal story, current owner John Gorham, who is a realtor, said his grandparents lived in the house for many years and it is his intention to fix it up, perhaps making it into a deli, a 1920s-style speakeasy, or a soda fountain.

   Gorham told the newspaper that the developer who has purchased all the surrounding property attempted to buy the house from him but they couldn’t agree on a price.

   So, for the time being, the little brown and yellow house is in limbo. If you stand in front of the home, you can see the towering Sands Hotel behind it. All around is what the RGJ described as “an empty motel graveyard.”

   Will it end up like the Reno Mercantile building, once the oldest building in the city, built in 1872, which was demolished in 2018? Or will it survive like the Lake Mansion, built in 1877, but relocated several times before landing in 2004 at 250 Court Street to serve as the home of Arts for All Nevada?

   For more information about the Benham-Belz House, go to:

Sunday, March 05, 2023

The Story of Reno's Nevada-California-Oregon Railroad


The historic Nevada-California-Oregon Railway Depot on Fourth Street in Reno

   The city of Reno owes much of its existence to railroads. It was the Central Pacific Railroad that first plated the community (in 1868) and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad once connected it to the fabulous wealth of the Comstock region. Additionally, in the early 20th century the Western Pacific Railroad had a spur line to Reno.

   But there was another railroad, the Nevada-California-Oregon Railway (or, as it was sometimes abbreviated, the N-C-O), that was the only one to call Reno its headquarters. Now largely forgotten, the railway went through an astounding number of changes during its existence.

   According to the late David Myrick’s meticulously-research book, “Railroads of Nevada and Eastern California, Volume 1,” the N-C-O was originally planned to stretch south for about 133 miles, from Wadsworth (about 30 miles to the east of Reno) to then-thriving mining camps at Candelaria and Belleville.

   But recognizing that the planned Carson & Colorado Railroad would be essentially serving the same areas, in 1880, organizers switched gears and announced plans to build a railroad line from the mining towns of Aurora and Bodie, through Reno, and ending at the California-Oregon state line near Goose Lake. This new venture was to be called the Nevada & Oregon Railroad.

   Following internal conflicts between the railroad’s board members—and construction of only 17 miles, going north from Reno—the enterprise, which was badly underfunded, went bust.

   During the next few years, the N&O stumbled through financial difficulties and management changes. In 1885, the railroad’s name was changed, again, to the Nevada & California Railroad. Additionally, the line was extended to the eastern edge of Honey Lake.

   Finally, in 1893, the railroad became part of the Nevada-California-Oregon Railway and, in the following decades, the line was extended to Lakeview, Oregon. Because of the many twists and turns of the line, some informally called it the “Narrow, Crooked, and Ornery” railroad.

   The N-C-O presence in Reno reached its peak in about 1910, when the railroad had a roundhouse, locomotive house and machine shop, and it opened a two-story depot/station on Fourth Street (replacing a smaller wooden one on the corner of Lake and Plaza streets).

   The new depot was designed by prominent Reno architect Frederic DeLongchamps in an elegant style that incorporated Italianate bracketed cornices, Mission-style fa├žade elements, Roman arches and red Spanish roof tiles.

   In 1917, the N-C-O sold 64 miles of its line from Herlong, California, to Reno to the Western Pacific Railroad, meaning it no longer needed its properties in Reno. In the 1920s, the remainder of the line was sold to the Southern Pacific Railroad.

   As for the railroad’s Reno properties, the roundhouse burned in 1940 but the depot and the locomotive house and machine shop are still standing.

   The depot ceased being used for passenger travel in 1937 (that service was abandoned by the Western Pacific Railroad). It served as the WP offices for many years and, after 1958, was home of the Barengo Liquor Company.

   More recently, after sitting empty for about a decade, it was lovingly restored into a popular restaurant and microbrewery and distillery called the Depot Craft Brewery Distillery.

   The former locomotive house and machine shop was also sold and has, over the years, hosted a variety of businesses, including a printing business for many years. Recently, it became the home of Black Rabbit Mead Company, a local mead-brewing concern.

   The city of Reno has designated both historic structures as key parts of its new Brewery District along Fourth Street. Some eight micro-breweries, micro-distilleries, and a winery are or soon will be clustered in this historic part of the city.

   A good source of information about the N-C-O’s history is the Sparks Museum’s website,

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Idaho's Shoshone Falls Remain a Sight to See

   Just over the Idaho-Nevada border, north of Jackpot, is Shoshone Falls, a waterfall that some have described as the “Niagara of the West.”

   The massive crescent-shaped falls are simply spectacular. Stretching about 1,000-feet across, with a spill of more than 200 feet, they are, in fact, a longer fall than Niagara.

   With the record rainfall in the west this year, the falls should be spectacular for much of this year. That’s not always the case, however, since the flow of the Snake River over the falls can be reduced in dry years or high water use times.

   The reason for Shoshone Falls’ seasonal fluctuation in flows is that during the summer and fall much of the river water is diverted to irrigate farms in the surrounding Magic Valley.

   While there was some discussion about designating the area a national park, the issue was settled in 1902 by a landmark court decision in favor of the irrigation interests.

   Starting in 1901, a giant vertical tunnel was constructed into the rock above the falls. A 500-watt power plant was constructed in 1905-07 to provide power for the nearby town of Twin Falls, Idaho.

   Despite the changes made to the Shoshone Falls ecosystem, a visit to the site is always worthwhile. The falls are part of the visually spectacular Snake River Canyon, a deep, winding chasm at the north edge of Twin Falls.

   While originally shaped by glacial and volcanic activity, many of the unusual geological formations found in the canyon region were created some 30,000 years ago by a massive flood known as the Bonneville Flood.

   Historians say that was when ancient Lake Bonneville, which once covered nearly all of northern Utah and parts of southern Idaho, spilled over its traditional boundaries, causing a wall of water—believed to be one cubic mile in size—to crash into the Snake River near what is now Pocatello.

   The incredible force of the water created the Snake River Canyon’s large depressions and picturesque cliffs—of which Shoshone Falls in the most impressive.

   Even in the months when the flow of the Snake River is lower, it’s worth visiting Shoshone Falls because more of the sheer cliff walls are exposed. During those times, you can usually view two large ribbons of water spilling over the worn yet expressive basalt walls.

   Shoshone Falls Park, adjacent to the falls, makes for a pleasant place for an afternoon picnic in the shadow of the cascading water. The park includes a fenced overlook that provides a splendid panoramic view of the area.

   In the wetter spring months, Shoshone Falls widens and smaller rivulets of water will erupt from the surrounding canyon walls, including around the Shoshone Falls Park area, to support the blossoming of a virtual paradise of greenery.

   Another place to catch a glimpse of the beauty of the Snake River Canyon is adjacent to the Twin Falls Visitor Center on Blue Lake Boulevard. From the parking lot, you can look out across the broad canyon. There is a small fee to visit the falls.

   Nearby Perrine Bridge is a manmade marvel, measuring 1,500-feet across and standing 486-feet above the Snake River. The present bridge, built in 1974, replaced an earlier version that was, at the time of its construction, the highest bridge in the world.

   Twin Falls is 43 miles north of Jackpot, Nevada, a booming gaming resort community located on U.S. 93 at the Nevada-Idaho border. For more information, go to

Monday, February 20, 2023

Fabulous Views Found on Old Donner Summit Route


   Weather permitting, a fun alternative to traveling on Interstate 80 over Donner Summit is to take the historic Old Donner Pass Road that parallels the interstate for about 11 miles.

   Instead of racing along on a modern, four-lane freeway, this drive is considerably more laid-back, as you wind through beautiful, wooded alpine scenery, enjoying marvelous views of craggy peaks and cliffs.

   Heading east toward Reno, you can jump onto the two-lane road at the turnoff at Soda Springs. After passing through some fairly developed areas filled with summer homes and roadside businesses, the road makes a slow climb to the Sugar Bowl Resort and Donner Ski Ranch areas.

   If you stop in the parking lot at Sugar Bowl, you can catch a great view of the natural bowl-shaped landscape that gives the resort its name. The two tallest peaks at each end of the bowl are Mount Lincoln and Mount Disney (the latter named after Walt Disney, the original developer of the Sugar Bowl Resort in 1939).

   A bit farther up the road, you can see the west portal of the Donner Summit Railroad Tunnel, a 1,659-foot-long passage that was constructed in 1867 for trains traveling through the mountains.

   The tunnel was used for about 130 years by the Central Pacific, Southern Pacific, Union Pacific and Amtrak trains. These days, the trains travel through adjacent snow sheds rather than the original tunnel.

   Also take note of the stone embankments below the train tracks, which were hand-built by Chinese laborers in the late 1860s.

   The road continues to 7,088-foot Donner Pass. If you pull over here, you can look out over the steep eastern face of the pass and see the glimmering jewel known as Donner Lake.

   Continuing east on the road, you wind downward to the very picturesque Donner Summit Rainbow Bridge. This reinforced concrete arch bridge was built in 1926 (and restored in 1996) and was originally part of the historic Lincoln Highway, the first transcontinental road in the U.S.

   But the story of Old Donner Pass Road even predates the Lincoln Highway. In 1844, the Murphy-Townsend-Stephens Party, one of the earliest emigrant wagon trains, blazed a trail through the area on its way to California.

   A later emigrant group, the tragic Donner Party, however, gave its name to the pass after it was trapped at the lake below during the winter of 1846-47.

   In 1864, a developed byway, known as the Dutch Flat and Donner Lake Wagon Road, was completed over the pass to serve the construction camps building the Central Pacific Railroad through the mountains.

   Historical records indicate the wagon road was abandoned after the railroad was finished but reconstructed as California State Highway 37 in 1909 then incorporated into the Lincoln Highway in 1913.

   The Old Donner Pass Road also was part of the Victory Highway in the early 1920s and, after 1925, part of U.S. Route 40—so, you can see, it has had many names and numbers in its long history.

   These days, while the interstate has taken away most of the auto traffic the road remains a special drive. The rugged rock cliffs surrounding the bridge are also popular with rock-climbers and hikers.

   From the bridge, it’s about six miles to Donner Lake, a scenic body of water that offers sailing, jet-skiing, boating, fishing and swimming. The road winds around the north side of the lake through a forest of condos and summer homes.

   At the east edge of the lake is the Donner Memorial State Park, which has a small museum commemorating the ill-fated Donner Party. A short nature hike from the museum leads to the site where the members of that group erected shelters and ends at the lakeshore.

   About a mile from the state park is the town of Truckee and where you can reconnect with the interstate and continue to Reno, about 30 miles east.

   For more information about Donner Summit and its rich history, go to the Donner Summit Historical Society website,

Sunday, February 12, 2023

Longtime Nevada Journalist Writes About His Hometown of Vallejo, California in New Book


View of Vallejo in 1852-53

  Brendan Riley really knows the city of Vallejo, California.

  Riley, the longtime Associated Press Capital Bureau Chief in Carson City, was born and raised in Vallejo, where his father was a legendary local newspaper editor and political figure, Wyman Riley, and his mother, Marjorie Riley, was also a journalist and writer.

  Following his retirement in 2009, Riley, a member of the Nevada Press Association Hall of Fame, who spends part of his time in Genoa, Nevada, and part of it in Vallejo, turned his attention to his hometown and specifically its rich history.

  In 2017, he published his first book, “Lower Georgia Street: California’s Forgotten Barbary Coast,” about a once-notorious sailor district in Vallejo with a colorful and racy history.

  In the course of writing that book, Riley collected so much historical material about the city that he felt he had more to say on the subject. As a result, later that year he began writing a regular column, the Solano Chronicles, for the “Vallejo Times-Herald” newspaper.

  Recently, Riley collected the best of his columns for the past few years into another book, “Vanishing Vallejo: Random History Notes on a Colorful California Town.” In other words, a book begets a column that begets another book.

  “Vanishing Vallejo” offers a wonderful overview of the many interesting people, events, and places that define the city. Importantly, many of the entries focus on Mare Island, an historic shipyard that provided jobs for many in the community and remains an important part of the community’s identity.

  Riley divides his book chronologically, with entries organized by the year they were published. He begins his book, appropriately, with a short history of the city’s namesake, General Mariano Vallejo, who originally hoped to have the California state capital located in the community (it did have that distinction for a short time).

  Other items in the first chapter, collecting 2017 columns, include a profile of Admiral David Farragut, the first Mare Island Shipyard Commandant, a story about gangster George “Baby Face” Nelson’s time hiding out in Vallejo in the 1930s, and the impacts of Prohibition on the city (it was largely ignored).

  Subsequent chapters include stories about the time the future Duchess of Windsor spent in Vallejo in 1920, how ill-informed urban renewal efforts in the early 1970s unfortunately destroyed several landmark buildings in the city, the stories of sunken ships in Vallejo’s bay, and how famed novelist Ernest J. Gaines, who grew up in Vallejo, once haunted the city library for inspiration.

  Reading the book, one comes away with a new appreciation for the rich history of Vallejo, a city that often is overshadowed by its more famous neighbors, the Napa Valley, Sonoma Valley and San Francisco.

  For example, who knew that in 1918, actor Boris Karloff, who would later go on to great fame in films like “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein,” spent time in Vallejo as a struggling actor? Karloff, then in his early 30s, joined the acting troupe at Vallejo’s Airdome Theatre and performed in a number of plays until the theatre, like all public venues, was closed during the deadly influenza outbreak of 1917-18.

  Unable to work as an actor, Karloff worked as the nearby Sperry Flour Mill for about two months. In 1919, with the Vallejo acting company now defunct, Karloff joined a theater company in San Jose and, eventually, ended up in Hollywood, where he found much greater success.

  Brendan Riley’s “Vanishing Vallejo: Random History Notes on a Colorful California Town,” is published by America Through Time, an imprint of Foothill Media, working with Arcadia Publishing. It can be found in online bookstores, such as, which pays a portion of its sales to local bookstores.

New Reno Public Market Offers a Little Something for Everyone

   A trend in many cities in recent years is the creation of “public markets,” which typically are large, open public spaces with a variety ...