Historic Reno Arch

The historic arch now located on Lake Street at the Truckee River is Reno’s most recognizable symbol. Fashioned after California city gateway structures, the steel arch was erected in 1926 at the intersection of Commercial Row and Virginia Street to promote the 1927 Nevada Transcontinental Highways Exposition, commemorating the completion of the Lincoln and Victory highways. At a cost of $5,500, incandescent light bulbs announced the exposition with blazing torches bracketing the name “RENO.”

When the exposition closed, the Reno City Council voted to keep the arch as a permanent downtown gateway, and Mayor E. E. Roberts called on Reno citizens to suggest a slogan for the town to be displayed on the arch. When none of the entries proved acceptable, a prize of $100 was offered, and awarded on March 14, 1929 to G. A. Burns of Sacramento for the winning slogan: “Reno, Biggest Little City in the World.”

With the move to neon lighting in 1934, the slogan was thought to be outdated and was replaced with the single word "RENO" in green neon letters. In response to public protest, the slogan was returned to the arch, in new Art Deco neon lettering. The arch remained unaltered on Virginia Street for the next three decades. By 1963, the community launched a campaign to raise $100,000 to replace the arch in honor of Nevada’s 100th birthday. The old arch was moved to Idlewild Park and replaced with a futuristic model in time for the 1963-64 New Year’s Eve celebration. That arch, modified to reflect its new home, now stands in Willits, California. The arch currently located on Virginia Street was installed in 1987.

A 1969 street widening project forced the move of the original arch to Paradise Park, and in 1988 it was moved to the city’s storage yard because the cost of necessary repairs was too high. There, it languished in disrepair until 1994, when a movie production company came to its rescue while shooting the film Cobb, about legendary baseball player Ty Cobb.

The film company restored the arch and placed it over East 4th Street near Valley Road for four days of filming. No sooner had the production company removed the arch than the public clamored for its permanent return. A community-wide grassroots effort was launched, and in 1995 the arch was reconstructed on Lake Street next to the National Automobile Museum, home of William Harrah’s famed automobile collection, where it once again welcomes visitors to downtown Reno.

Images

Dedication ceremony, 1926

Dedication ceremony, 1926

The dedication of the arch, held on October 23, 1926, was attended by the governors of Nevada and California, Reno's mayor, 1,500 Shriners of the San Francisco Islamic Temple accompanied by a 400-man marching unit, and an 80-piece band. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

New slogan, ca. 1930

New slogan, ca. 1930

The response to the city's contest for a slogan to place on the arch was overwhelming, with far-ranging suggestions such as "Reno: Here in Nevada Where the Sagebrush Grows, Nature Has Forgotten to Record Its Woes" and "Reno: If You Are in a Rush, We Will Get You a Divorce in Three Months." Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

1930s postcard

1930s postcard

The Reno arch soon became one of the city's most iconic symbols, plastered on colorful postcards that served to promote the city's growing tourism industry for years to come. Image courtesy of Philip Galbraith View File Details Page

Missing slogan, ca. 1935

Missing slogan, ca. 1935

With an upgrade to neon, the arch was briefly without its famous slogan, which had been deemed outdated. After public protest, the slogan was returned to the arch on June 12, 1935. Image courtesy of Dick Dreiling View File Details Page

Reno icon, 1930s

Reno icon, 1930s

A colorized postcard looking southward from the Reno arch captures the vibrancy of Virginia Street in the 1930s. Straight ahead is the Riverside Hotel, located on the south bank of the Truckee River. Image courtesy of Philip Galbraith View File Details Page

Northward from Second Street

Northward from Second Street

The Reno arch remained a constant presence on Virginia Street while its surroundings gradually transformed from a mix of resident-oriented restaurants, shops, offices, and banks to clubs and casinos with ever-larger neon signs clamoring for visitors' attention. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Reno arch, ca. 1948

Reno arch, ca. 1948

A view looking southward down Virginia Street reveals a glimpse of the new Mapes Hotel, standing tall on the east side of the street, visible just under the word "Little" on the arch. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Saved by Ty Cobb, 1994

Saved by Ty Cobb, 1994

Seeking to cinematically transform East 4th Street into a historic version of Virginia Street, the production company for the film Ty Cobb restored the historic Reno arch, moving it from storage to a point near Fourth Street and Valley Road. The renewed sight of the iconic structure prompted a grassroots effort to bring it back to public view. Image courtesy of Steve Ellison View File Details Page

A new home

A new home

In 1995, the historic Reno arch found a new permanent home on Lake Street, just north of the Truckee River, where it serves as the backdrop for countless photo shoots by residents and tourists alike. Photo by Max Chapman View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Cindy Ainsworth, “Historic Reno Arch,” Reno Historical, accessed July 25, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/106.

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