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With the move to neon lighting in 1934, the slogan was thought to be outdated and was replaced with the single word "RENO" in green neon letters.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.