Filed Under Divorce

Nystrom Guest House (moved)

The 1875 Gothic-style residence was a rooming house for a century.

This house has been relocated to a lot between Vine and Washington Streets, just south of West 4th Street.

The stately Gothic-style house that originally stood at 333 Ralston Street would be historic enough as the home Washoe County Clerk John Shoemaker built in 1875. However, the Nystrom Guest House also played an important role in Reno’s twentieth-century migratory divorce trade, which gave the town the title “Divorce Capital of the World.”

The Nystrom Guest House had been a rental since the beginning of the twentieth century. It and at least six other houses on the block offered housing for divorce-seekers needing to fulfill a legally defined residency period so they could file their suit, which the Reno courts would dispatch in short order. Running divorce boarding houses was an industry in its own right and several owners operated the guest house before Victor and Estelle Nystrom bought the house in 1944. The couple had moved to Reno from San Francisco with the specific intent of operating a rooming house business for the lucrative divorce trade.

Victor Nystrom was a house painter by trade, but it was Estelle who ran the rooming house operation. The house had eight guest rooms on two floors. Mrs. Nystrom allowed no hanky-panky in her house; the women stayed on the top floor, and the men on the bottom floor. The sexes could interact only in the sitting room, where each morning Mrs. Nystrom served coffee, fruit, and toast to as many as 30 tenants.

Keeping the house fully supplied that first year was not an easy task. Necessary items, such as bed and bath linens, were difficult to obtain because of World War II. By chance, Mrs. Nystrom met one of Reno's prominent divorce lawyers, John Robb Clark, who helped her get the items necessary to keep the rooming house business going during the war. He also referred his clients to her. The relationship between Reno's divorce lawyers and the boarding house operators was an important and mutually beneficial one.

After the war, the divorce trade picked up and those who could not afford Reno's famous dude ranches chose to serve their residency in its boarding houses. The Nystrom Guest House was a popular place for divorce-seekers to stay, and Mrs. Nystrom was a busy resident witness. She watched over the guests, noting the presence of each one of them every day, as required by law.

Testifying at the Washoe County Courthouse was a weekly event. Mrs. Nystrom frequently celebrated with her guests when a final decree was received, and she oversaw the tradition of throwing wedding rings in the Truckee River. At the end of the 1960s, the divorce trade quietly ended as the states liberalized their divorce laws. Mrs. Nystrom's business continued, but to a new clientele: single men. When Mrs. Nystrom died in 1997, her daughter took over the boarding house business.

The Nystrom Guest House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as the City of Reno's Historic Register in 2000. It closed in 2018 after being purchased by Jacobs Entertainment, which moved it in March of 2019 to a parcel between Vine and Washington Streets, where it remains, elevated and vacant.

Images

Nystrom Guest House, 2000
Nystrom Guest House, 2000 The house as it appeared in 2000, the year it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Source: National Register of Historic Places nomination form, Nystrom House Creator: Mella Rothwell Harmon Date: 2000
Newspaper ad, 1957
Newspaper ad, 1957 The Nystrom Guest House at 333 Ralston Street specifically welcomed divorcees, as did many other Reno lodging houses, as seen in this 1957 Nevada State Journal advertisement. Source: Nevada State Journal Date: May 2, 1957
The Nystrom Boarding House in its original location
The Nystrom Boarding House in its original location Estelle Nystrom came from San Francisco specifically to buy a boarding house for divorce-seekers. She settled on this beautiful Gothic Revival home then located on Ralston Street that dates to 1875. Creator: Mella Rothwell Harmon
Gothic window
Gothic window The pointed arch window on the front façade of the Nystrom Guest House is the key Gothic Revival style element. Mrs. Nystrom ran her house in period elegance, with breakfast served in the parlor. Creator: Mella Rothwell Harmon
A longtime boarding house
A longtime boarding house Even after the end of Reno's migratory divorce trade, the house continued to serve as a boarding house named after Mrs. Nystrom. Creator: Mella Rothwell Harmon
Nystrom House in limbo
Nystrom House in limbo Three years after being relocated by Jacobs Entertainment in March of 2019 to the block of West 4th Street between Vine and Washington Streets, the Nystrom House sat elevated and vacant with windows broken. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2022

Location

333 Ralston Street, Reno, NV

Metadata

Mella Rothwell Harmon, “Nystrom Guest House (moved),” Reno Historical, accessed July 14, 2024, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/12.