Giraudo Apartments/Penguin Café

Shea's

The Giraudo Apartments were constructed in 1928 from a design by Nevada’s premier architect at the time, Frederic DeLongchamps. The building featured two storefronts and one apartment on the ground floor, with six apartments upstairs. It was a popular address for divorce-seekers serving out their six weeks in the years when Reno reigned as the Divorce Capital of the World.

The darker bricks used on the building’s façade exemplify some popular decorative styles. The wide course running across the building’s midsection is laid in a soldier formation, in which the bricks are set upright. The wide borders surrounding the upstairs windows and forming smaller rectangles above them are set in a rowlock style, where bricks are laid on their narrow sides with the short ends exposed. The arched center doorway leading to the upstairs apartments adds an additional note of elegance.

The building’s first commercial tenant was Gunter’s Grocery, operated by Louis E. Gunter, who had been running a market just down the block at 745 South Virginia Street. His new grocery ran the entire length of the north side of the building, and opened despite being adjacent to the Piggly Wiggly, a chain grocery that had opened just two years earlier. That two markets could operate in such close proximity was a testament to the large number of houses in the area, which had yet to develop into a commercial district.

Through the years, various tenants occupied the ground floor. The larger commercial space on the building’s north side later became the Virginia Market, then the Seven Fifteen Bar (named for its address), Duncan’s Pub, and eventually, Shea’s Tavern. The smaller space on the south side, which fronted the downstairs apartment, served as a cleaner’s, a drug store, a rose shop, and for many years, Penguin Ice Cream, which reportedly served 4500 customers during its opening week in 1935. Perks included curbside service and free delivery for orders of a quart or more. The Penguin, with its familiar black-and-white checkered floor, eventually transformed into a full-fledged cafe, and following its closure in the 1980s, the space housed several restaurants including the original Luciano's and, finally, Midtown Eats.

Images

Commercial elegance

Commercial elegance

The Giraudo Apartment building combines residential units with two commercial storefronts--a popular building form at the time of its construction in 1928. | Creator: Alicia Barber View File Details Page

Frederic DeLongchamps drawings

Frederic DeLongchamps drawings

Prominent architect Frederic DeLongchamps designed the building, indicating on his drawings the precise placement and style of the facade's decorative brick. Drawings courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Gunter's Grocery

Gunter's Grocery

Louis E. Gunter was an experienced grocer when he opened a market in the new building in 1928. Plans for the grocery were reportedly approved by the National Retail Grocers' Association of the United States. Image courtesy of Reno Evening Gazette View File Details Page

Penguin Ice Cream ad, 1935

Penguin Ice Cream ad, 1935

Longtime residents of the area fondly recall the Penguin's hand-packed ice cream and soda fountain. Later, the popular cafe also offered breakfast and lunch. Image courtesy of Reno Evening Gazette View File Details Page

Street Address:

717 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Alicia Barber, “Giraudo Apartments/Penguin Café,” Reno Historical, accessed March 29, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/123.

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