Filed Under Businesses

Hale Building

Early tenants of this 1946 building included the Modern Music Center and an FM radio station, KNEV.

The transformation of South Virginia Street from a quiet residential neighborhood into a thriving business district was well underway by 1946, when Edward F. Hale financed the construction of a modest brick commercial building next door to the fire station at California Avenue. Hale was a heavy equipment distributor from Hayward, California who had long counted a number of Reno businesses among his clients. When the war ended, the pent-up demand for new household appliances spurred him to open a retail store in Reno, and the double occupancy building allowed him to earn money from an additional tenant on the north side.

When the building opened in December 1946, that tenant was the Modern Music Center, founded by local musicians and music teachers Earle Hultberg and Robert O’Briant. The forerunner of Maytan Music, the center offered musical instruments, sheet music and accessories, professional instruction, and five sound-proof studios for practice and recording. In 1953, it moved to larger quarters, the old Martha Wingfield House at 735 South Center Street. By then, Hale had gone out of business, and Farmers Insurance had moved in next door.

Replacing the music store was Modern Radio and TV, operated by Jerry Cobb. Cobb was an early radio pioneer, a proponent of applying “Frequency Modulation” technology to radio broadcasting. He had petitioned without success to operate an FM station out of his private home, and in 1953, founded KNEV, Nevada’s first successful FM station, in a studio behind his television and radio sales room. The station’s proximity to the firehouse came in handy, as the telephone pole housing the station’s antennas occasionally caught fire, prompting brief breaks in transmission to extinguish the flames.

KNEV moved to Kietzke Lane in 1964, and the building went through a number of tenants. The north side housed a series of restaurants, from Festina’s (known for its pizza pie) to the Asian-inspired Imperial Restaurant (where a scene from the 1973 Walter Matthau movie Charley Varrick was filmed), to Starbucks Coffee, and eventually the Truckee Bagel Company. The south storefront has been occupied by a series of entities including Ceol Irish Pub. The Arch Society opened there in June 2024.

Audio

Neal Cobb discussing KNEV-FM In a 2015 interview, Neal Cobb explains what led his father, Jerry, to found KNEV-FM in the back of 538 South Virginia Street, in 1953, and some of the challenges the station faced. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2015

Images

Busy commercial corridor, ca. 1955
Busy commercial corridor, ca. 1955 For many years, Farmer's Insurance operated next door to Modern Radio & TV, with KNEV-FM in the building's rear. On the left is the edge of the neighboring Fire Station, and on the right, the 1923 Osen Motor Company building. Source: Neal Cobb and Jerry Fenwick Date: ca. 1955
Edward F. Hale Co. ad
Edward F. Hale Co. ad The building's owner, Edward F. Hale, operated a household appliance store at 540 South Virginia Street until he ran into money troubles and decided to liquidate the Reno branch of his company. This ad from December 6, 1946 lists some of the new appliances then available. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: December 6, 1946
"Nevada's Complete Music Store"
"Nevada's Complete Music Store" Robert O'Briant had been offering private instruction in all band instruments when he partnered with musician Earle Hultberg to open the Modern Music Center in 1946, as announced in this newspaper ad. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: December 9, 1946
Modern Radio and Television ad
Modern Radio and Television ad Jerry Cobb launched KNEV-FM in the back of his retail store, which pushed the sale of consoles containing the FM radios that could receive its signal. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: October27, 1953
Building footprint, 1949
Building footprint, 1949 A Sanborn fire insurance map from 1949 shows the fire station that used to stand just to the north of the Hale Building. Both faced Virginia Street, located on the map's left side. Source: U.S. Library of Congress Creator: Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Date: 1949
Festina's
Festina's Festina's Italian Specialties occupied the building in the 1960s. The restaurant was especially known for its pizza pie. Signage by Federal Sign. Source: Charlie Stroud, Arrow Sign Co. Date: 1964
Coffee Shop & Irish Pub
Coffee Shop & Irish Pub In recent years, the building has moved away from retail toward businesses that encourage people to sit and linger. The arrival of the Starbucks Coffee Company was a turning point in the establishment of the burgeoning Midtown district. Creator: Jerry Fenwick
Neal Cobb
Neal Cobb Neal Cobb stands across from the Hale Building, where his father, Jerry Cobb, ran Modern Radio & TV out of the north storefront while operating KNEV-FM behind it. Creator: Patrick Cummings Date: 2015

Location

538 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Hale Building,” Reno Historical, accessed July 14, 2024, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/125.