Nystrom Guest House

This stately Gothic-style house 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. It continues to operate in that capacity today.

Images

Present-day view of the Nystrom Boarding House

Present-day view of the Nystrom Boarding House

Estelle Nystrom came from San Francisco specifically to buy a boarding house for divorce-seekers. She settled on this beautiful Gothic Revival home on Ralston that dates to 1875. Photo by Mella Harmon View File Details Page

Gothic window

Gothic window

The pointed arch window on the front facade 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. Photo by Mella Harmon View File Details Page

Still a boarding house

Still a boarding house

The divorce trade is long over, but the house continues to serve as a boarding house named in Mrs. Nystrom's memory. Photo by Mella Harmon View File Details Page

Street Address:

333 Ralston Street, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Mella Harmon, “Nystrom Guest House,” Reno Historical, accessed March 29, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/12.

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