Park Wedding Chapel (site)

The Park Wedding Chapel, and the Sullivan Apartments next to it, were replaced by a modern commercial building in 2009, but the little chapel’s distinction comes from being Reno’s first wedding chapel. Joseph Melcher, a local advertising executive, and his wife Venila, opened their wedding business on May 15, 1956, converting what was formerly a private home into a charming chapel. The location was ideal; not only did it face Powning Park, but the marriage license bureau, located in the County Courthouse, was just across the street.

The Melcher’s facilities included a chapel, a waiting room, a powder room, and a registration room. The bride and groom were responsible for finding an official authorized to conduct the service, although there were a number of Reno clergy who would not perform marriages in the chapel. The Justice of the Peace was available at all hours, however, and could perform marriages at any location within his jurisdiction.

Long known as the Divorce Mecca, Reno’s quick wedding trade caught on as the result of Nevada’s lenient requirements for obtaining a marriage license, and got a boost in 1927 when the California legislature passed the so-called “anti-gin” law, which required a three-day waiting period between the issuance of a marriage license and the ceremony, later adding a blood test and medical exam to its requirements. Though Reno remained famous for divorces, it wasn’t long before the Washoe County Courthouse turned out more marriage licenses than it did divorce decrees.

When the Park Chapel opened at 136 South Virginia Street, owner Joe Melcher declared that his goal was to have a place where marriages could be performed in a dignified manner, citing the coldness of a judge’s chambers or the office of the Justice of the Peace. In this regard, the Park Wedding Chapel paved the way for other wedding chapels in Reno, and an expansion of the already lucrative marriage business. For a relatively nominal fee, a visiting bride and groom could have a quick yet respectable wedding. Reno’s casinos and beautiful natural setting made it an ideal place to honeymoon as well. Fans of the 1961 film The Misfits, starring Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, will want to be on the lookout for a brief shot of a Park Wedding Chapel bus bench advertisement that appears over Marilyn Monroe’s left shoulder in one of the downtown scenes.

Images

Reno's first wedding chapel, the Park

Reno's first wedding chapel, the Park

With the city's requisite neon, the Park Wedding Chapel beckoned brides and grooms both night and day. Photo by Max Chapman View File Details Page

Across from the courthouse

Across from the courthouse

The Park Wedding Chapel was Reno's first wedding chapel, conveniently located across Virginia Street from the Washoe County Court House. Marriage licenses could be obtained with no waiting period at the County Clerk's office inside the court house. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Brother David as a wedding chapel officiant

Brother David as a wedding chapel officiant

Gareth Hughes (Brother David) performing a wedding in 1958 in the Park Wedding Chapel. The bride and groom were two members of his Pyramid Lake Paiute congregation in St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Nixon, Nevada. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

A long-time fixture

A long-time fixture

Although undergoing various renovations of the facade and paint colors, the Park Wedding Chapel remained a constant presence in the heart of Reno for decades. Photo by Mella Harmon. Image courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

"World Famous and Reno's Finest!"

"World Famous and Reno's Finest!"

Prominent signs at the apartment house next door made sure passersby did not miss the small chapel. Image courtesy of Max Chapman View File Details Page

A discount in 2002

A discount in 2002

Special offers, discounts, and advertised conveniences kept Reno's wedding chapels competitive with each other. Image courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Street Address:

136 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Mella harmon, “Park Wedding Chapel (site),” Reno Historical, accessed August 17, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/13.

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