The Douglas Alley of today is just a shadow of what it was in its heyday. Running parallel to Commercial Row, the alley once ran east from Peavine (now Evans) Street to West Street. Over time, the development of large casinos reduced it to its current single block, between Sierra and Virginia Streets. Douglas was the most famous of Reno’s alleys, sometimes called the “busiest little street in the Biggest Little City.” The Alley’s name, along with Lincoln Alley (see separate entry), reportedly came from the Lincoln-Douglas debate.
From Reno’s earliest days, Douglas Alley was infamously known for its robberies, wandering ladies of the night and carjackings. The Great Fire of 1879, which killed six people and destroyed many downtown businesses, began on this alley. During Prohibition, it was known as “Bottle Alley” for its reputation as a haven for moonshiners and speakeasies. Many famous clubs lined the alley, including Harrah’s Plaza Tango, Reno Casino, Wine House, Bank Club and Harolds Club. From 1948-1968, the Harlem Club operated on East Douglas, then considered the skid row of Reno. The Harlem Club was mostly patronized by African-Americans and was opened by William Bailey, cousin to Pearl Bailey who sometimes performed there. Despite headliners like Sammy Davis, Louis Armstrong and BB King, the Harlem Club developed a reputation as a rough place with frequent fights and was off limits to military personnel. Bailey even got shot while dealing craps.
West Douglas also was a rough place. Most famously, on June 4, 1931 at the Haymarket Club, local gaming and vice kingpin Bill J. Graham tangled with a gambler named Blackie McCracken. When McCracken pulled a gun and got off one shot before his gun jammed, Graham returned fire and killed him. Graham was exonerated.
All types of gimmicks and cleanup occurred on East Douglas and Lincoln Alleys but one of the most famous was when it was literally paved in gold. In 1949 the Reno Jaycees covered the Alleys with 110 tons of gold ore from the Occidental Mine in Silver City, mixed into the concrete. A weekend of festivities followed, with the Jaycees trimming the Alleys with two tons of bunting, 500 torches, and celebrities from Hollywood.
These golden alleys were replaced later by a brightly colored, swirl-patterned terrazzo, and in 1973, the swirls were replaced with a gold-colored concrete. As the sparkle of real gold faded, so did an exciting piece of Reno’s past.