Esteemed Reno architect Edward Parsons designed the house at 745 California Avenue in 1941 for Frank R. Payne and his new wife, Hazel. Mr. Payne was a retired executive for the J.C. Penney organization who had moved to Reno with his first wife, Maude, in 1935. Maude passed away in 1938, and the following year, Payne married the former Hazel Salisbury Davison of Joplin, Missouri, who was 25 years his junior and an outgoing socialite known for her fur coats and white riding habit. To design their new home, the Paynes hired Parsons, who was the son-in-law of their next-door neighbors, the George C. Steinmillers.
Interviewed in 1983, Parsons recalled that Hazel Payne had shown him a photograph of a house she had in Los Angeles and told him, “This is what I like.” The English Tudor Revival style house was designed around a 20-foot diameter circular entry hall with thirteen openings. The massive arched stone doorway makes for a dramatic entrance. Otherwise, the rest of the house is brick to the first floor, and above that, half timber and stucco. Interesting architectural features include the tapestry effect of the decorative brickwork and the steep gabled roof line. The entire house encompasses 5,363 square feet plus a 2,077-square-foot finished basement, with six bedrooms and four-and-a-half bathrooms.
The Paynes did not spend many years together. Frank died after suffering a stroke in 1943 at the age of 74. Hazel went on to author numerous books and nationally published articles. Under the pen name of Greer Gay, she wrote a novel, The Case of the Well-dressed Corpse, about life in Reno during the 1940s and 1950s. Several scenes in the novel are set in rooms of this house. Hazel Payne served as president and one of the originators of the Reno Town Hall and the Reno Opera Association. She was also the first chairman of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., of Nevada. She was a member of the Twentieth Century Club, Washoe Medical Center Women’s League, Daughters of the American Revolution, Reno Little Theater, and the Writers and Authors Guild of America. She lived in the house until her own death in 1975 at the age of 83.