California Apartments

In 1921, Reno's so-called "Divorce Colony" was thriving, and building in general was booming. In addition to a growing permanent population, Reno needed housing for its temporary residents, the divorce-seekers. On March 29 of that year, the local paper announced that at least three new apartment buildings were planned. Edward Vacchina and his wife Cora (née Pincolini), both Italian immigrants, purchased three house lots on the corner of California Avenue and Granite Street (now S. Sierra) in the Marsh Addition.

The Vacchinas engaged prominent Reno architect Frederic J. DeLongchamps to design the eleven-unit brick apartment house, which he rendered in a restrained Classical Revival style characterized by the Classical portico supported by a double set of Doric columns over the entrance. The California Apartments drew a high-class clientele from among locals and divorce-seekers.

It became a practice among those catering to the divorce trade, especially divorce lawyers, to set their wives up as managers of apartments and boarding houses. In the case of the California Apartments, Mrs. Vacchina was the on-site manager, while Mr. Vacchina held positions elsewhere in town. Among his jobs, he served as the proprietor of a soft drink parlor, a liquor store, and the manager of the Ritz Hotel on Commercial Row.

The rental business continued to be lucrative through the 1920s and '30s, and by 1940, the Vacchinas believed the time was ripe to expand their business, which they did by building a second apartment building facing Granite Street, just ten feet behind the original apartment building. The new building opened in August 1940, comprising 16 modern “bachelor” apartments. Each was furnished, and contained a living room, cedar closet, kitchenette, and a Murphy bed. The exterior design hinted at Art Moderne with the entrance flanked with rounded glass blocks and a stainless steel marquee over the entrance. Joe Tognoni, a young architect who had recently designed the Dog House nightclub, designed the new California Apartments. In 1941, Tognoni designed the “novel and ultra-modern” Regina Apartments on Island Drive for owner Jean Sigg.

These two buildings, both with illustrious careers in Reno’s housing history, still stand and function as apartment buildings in one of Reno’s newly-revived shopping districts.

Images

California Apartments, early 1940s

California Apartments, early 1940s

From the beginning, the Vacchina's apartment business was prosperous. In 1940, they commissioned a second apartment building with 16 modern bachelor apartments. This photograph shows both buildings; the classical California Apartments on the right and the "modern" new building on the left. Image courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno Oral History Program View File Details Page

Edward and Cora Vacchina, apartment builders

Edward and Cora Vacchina, apartment builders

Born in the Piemonte region of Italy in 1881, Eduardo "Edward" Vacchina immigrated to the United States around 1903. His wife, Quirina "Cora" Vacchina, nee Pincolini, was born in a town called Borgo San Donnino in 1893. They met in Reno and married in 1913. Image courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno Oral History Program View File Details Page

Elmer and Esther Vacchina

Elmer and Esther Vacchina

Born in Reno in 1920, Elmer moved with his parents into the new California Apartments while still a baby. Growing up, he remembers his mother serving as a residence witness for several divorcees. Image courtesy of University of Nevada, Reno Oral History Program View File Details Page

The California Apartments in the 21st century

The California Apartments in the 21st century

Frederic J. DeLongchamps, Reno's pre-eminent architect, included a Classical portico in his design for the California Apartments. Photo by Robert Blesse View File Details Page

Audio

An all-electric apartment house

Elmer Vacchina describes how his father planned the design and modern amenities of the family’s California Apartments. | Source: Elmer Vacchina oral history transcript. Interviewed by Mary Larson in August, 2005. Chapter 45 of The Italian-American Experience in Northwestern Nevada, from Territorial Days to the Present  published by the University of Nevada Oral History Program. Oral History Archive, Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries | Creator: University of Nevada Oral History Program View File Details Page

They slept in the barn

Elmer Vacchina, whose parents built the California Apartments, explains how his father, Edward Vacchina, arrived in Reno in 1910. | Source: Elmer Vacchina oral history transcript. Interviewed by Mary Larson in August, 2005. Chapter 45 of The Italian-American Experience in Northwestern Nevada, from Territorial Days to the Present published by the University of Nevada Oral History Program. Oral History Archive, Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries | Creator: University of Nevada Oral History Program View File Details Page

Street Address:

45 California Avenue, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Mella Harmon, “California Apartments,” Reno Historical, accessed August 17, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/2.

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