It may be hard to believe by looking at it, but the core of the building currently housing the Club Cal-Neva casino was built more than a century ago as a department store. Officially named the Fordonia Building, it was constructed in 1914 as the new home of the Palace Dry Goods House, a department store operated by merchant Wilhelm Levy.
Born in Germany, Levy had immigrated to the United States in his twenties and eventually found his way to Nevada where he operated dry goods stores in a couple of mining boom towns including Virginia City. In 1887, he moved to Reno and with his partner, an uncle named Jacob Morris, opened a mercantile. In 1895, Levy opened his first Palace Dry Goods and Carpet House in a two-story storefront in downtown Reno.
By 1914, he had become successful enough to fund an expansive new building in a prime location at the corner of East Second Street and Center Streets, the heart of the downtown commercial district. Levy named his spacious new edifice the Fordonia Building after his birthplace in Germany. Levy’s 1906 elegant residence at the corner of South Sierra Street and California Avenue (see separate entry for the Levy House) is currently the home of Sundance Books & Music.
Levy died in 1920, and after his death the building housed the National Dollar Store for several years, with the upstairs dedicated to offices. In 1936 the building was purchased by James McKay and J. B. Scarlett (also known as Jack Sullivan), and leased to Robert Feder, who employed more than 200 workers to extensively remodel the building into a palatial gaming club called the Club Fortune, which opened on May 28, 1937. These were early days for the gambling industry in Reno, as the Nevada state legislature had just legalized wide-open gambling in 1931, and the Club Fortune was one of the largest clubs at the time. Inside was a tango salon, a continental lounge, an elaborate bar, and gaming tables.
The Club Fortune exuded luxury. In 1940 its Palm Room opened. The ritzy restaurant became the most popular dining establishment downtown, with chef Jean Sigg running the kitchen. The club was also a center of entertainment, and its stage hosted an array of prominent performers, including the Will Mastin Trio with Sammy Davis, Jr., who made his Reno debut there.
In 1948, the building was sold to Sanford Adler and his associates, who remodeled, renovated, and reopened it as the Club Cal-Neva that November. The Cal-Neva took entertainment seriously, offering two floor shows nightly, with continuous music and dancing. The casino has since undergone a series of renovations and expansions, including an enlarged gaming area, restaurants and entertainment space, and parking garages.