Filed Under Businesses

Byington Building

The building at the corner of Virginia and Second Streets was a longstanding commercial anchor.

The northwest corner of Second and Virginia Streets houses one of Reno's oldest and most esteemed commercial structures. Located on one of the first lots on the original Reno townsite to be sold in 1868, it is sometimes said to have been Reno's first brick building, surviving two major fires. The brick edifice constructed in the 1870s remains at the heart of this building, which in many ways embodies the trajectory of Reno's ever-changing downtown.

The lot was originally sold by the Central Pacific Railroad to S.C. Fogus, who built a small frame store there where he sold general merchandise. By the 1870s, the building was known as "Burke's Corner" for owner James Burke, who built a new brick structure on the lot in 1872 and ran a general merchandise store in the northernmost of its two Virginia Street-facing storefronts in the 1870s and 1880s. On the tall second floor was a large hall that was rented out for meetings and events. It was known at various times as Armory Hall, Wheelmen's Hall, and Eagle's Hall.

In 1887 the lot was purchased for $21,000 by Catherine Byington of Downieville, beginning her family's long association with the building. In 1903 the family commenced construction of a new building that extended from the back of the original portion westward to the alley separating Virginia from Sierra Streets. Called "The Byington Building," it was built to house offices on the upper floor and had entrances on West Second Street and a different appearance from the corner structure, with large bay windows on the upper two stories.

In 1912 the family painted the exterior of the original building a tan color, modernized the show windows on the ground floor, and remodeled the interior, including improvements to the "Social Hall" on the second floor in order to better house dances and meetings. That space was operating as a dance hall called "The Varsity" in November of 1925 when a massive fire broke out there after an American Legion dance in honor of Armistice Day. The blaze completely gutted the top floor, burned holes in the roof, and caused serious damage to the ground floor storefronts, which then housed Wilcox's confectionary store and the Schramm-Johnson's Drug Co.

In 1926, the family hired esteemed Nevada architect Frederick J. DeLongchamps to redesign the entire building, combining the original and newer sections and creating a total of 46 offices on the second and third floors. The exterior brick was covered with stucco. The building quickly became one of Reno's most coveted addresses, drawing commercial tenants that included some of the City's top attorneys, physicians, dentists, insurance agents, and realtors.

The ground floor storefronts facing Virginia Street and West Second Street housed a variety of popular shops over the years, including the Parisian Dress Shoppe and Hatton's men's clothing. The corner space was occupied by a series of cafes and soda fountains, followed by the Cann Drug Store, which was purchased by the Schramm-Johnson's Drugs company, which in 1929 merged with Walgreen's Drugs, making this space Reno's first Walgreen's.

As downtown Reno gradually transformed into a tourist-oriented gaming landscape, the Byington Building's tenants changed. In 1959, Harrah's Club signed a 40-year lease for the entirety of the building's two top floors to house its executive offices and training space, giving Bill Harrah a prime corner office. In 1979, Harrah's opened a gift shop called "The Store" on the ground floor that offered "quality gifts" including artwork, fine jewelry, and packaged liquor, and not surprisingly featured 20 slot machines and a premium redemption center for Harrah's. An accompanying renovation project "modernized" the exterior of the building, and may have been when the remaining exterior ornamentation was removed. The departure of Harrah's after the company's lease expired in the 1990s left the top floors vacant, while the ground floor has continued to house some retail.

Images

1940s postcard
1940s postcard A postcard from the 1940s features a view of Virginia Street looking northward from its intersection with Second Street. The Byington Building is the white building on the far left with the Walgreen's drug store sign on the corner. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: ca. 1940s
The building on Virginia Street, ca. 1903
The building on Virginia Street, ca. 1903 A view looking north on Virginia Street ca. 1903 shows the original section of the Byington Building in the center. The second floor windows fronted a large dance hall with a soaring ceiling that extended all the way to the roof. Source: Brian Campbell
The 1926 reconstruction
The 1926 reconstruction In 1926, the building underwent a major renovation, designed by prominent Nevada architect Frederic DeLongchamps, as reported in the local newspapers. The second and third floors were converted into offices. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: June 16, 1926
Parisian Dress Shop
Parisian Dress Shop An advertisement for the Parisian Dress Shop assured shoppers that their entrance into the Byington Building was safe while remodeling of the structure was underway in 1926. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: August 18, 1926
Homecoming Parade
Homecoming Parade The 1929 Homecoming Parade passes by the Byington Building, seen in the background. The sign for the ground floor tenant, Schramm-Johnson's Drugs, is visible toward the right. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1929
The view along West Second Street
The view along West Second Street A postcard view from the 1940s looks westward along West Second Street toward the El Cortez Hotel. The second building from the right is the section constructed in 1903. Note the prominent bay windows on the second and third floors. The building was later renovated to make its exterior consistent with the original corner building. Source: Old Reno Facebook page Date: ca. 1948
Byington Building in 2023
Byington Building in 2023 Although the Byington Building as seen in 2023 bore little resemblance to its original 1870s appearance, it is one of Reno's oldest buildings, with a rich history. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: July 21, 2023

Location

201 N. Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Byington Building,” Reno Historical, accessed May 24, 2024, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/263.