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

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...
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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...
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Map

45 California Avenue, Reno, NV