In the early 1950s, ads for Harolds Pony Express Lodge directed tourists to “look for the gigantic neon sign.” It would have been hard to miss, towering then, as today, over Prater Way, at the western edge of Sparks. A classic Old West scene, the sign depicts an American Indian on horseback chasing a Pony Express rider. When lit, the horses’ legs move and an arrow shoots from the Indian’s bow, as a larger arrow at the bottom lights up in sections to point toward the motel below.
The sign was pure fifties, but the site had been attracting tourists since 1933, when George K. Cremer and his wife, Bessie, founded an auto court there. Located on a prime spot along U.S. 40, Cremer's Auto Court was a profitable side venture for them for years, offering “modern, insulated, steam heated brick cabins, all with tile bath.”
Cremer sold the place, by then known as a motel, in the mid-1940s, and it was purchased in 1951 or 1952 by Harolds Club patriarch, Raymond I. “Pappy” Smith to provide lodging for Harolds customers. Smith renovated the property considerably, hiring architect Edward Parsons to design a second story and an additional wing. Smith enlisted his wife to choose all the interior décor and installed an outdoor swimming pool, one of the area’s first. Upon its opening, the motel offered 88 rooms at $5 per double room, with a trailer court next door offering trailers for $30 per month, a deal especially popular among men stationed at nearby Stead Air Force Base.
The lobby contained 15 slot machines, exact duplicates of those found on the floor of Harolds Club downtown, and a bus ran directly from the lodge to its main entrance. Through the early 1960s, the club’s “Bright Light Tours” reportedly brought in at least 40,000 visitors per year, packaging together lodging, limousine transportation, meals, and drinks. Notably, it was the first motel in the area to offer babysitting services for guests.
Acquired in 1962 by the corporation that purchased Harolds Club and its properties, the motel was auctioned off in 1967 and went through a number of owners. Joe Keshmiri, a former University of Nevada track and field star who worked for a time at Harolds Club, purchased the motel in 1989, altering the enormous sign to read “Keshmiri’s Pony Express Lodge.” The property changed hands again in 2007, and now offers weekly and monthly rentals.