Pony Express Lodge

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, enlisting his wife to choose all the interior décor and installing 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.

Images

Two Pony Express Motels

Two Pony Express Motels

Harolds operated two Pony Express Motels for a time, one on U.S. 40 and the other on South Virginia Street at Moana Lane. To advertise their opening, "Pappy" Smith placed expensive baked enamel signs alongside the highways entering Reno from all four directions. View File Details Page

Cremer's Auto Court

Cremer's Auto Court

A former mining investor and lumberman who had moved to Reno from Goldfield in 1918, George Cremer was involved in a number of businesses from real estate to the wholesale feed and grain company, Cremer-Erickson, that he had founded with a friend in the early 1920s. Image courtesy of Steve Ellison View File Details Page

Cremer's Motel, 1950

Cremer's Motel, 1950

An advertisement from the 1950 State of Nevada telephone directory promotes the "quiet restful sleep" visitors could experience, just three minutes from busy downtown Reno. View File Details Page

Individual Garages Available

Individual Garages Available

A colorful brochure produced around 1958 advertised the fine accommodations and surprisingly low rates of both Pony Express motor lodges. Image courtesy of Steve Ellison View File Details Page

Limousine Service

Limousine Service

With its motor lodges located miles away from downtown Reno, special limousines transported guests back and forth from the central casino district. Image courtesy of Steve Ellison View File Details Page

Pony Express Lodge, 1950s

Pony Express Lodge, 1950s

By 1956, the name had changed from the Pony Express Motel to the Pony Express Lodge. A new pool opened in 1957. Image courtesy of Dick Dreiling View File Details Page

Pony Express Lodge ad, 1957

Pony Express Lodge ad, 1957

Advertisements for the Pony Express Lodge emphasized its family-friendly nature, combining luxurious amenities like room service with a little taste of the Old West. View File Details Page

After the Interstate

After the Interstate

After the construction of Interstate 80, the Pony Express was still well-positioned near a busy off-ramp, with its sign clearly visible from the highway. View File Details Page

Keshmiri's Pony Express Lodge

Keshmiri's Pony Express Lodge

Altered to reflect the motel's changing ownership and only lit upon request, the Pony Express Lodge sign still towers over Prater Way. Photo by Alicia Barber View File Details Page

Audio

Pony Express Motel promo #1

A radio spot from 1952 promotes the Pony Express, known briefly as a "motel" rather than a lodge. | Creator: Audio courtesy of Steve Ellison View File Details Page

Pony Express Motel promo #2

A 1952 radio ad for the Pony Express Motel (before it was known as a "Lodge") promotes its affordable amenities. | Creator: Audio courtesy of Steve Ellison View File Details Page

Street Address:

2406 Prater Way, Sparks, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Alicia Barber, “Pony Express Lodge,” Reno Historical, accessed July 25, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/32.

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