Riverside Hotel

Widely considered Reno’s birthplace, the site now occupied by the Riverside Hotel has offered some form of lodging for more than 150 years. It was vacant land fronting an obscure ford of the Truckee River until late 1859, when a bankrupt California storekeeper and muleskinner named Charles William Fuller built a bridge across the ford, claiming the land on both sides. He opened a primitive log and dugout “hotel” on the south bank, hoping to capture business from overland travelers and aspiring miners bound for the Comstock.

In mid-1861, Fuller traded the whole operation for a Honey Lake ranch owned by Myron Lake, who, within five years, turned the river crossing into a lucrative enterprise, complete with a new inn he dubbed the Lake House. Lake also bought up land along the river in anticipation of the arrival of the transcontinental railroad.

The inn burned down on December 4, 1868, just a few months after the Central Pacific Railroad began selling lots in the new Reno town site, just north of the river. Lake quickly constructed a new wood-frame hotel that became one of Reno’s finest. In 1888, four years after Myron Lake’s death, his son-in-law took over the Lake House, renaming it the Riverside Hotel.

A new era of luxury dawned in 1906, when Harry Gosse of Virginia City, having purchased the old hotel a decade earlier, replaced it with a four-story brick Chateau-style Riverside Hotel—just in time for Reno’s entrance into the divorce trade. For years, the national media raved about its long-distance telephones, elevator, and stylish patrons. Disaster struck in 1922, when a fire destroyed the entire structure.

Unable to rebuild, Gosse sold the vacant lot for $70,000 to Reno’s most powerful citizen, George Wingfield. The wealthy banker hired prominent architect Frederic DeLongchamps to design a luxury hotel deliberately courting well-to-do divorce-seekers and other travelers. Gothic in style and fully appointed throughout, the stately new six-story Riverside Hotel opened on May 14, 1927.

As the Reno divorce trade gained notoriety, so did the Riverside. Together with the neighboring courthouse and Virginia Street Bridge, the hotel appeared on countless postcards and in articles, novels, and films. The legalization of gambling in 1931 introduced a roulette wheel and 21 game, while a 1950 expansion added 84 rooms along with a swimming pool, a theater-restaurant, casino, and dance floor. The Riverside stage featured some of the top acts in show business, from Frank Sinatra to Jimmy Durante.

In 1955, Wingfield sold the hotel to Mert and Lou Wertheimer, and the next few decades brought multiple changes in ownership and periodic closures. The casino folded for good in 1986, and the hotel and restaurants followed in 1987.

The building faced demolition in 1997, until the local Sierra Arts Foundation partnered with Artspace, a Minneapolis-based developer of historic properties, to convert the original hotel rooms into 35 low-income artist lofts. The west addition was demolished, and the renovated Riverside re-opened in 2000 with the offices of Sierra Arts and other retail ventures occupying the ground floor.

Images

Hotel at Lake's Crossing

Hotel at Lake's Crossing

Myron C. Lake helped reinforce his Lake House's prime location by donating the land to construct the Washoe County Courthouse (left) immediately adjacent to it. A new iron bridge replaced Lake's earlier wooden structure in 1877. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Myron Lake, businessman

Myron Lake, businessman

A shrewd businessman, Myron C. Lake persuaded officials of the Central Pacific railroad to locate the new "Virginia Station" for the transcontinental railroad on property he had amassed near the Truckee River. Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Upgrades to the hotel

Upgrades to the hotel

After taking ownership of the property, Lake's son-in-law, William Thompson, renamed it the Riverside Hotel, thoroughly renovated the interior, and improved the grounds. A free coach met all arriving passenger trains to transport guests to the hotel. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Riverside dining room

Riverside dining room

An early photo of the Riverside's interior. Image courtesy of Neal Cobb View File Details Page

A hotel-chateau

A hotel-chateau

Harry J. Gosse's elegant Chateau-style hotel, which stood from 1906 to 1922, featured 130 bedrooms and a 120-seat dining room, with circular rooms in the turreted towers on the northeast and southeast corners. Image courtesy of Dick Dreiling View File Details Page

Fire strikes the Riverside

Fire strikes the Riverside

Disaster struck on March 15, 1922, when a fire broke out, completely destroying the Riverside Hotel. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Rebuilding after the fire

Rebuilding after the fire

In spring 1926, George Wingfield announced his plans to build a new and luxurious Riverside Hotel. Construction began on July 27, 1926 and took almost ten months to complete. Image courtesy of Neal Cobb View File Details Page

The new Riverside

The new Riverside

The new Riverside hotel opening in 1927 was an impressive structure made of reinforced concrete. Architect Frederic DeLongchamps employed Gothic styling on the interior and exterior. Image courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

The Riverside Hotel's cigar store

The Riverside Hotel's cigar store

The Riverside's ground floor offered various retail services, including a barber and beauty shop, a cigar and candy shop, a fur shop, a travel agency, and a branch of one of George Wingfield's banks. Image courtesy of Special Collections University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

The soda fountain

The soda fountain

The Riverside Hotel's soda fountain was a popular mid-century gathering place. Image courtesy of Neal Cobb View File Details Page

The Riverside Starlets

The Riverside Starlets

Entertainment was part of the Riverside's offerings from the 1930s onward. The resort's chorus line, known as the Riverside Starlets, danced on a stage so close to the audience that their skirts and the scent of their perfume swept over the tables. Image courtesy of Don Spaulding. View File Details Page

The Riverside interior

The Riverside interior

Lobby, circa 1960. Image courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

The Olympic Room in the Riverside, ca. 1960

The Olympic Room in the Riverside, ca. 1960

The Riverside's theater-restaurant went by many names including the Redwood Room, the Riviera Room, and, for the extent of the 1960 Olympics in Squaw Valley, the Olympic Room. Image courtesy of Neal Cobb View File Details Page

Jessie Beck's Riverside

Jessie Beck's Riverside

Jessie Beck purchased the Riverside in 1971 for more than three million dollars, erecting an addition to the iconic rooftop sign to reflect the new ownership. She sold the building in 1978. Image courtesy of Special Collections University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Destruction of the addition

Destruction of the addition

The 1940s-era addition to the hotel was removed in the late 1990s. Photo by Mella Harmon Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

The Riverside in the 21st century

The Riverside in the 21st century

The renovated Riverside Hotel, with artist lofts upstairs and busy ground floor amenities, has played a pivotal role in the revitalization of Reno's downtown. Image courtesy of Max Chapman View File Details Page

Video

The Riverside and the social register

Mella Harmon discusses the role of the Riverside Hotel in Reno's early divorce industry, an excerpt from the video Going to Reno: Divorce Story. | Creator: Presented by the Nevada State Department of Cultural Affairs ; produced and directed by Gwendolyn Clancy View File Details Page

Entertainers in the Riverside

An excerpt from the video Going to Reno: Divorce Story. | Creator: Presented by the Nevada State Department of Cultural Affairs ; produced and directed by Gwendolyn Clancy
View File Details Page

Street Address:

17 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

The Reno Historical Team, “Riverside Hotel,” Reno Historical, accessed May 1, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/3.
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