El Rancho Motel No. 2

The 80-unit El Rancho Motel No. 2 was opened in 1954 by Pete Cladianos, Sr. on the former site of the Nevada Packing Company, which had ceased operations in 1947, and burned down in 1950. Its demise opened up a prime location for a motel on the bustling thoroughfare that U.S. 40 had become.

Cladianos, owner of a successful slot machine business, had already ventured into property development, constructing his Cladianos Building at Second and Sierra Streets, and running several other businesses in Reno and Lovelock. In 1965, he would open the motor lodge that eventually expanded into the Sands Regency Casino and Hotel.

The El Rancho No. 2 was just Cladianos’ second foray into the lodging business, following his conversion of the former Farley’s dude ranch on South Virginia Street into his first El Rancho Motel in the mid-1940s. The architect for the El Rancho on Fourth Street was David Vhay, who also designed the University of Nevada’s Getchell Library. This was truly a family operation: Cladianos’ daughter Katherene helped choose the motel’s décor and furniture, while his son, Pete Cladianos, Jr., ran both motels.

In the 1950s, Harolds Club patriarch Raymond I. “Pappy” Smith arranged for Harolds customers to stay at the motel, running a bus from the downtown club to the El Rancho No. 2 as well as to the Pony Express Lodge, further to the east. Eventually, the Cladianos family started to book large bus tours themselves.

The building in front of the L-shaped motel came out of Cladianos’ desire for an on-site restaurant, a motel lobby, and a separate cocktail lounge. Designed by Eldon C. Davis of the renowned Los Angeles architectural firm Armet & Davis in the playful Googie style, the building opened in 1961 with an 89-seat Denny’s Coffee Shop (only the 63rd in the country), secured on a 20-year lease.

The firm’s interior decorator, Helen Fong, incorporated a terazzo floor and indirect lighting into the sleek interior of the coffee shop, while redwood, copper, and cork were blended in the interior of the cocktail lounge. Assigning each section of the building a separate address enabled Cladianos to install the maximum number of slot machines allowed per property in each component.

Like many other motels along the corridor, the El Rancho Motel No. 2 suffered with the construction of Interstate 80 in the mid-1970s and the subsequent decrease in drive-by traffic. It now offers weekly and monthly rentals, under the name Rancho 777.

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777 East 4th Street, Reno, NV