The 12-story Mapes Hotel became the tallest building in Nevada when it burst onto the Reno scene in 1947. Its prime location on the northeast corner of the Truckee River and Virginia Street had become available in 1934, when the old post office was replaced by the Art Deco-style building directly across the river.
The descendant of a pioneering Reno family, Charles Mapes, Sr., and his wife Gladys bought the parcel and hired architect H. F. Slocombe of Oakland, California to draw up plans for a luxury hotel influenced by the Art Deco style of New York City’s Empire State and Chrysler Buildings. Construction was held up by the death of Charles, Sr. and the shortage of building materials prompted by the onset of World War II.
Charles Mapes, Jr. was finally able to start construction on the hotel in January 1946, and the Mapes Hotel officially opened on December 17, 1947. On opening day, the Mapes family announced, “The hotel is informal in keeping with the western tradition which makes Reno so hospitable. Come in full dress if you want any time…or come in cowboy boots. You will feel equally at home.”
With eight floors of guest rooms plus a lobby, mezzanine, and service floor, the hotel served as a prototype for the vertical hotel casino. Its crown jewel was indisputably the 12th floor Sky Room, with floor-to-ceiling windows that overlooked the Truckee River, Virginia Street, and the Sierra Nevada mountains beyond. At a time when few Reno hotels had their own nightclubs, the Mapes offered dining, dancing, and floor shows as well as gambling areas and cocktail lounges both on the main and top floors.
Entertainment at the Mapes ranged from Liberace to burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr, with an opening house band or orchestra and a chorus line called the Skylettes. During the 1960 winter Olympics held at Squaw Valley, headliners at the Sky Room were Mickey Rooney and Sammy Davis, Jr. The hotel served as the headquarters for the filming of the 1961 film The Misfits, starring Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, who stayed in a suite on the sixth floor.
For more than three decades, the Mapes and the Riverside were Reno’s most elegant hotel casinos, remembered fondly as the site for high school proms and local dinner dates as well as world-class performers. Financial struggles prompted by an ill-timed expansion of their Money Tree Casino in 1978 led the Mapes organization to file for bankruptcy a few years later. The building closed for good in 1982, changed hands, and was sold to the Reno Redevelopment Agency in 1996.
Despite a vigorous campaign by preservationists to adaptively reuse the Mapes Hotel, the Reno City Council voted in September 1999 to demolish the building. It was imploded the morning of Super Bowl Sunday, January 30, 2000. By 2008, the site had been paved with concrete for use as a plaza and seasonal ice skating rink.