Historic Midtown

Tour curated by: Alicia Barber

While “Midtown” is a relatively new term for the popular Reno district it denotes, the neighborhood itself has been a busy commercial and residential area for nearly a century. Bounded by Liberty Street and Plumb Lane, Plumas Street and Holcomb Avenue, today’s Midtown District is a place of innovation and revitalization, but also of longstanding history and architectural charm.

For decades, Plumb Lane marked the southern edge of urban development, and to its north, comfortable single-family homes were fronted by grassy lawns and abundant trees. Change arrived in the 1920s with the arrival of South Virginia Street’s first commercial buildings. Some were single-story neighborhood markets. Others were service stations, cropping up to cater to the increasing numbers of automobiles traveling along what was then the north-south highway through town. Many were two stories high, with shops or cafés on the ground floor and apartments above. Almost all were made of brick, Reno’s signature building material, and several were designed by Nevada’s premier architect, Frederic DeLongchamps.

As Reno grew and its casinos expanded, resident-oriented businesses increasingly sought out the more spacious environs of South Virginia Street. From the 1930s through 1960s, the corridor gradually transformed into a bustling urban thoroughfare, with charming family-oriented motels joining the landscape in the 1950s. Before long, commercial buildings outnumbered houses, and residents flocked to the area’s shops, restaurants, and services.

With the completion of U.S. Route 395 several blocks to the east in the 1970s, South Virginia Street instantly changed from a highway to a surface street, bypassed by the majority of through traffic. The area now known as Midtown went into a period of decline, not abandoned but certainly neglected, no longer oriented toward pedestrians, tourists, or everyday shoppers. Its revival, beginning in the early 2000s, marked a new era for this established neighborhood, once more teeming with life, vitality, and entrepreneurialism.

The entries for this tour were produced with the support of RTC Washoe.

Locations for Tour

Merchant Wilhelm Levy immigrated to America from Prussia (Germany). Later, he moved to Nevada and operated dry goods stores in a couple of mining boom towns. In 1887, he moved to Reno and with his partner, Jacob Morris, rented a first-class store.…

In 1921, Reno's so-called "Divorce Colony" was thriving, and building in general was booming. In addition to a growing permanent population, Reno needed housing for its temporary residents, the divorce-seekers. On March 29 of that…

Like many of the brick commercial buildings along South Virginia Street, this one started as a family grocery. There were already several in the neighborhood in 1927, when Frank Greene had this one-story store constructed in front of the older…

What is now a driveway and parking lot at a busy urban intersection was once the site of Reno’s most charming fire station. First known as the Southside Station, it was designed by prominent Nevada architect Frederic DeLongchamps to resemble a…

The transformation of South Virginia Street from a quiet residential neighborhood into a thriving business district was well underway by 1946, when Edward F. Hale financed the construction of a modest brick commercial building next door to the fire…

The Osen Motor Sales Company opened its beautiful new Frederic DeLongchamps-designed building at 600 South Virginia Street in 1923, when the neighborhood was still almost entirely residential. It was a bold move for the company, which had operated a…

There’s something soapy at the intersection of St. Lawrence Avenue and Forest Street. Two businesses, separated in time but linked by a passion for keeping things clean, have perched on this little hilltop since 1906, when it was still the…

The South Side Addition was platted in 1903 along with the construction of the South Side School located on the block bounded by Center and Sinclair Streets, and Stewart and Liberty. The new residential area south of it formed a wedge shape running…

What is now the cornerstone of a busy Midtown intersection started out as two modest storefronts facing Virginia Street. The year was 1926, and the Memphis-based Piggly Wiggly grocery chain was eager to open a second Reno store. Constructed here…

The Giraudo Apartments were constructed in 1928 from a design by Nevada’s premier architect at the time, Frederic DeLongchamps. The building featured two storefronts and one apartment on the ground floor, with six apartments upstairs. It was a…

The Reno Pet Food Market opened at 745 South Virginia Street in the midst of the Second World War, as grain and meat rationing strained production for many pet food manufacturers. In response, the entrepreneurial Combs family cooked up a special…

As South Virginia gradually converted into a business corridor, many of its longtime residents began to develop their properties for commercial purposes. Some had their houses demolished and constructed new buildings where they had stood. Others…

In the late 1920s, South Virginia Street was heeding the siren call of the automobile age. Service stations, dealers, and repair shops were popping up all along the thoroughfare, gradually adding a different character to the formerly quiet stretch of…

James A. Barnes was a true Reno radio pioneer. His lifelong passion began as a hobby during World War I, as he learned to assemble kit radios he had ordered from magazines. By the early 1920s, he was selling a few radio sets out of his garage and his…

By the mid-1920s, commercial ice production had shifted from ice harvesting along the Truckee River and Boca Dam to large mechanical ice production companies. Reno businesses and homes relied on these producers to supply their refrigeration needs; an…

The Shoshone Coca-Cola Bottling Company was a commercial enterprise doubling as entertainment destination. On any given day, a row of children could be found standing transfixed outside the large windows on the building’s south side. There, Karl…

Tucked between two commercial buildings on South Virginia Street, the Ho Hum Motel has one of the most charming names in the business. It opened in 1953, when Virginia Street was not only a major business thoroughfare, but the north-south highway…

Sid Leggett was one of Reno’s original ad men. He and his wife, Helen, moved to the Biggest Little City in the mid-1920s from San Luis Obispo, California, where Leggett had worked for years in outdoor advertising. In 1931, he moved his poster and…

From 1948 to 1974, the two-story brick building at 1052 South Virginia Street was known across Reno as the home of the Hansel & Gretel clothing store, offering “quality clothes for children.” Upstairs were the Solari Apartments, named for…

“Enjoy the helpful, wholesome habit of 3-a-day at 10, 2 & 4 o’clock!” So urged an advertisement for Dr. Pepper upon the soft drink’s official arrival in Reno in 1939. The promotional blitz (with its somewhat questionable nutritional…

Now combined as a single business, this was originally two separate buildings, 1055 and 1065 South Virginia Street. The southern half was built first, opening in 1927 as the Auto Painting & Trimming Company. The company offered complete overhauls…

The Ponderosa Meat Company had its start in 1947 as Reno Frozen Food Lockers. Brothers-in-law George L. Siri, Sr. and Willie Carano opened the butchering business and frozen locker plant after partnering for years at downtown’s Silver State…

March of 1946 marked the greatest building boom in the history of Washoe County. Just six months after the close of the Second World War, forty major construction projects were underway in the Reno-Sparks area, including the Mapes Hotel, the Trinity…

Landrum's came to Reno on a railroad flat car, off-loaded from the Virginia & Truckee Railroad tracks behind the property, and assembled on its present site in 1947 by Eunice Landrum, who named her new diner "Landrum's Hamburger…

Abner W. Sewell opened his first general merchandise store in the northeastern Nevada town of Tuscarora in 1897. A native of Ohio, Abner had ventured west with his brother in the 1880s, working as a cowboy on various Nevada ranches before entering…

In 1936, the architect Paul Revere Williams, who had completed at least two commissions in Reno by that time, designed two houses for the illustrious California House and Garden Exhibition. One was a French cottage, and the other was a three-room…

Far more than just a restauranteur, Miguel Ribera was a beloved community leader with a passion for helping local Hispanic youth. Born in New Mexico in 1918, Ribera bought the restaurant at 1415 South Virginia Street from its previous owner, Maria…

The small brick building on the northwest corner of South Virginia and Mount Rose Streets has been a busy neighborhood bar for generations. When constructed in 1937, however, it was a simple market and service station on the southern reaches of…