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 “ice today” sign left in the window would notify the delivery man to leave a block in the ice box.
In 1929, local entrepreneurs George Kornmayer and Earl Compton hired contractor Steve Rastelli to dig a well and build the Crystal Springs Ice plant in the Southside Addition. Rastelli drilled through 100 feet of granite and discovered water at the 285-foot level. Completed in June 1930, the mission-style building was the first commercial enterprise on Center Street south of the Truckee River.
Kornmaker and Compton soon ran into financial problems, and before long, Rastelli found himself the primary stock holder and eventually the owner of the plant. Manufacturing 20,000 pounds of ice daily, he could store 800,000 pounds of surplus ice on the premises.
By 1931, the company introduced delivery of bottled water and also installed what could be considered Reno’s first water vending machine—a simple hose in front of the building where customers would fill up their bottles for free. That ended in 1935 when the health department made them install a sanitary vending machine.
Among other early customers, the Crystal Springs Ice Company supplied the courthouse, hospitals, jail, downtown casinos, and the Virginia & Truckee Railroad, whose tracks were located directly across the street. The company also had a side business of storing hunters’ venison in its cold storage room. Steve Rastelli added garages and remodeled the buildings until the complex grew to what it is today. He drilled another artesian well in 1945, when ice delivery was at its peak.
The mass production of refrigerators and home freezers after World War II brought the demise of ice delivery. In 1965, the Rastellis sold the ice division to Union Ice and shifted to the delivery and dispensing of water, along with the distribution of coffee, hot cups, and soups. After Steve Rastelli’s death in 1971, the family sold the bottled water business to Doug Hird, who upgraded the facility to meet all the modern sanitary requirements for bottled water.
Hird and his extended family ran the business until selling it in 2008. After a major renovation, the building reopened in 2012 as Brasserie Saint James, a restaurant and brewery using the water from the property’s celebrated artesian wells.