Filed Under Gambling

Rick's Resort (site)

Opened around 1909, the glamorous resort on Mayberry Drive was later named The Willows.

Rick's Resort was opened around 1909 by Rick DeBernardi, the son of Swiss immigrants, several miles west of Reno on what was then called the Old Verdi Road. In the summer of 1910, the resort shot to fame as the training quarters for prizefighter Jack Johnson, who defended his heavyweight championship title against Jim Jeffries in Reno on July 4th of that year (see separate entry on the Johnson-Jeffries Fight). After Johnson's victory, the resort went back to its role as a local getaway, known for $1.00 chicken dinners and eclectic entertainment.

The enactment of Prohibition threatened to close the resort, until it was taken over in 1922 by Bill Graham and Jim McKay, two somewhat shady characters who renamed it The Willows and undertook an expensive renovation costing approximately $160,000. When it reopened, delicate filigree work adorned the hundreds of lights inside and on the surrounding grounds. An avenue of colored lights led to the main entrance.

The Willows became the most exclusive gambling house and speakeasy in all of Nevada, gaining a national reputation for its gaiety, hospitality, beauty, and opulence. Its interior was divided into four areas: the Blue Room, the Chinese Room, the restaurant, and the dance floor. After 1931, gambling was openly conducted in the Chinese Room, which was decorated with Chinese red and blue lacquer on the walls, ceiling, and fixtures. Soft lights shimmered on gold tablecloths and upholstery and on silk draperies.

The resort catered not only to the more exclusive gamblers and fun-seekers in the western United States, but also to members of the so-called "divorce colony," in Reno to secure a quick divorce. A Saturday night in the Blue Room resembled the premiere of an important motion picture. Men dressed in tuxedos and women in evening gowns would enter the room, and pianist and manager George Hart would introduce the new arrivals, describe their fashionable appearance, and sometimes their marital status. He would then take his seat at the piano and paraphrase a popular song, substituting the real names of persons for the original lyrics.

The merriment came to a sudden end on June 14, 1932 when The Willows burned to the ground in two hours while closed for remodeling. Although James McKay stated his intention to rebuild, he never did so.

Images

Barker, Morris, and Lawrence
Barker, Morris, and Lawrence Visiting performers from San Francisco often entertained patrons of Rick's Resort. Source: Special Collections University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
Jack Johnson's training camp
Jack Johnson's training camp Fighter Jack Johnson and his entourage arrived in Reno by train on June 24, 1910, and were immediately driven to Rick's Resort where Johnson commenced his training for the "Fight of the Century" against Jim Jeffries on July fourth. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1910
Jack Johnson
Jack Johnson As Jack Johnson's training camp in summer of 1910, Rick's Resort was thronged day and night by the press and curious onlookers. Many of the newspaper correspondents lodged at the resort as well. Source: Special Collections University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1910
Jack Johnson and his entourage
Jack Johnson and his entourage Johnson and his trainers often cooled off by jumping into an irrigation ditch that ran behind a barn on Rick's property. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1910
Famous rendezvous
Famous rendezvous A publication called The Reno Divorce Racket, published in 1931, highlighted the role of The Willows as a prominent rendezvous for the divorce colony. Source: The Reno Divorce Racket Date: 1931
Willows ad, 1930
Willows ad, 1930 In August 1930, a special advertising feature in the local paper encouraged "vacationists" to dine and dance at the elegant Willows resort. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: 1930
Elegance at The Willows
Elegance at The Willows In the 1930s, visitors to The Willows enjoyed table games in elegant surroundings said to approach the magnificence of Monte Carlo and other continental casinos. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1930s
Good credentials necessary
Good credentials necessary Travel writer Basil Woon wrote, "You must be introduced or bear good credentials to enter The Willows." Its glamorous atmosphere contrasted greatly with most of the clubs in downtown Reno. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1930s

Location

2775 Mayberry Drive, Reno, NV

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Rick's Resort (site),” Reno Historical, accessed April 12, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/15.