Filed Under Businesses

Piazzo Building

Santino Piazzo and his family ran their market on the ground floor and the St. Francis Hotel above.

The Piazzo Building at 354 N. Virginia Street, also known as the St. Francis Hotel, embodies the story of Reno in a way that few others could. Contained in one three-story brick structure are the stories of a hardworking immigrant family, the memories of generations of athletes, hunters, and sports enthusiasts, a dedicated Reno mayor, and the lives of hundreds of residents and visitors who at various times have called it home.

The story began with Santino Piazzo, who immigrated from Italy to the United States in 1898 and became a naturalized American citizen in 1910. He and his wife, Emma, lived on a ranch at first and had five children-- Louis, Olga, Chester (known as “Chet”), Lincoln (known as “Link”), and Melba. Soon, Santino entered into the produce business, and in 1925, he had this building constructed. On the ground floor, his son Louis ran the Model Fruit Market next to a soft drink parlor called the North Side Candy Store. The second and third floors made up the St. Francis Hotel, which became popular for both long-term residents and travelers.

The family’s lives changed drastically one night in July of 1928 when Santino was driving back from California with a truckload of fruits and vegetables. He apparently fell asleep at the wheel, ran off the road, and was killed instantly. Bolstered by their extended family, the Piazzos kept the building, pitching in to help Emma with management of the hotel.

In 1938, their sons Chet and Link pooled their savings to open a sporting and hunting goods store on the ground floor and basement, naming it The Sportsman. The store quickly became a local favorite, gaining a monopoly on team uniforms and gym clothes for area schools. Longtime residents remember racks of baseball bats in the basement and the strong smell of the hides that the store tanned through its taxidermy services. For years, the retail end was managed by Swede Christensen, who presided over rows of wooden skis with cable bindings, fishing rods and reels, arrays of Winchesters and Remingtons, and anything else a person might need to venture into the vast Nevada outdoors.

The hotel was managed for decades by Santino and Emma’s daughter Olga, her husband Dario Dibitonto, and their son, Sam. After serving in the Army for several years, Sam returned in the early 1950s to run the hotel, and continued in that role until 1987, also in that period demonstrating his commitment to the city and its development as a member of City Council and, from 1971 to 1975, Reno’s Mayor.

The Sportsman eventually moved out, to a building the brothers constructed on the corner of West 4th and Vine Streets, but the Piazzo Building on North Virginia Street remains in the family today, a beautiful Reno landmark with deep and lasting ties to the city’s heritage.

Images

Piazzo Building
Piazzo Building The Piazzo Building, constructed in 1925, provides a beautiful sense of continuity with Reno's past. Creator: Brett Banks Date: 2020
North Virginia Street, 1940s
North Virginia Street, 1940s The St. Francis Hotel and its familiar painted sign can be glimpsed in this photograph taken from about a block to the south. In the immediate foreground are the railroad tracks, now located underground. Source: Nevada Department of Transportation Date: 1940s
The Piazzo Building in context
The Piazzo Building in context A view looking south along Virginia Street in the 1940s shows the Piazzo Building on the left, with the Sportsman sign visible on the ground floor and St. Francis Hotel sign above. The building was part of a vibrant urban landscape. Source: Old Reno Facebook page Date: 1940s
The Sportsman postcard
The Sportsman postcard The Sportsman opened on the ground floor and basement of the building in 1938, operated by Santino Piazzo's sons Chet and Link. Source: Boston Public Library
1925, S. Piazzo
1925, S. Piazzo A datestone near the roof line with the engraved name "S. Piazzo" and "1925" reminds viewers of Santino Piazzo, who had the building constructed more than a century ago. Creator: Brett Banks Date: 2020
Brickwork
Brickwork Like many historic Reno buildings, the Piazzo Building features beautiful brickwork in a variety of colors and decorative patterns. Creator: Brett Banks Date: 2020
Looking north along Virginia Street
Looking north along Virginia Street While the buildings surrounding it have changed markedly through the years, the Piazzo Building has remained much the same, with even its historic painted sign intact. Creator: Brett Banks Date: 2020
St. Francis Hotel sign
St. Francis Hotel sign A close view of the historic exterior painted sign advertising the hotel reveals the name of the Ball Sign Company, a well known local business. Creator: Brett Banks Date: 2020

Location

354 N. Virginia Street, Reno, NV

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Piazzo Building,” Reno Historical, accessed May 19, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/205.