Filed Under Public Spaces

Riverside Drive

A seven-block stretch of serenity since its creation in the 1880s

While only seven blocks long, Riverside Drive is one of the most beloved streets in the city of Reno—and not by accident. Riverside Avenue, as it was first known, was created to be the city’s loveliest boulevard. From its origin in the 1880s, passengers traveling in horse-drawn buggies, and later, automobiles, could, as they drove along, view the Truckee River in all its stages, full and frothing in winter and spring, calmer, lower and reflecting sunlight in summer and fall.

In 1888, the avenue served as the southern boundary of the new Powning's Addition, where lots had just been platted and announced for sale. The parcels along what founder C.C. Powning called "the most fashionable driveway in the county" were purchased by the movers and shakers of the fledgling town.

At first, the road retained a rural feel, with moderately-sized Queen Anne Victorians on spacious lots with room for gardens and even chickens and other small animals. The avenue was plowed and improved in the 1890s, and in an effort to retain its scenic beauty, the County Commission purchased two sites for public parks or squares. In 1902, one of those sites became McKinley Park, named for the nation's 25th president, William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901. In 1908, the city agreed to deed McKinley Park to the School Board to construct McKinley Park School.

Recognizing its value as a scenic drive, citizens petitioned the City Council in 1909 to widen the avenue to 60 feet, and in 1912, both the Fulton and Barber families deeded portions of the front of their lots to the city, to be used as park space. The triangular Lunsford Park, east of Washington Street, was formalized around 1914.

As time went on, the early Victorians were joined by brick Craftsman bungalows, many featuring generous front porches from which to enjoy the river view. Many of these original homes still grace the avenue today. The Art Moderne Loomis Manor Apartments and Neoclassical Revival First Church of Christ, Scientist added to the beauty of the drive in 1939.

Riverside Drive has been threatened many times with closure or reduction, to great community protest. In 1970, the City’s Parks and Recreation Commission proposed closing off the block between Ralston and Stevenson Streets in order to construct a dike and park area to assist in flood control. The property’s owner, John Cavanaugh, Jr., demolished three houses on the site the following year, stating his interest in constructing a six-story office building.

Local citizen’s groups voiced their strong disapproval of Cavanaugh’s plan, and in 1973, the Fleischmann Foundation granted the City of Reno enough money to purchase the parcels in order to create a permanent park, now called Bicentennial Park. In developing the landscaping plan for the site, the City decided to close the section of Riverside Drive between First and Ralston Streets in order to connect the park to a new walkway running alongside the river.

Since then, Riverside Drive has retained its full glorious length, anchored on the west by the Booth Street bridge and on the east by Ralston Street, which curves around to provide an unobstructed view of the elegant First Church of Christ, Scientist (now called the Lear Theater). Years of urbanization have left Riverside Drive the only public street in downtown Reno that runs along the north bank of the Truckee River, a timeless view accessible and cherished by all.

Images

Riverside Drive in 1939
Riverside Drive in 1939 Pretty enough for its own postcard, Riverside Drive in 1939 was a scenic and serene tree-lined street boasting unrivaled views of the Truckee River. Source: Jerry Fenwick Date: 1939
The new Powning's Addition, 1888
The new Powning's Addition, 1888 A newspaper advertisement in July of 1888 announces the sale of lots in the new Powning's Addition. The new tract retained public access to the Truckee River along Riverside Drive. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: July 24, 1888
Still life with boat
Still life with boat A boat floats in the Truckee River in a view looking west along Riverside Drive, ca. 1900. Source: Jerry Fenwick Date: ca. 1900
Panoramic view, part one
Panoramic view, part one The first of four segments of a panoramic view of Riverside Drive shows the street's western end. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: T. C. Wohlbruck Date: ca. 1915
Panoramic view, part two
Panoramic view, part two The second of four segments of a panoramic view of Riverside Drive taken around 1915 shows the new McKinley Park School, which was designed in 1909. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: T. C. Wohlbruck Date: ca. 1915
Panoramic view, part three
Panoramic view, part three The third of four segments of a panoramic view of Riverside Drive taken ca. 1915 shows a pedestrian bridge that once extended across the river from Vine Street to the bluff on the south side. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: T. C. Wohlbruck Date: ca. 1915
Panoramic view, part four
Panoramic view, part four The last of four segments of a panoramic view of Riverside Drive taken ca. 1915 shows the eastern section of Riverside Drive as it winds toward downtown Reno. At the top of the bluff on the right is the Senator Francis G. Newlands House and on the left can be glimpsed the two towers of St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: T. C. Wohlbruck
Sanborn map, 1918
Sanborn map, 1918 A Sanborn fire insurance map shows the layout of Riverside Drive in 1918, when the street continued east past Ralston Street to connect with West First Street. The triangle east of Ralston became Bicentennial Park in 1973 and the section of street to its south was closed. Source: U.S. Library of Congress Creator: Sanborn Fire Insurance Company Date: 1918
Riverside Drive and First Street
Riverside Drive and First Street Before the creation of Bicentennial Park in the 1970s, Riverside Drive ran along the river almost all the way to Arlington Avenue. A winter view from the 1920s looks westward from the intersection of Riverside Drive (on the left) and First Street. Source: Jerry Fenwick Date: 1920s
Home for Orphans
Home for Orphans The Royal D. Hartung Home for Orphans and Foundlings was built at 501 Riverside Drive between 1908 and 1911. In 1938 it was closed and demolished to make way for the First Church of Christ Scientist, today known as the Lear Theater. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: March 26, 1938
First Church of Christ, Scientist
First Church of Christ, Scientist Riverside Drive gained a striking architectural landmark in 1939 with the construction of the First Church of Christ Scientist, designed by renowned Los Angeles architect Paul Revere Williams. Riverside Drive is the only public street in the city from which the front of the church building can be viewed. Source: Just Loomis
The Truckee River and Riverside Drive in 1940
The Truckee River and Riverside Drive in 1940 Photographer Arthur Rothstein captured this beautiful view of the Truckee River and the trees bordering the south side of Riverside Drive in 1940 for the U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information. Source: U.S. Library of Congress Creator: Arthur Rothstein Date: 1940
Riverside Drive in 2021
Riverside Drive in 2021 A view looking west along Riverside Drive toward Bell Street reveals the same peaceful tree-lined environment that has graced this treasured section of riverfront for more than 130 years. Creator: David Lowndes Date: 2021

Location

Metadata

Deb Hinman, “Riverside Drive,” Reno Historical, accessed April 12, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/211.