This site is part of the Black Springs tour, a partnership with Our Story, Inc. Visit the Tours page for the tour introduction and complete list of sites.

Ollie and Helen Westbrook were some of the first residents to purchase property in Black Springs from J.E. Sweatt in the early 1950s. They quickly became community leaders and became known to everyone as "Mama Helen" and "Big Daddy." The couple had met in Corcoran, California, and married in 1950. They moved briefly to Stockton, California, where Ollie worked as a handyman and Helen did domestic work. In 1952, the Westbrooks moved to Reno and at first stayed in an apartment on Sierra Street before purchasing their first piece of property from J.E. Sweatt in November 1955--a 1/3-acre plot, for $300.

The original portion of this house at 345 Westbrook Lane was reportedly constructed elsewhere in the late 1940s, moved to this site, and added to over time. Originally, there was no running water in the house, so the family used an outhouse. All residents of Black Springs had to haul water from Reno daily, and were allowed by the owner of a gas station on Sierra Street in downtown Reno called Foster's to fill their barrels, bottles, and other containers with water for free.

The Westbrooks founded the Black Springs Civic Improvement Corporation in 1954. Together, they wrote grant applications to fund a new water and septic system for the community in 1957. They also applied for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants that funded street improvements including street lamps and paved roads. They did all of this while Helen worked for Washoe County Juvenile Services and Ollie was a Reno police officer.

At the urging of the neighborhood's residents, J.E. Sweatt finally organized the Eugene Street Water Company to service the neighborhood, dug a well, and provided water service to individual homes in 1958. Upon his death in 1969, Sweatt bequeathed the Eugene Street Water Company to the Black Springs Civic Improvement Corporation, finally putting the community in control of their own water rights.

It is estimated that the Westbrooks were responsible for securing more than $1.4 million for Black Springs through their various efforts, dedicating countless hours of personal time toward the benefit of community. Their street, which was originally called North Street, was named Westbrook Lane shortly after Helen died in 2003, followed by Ollie in 2005. The Black Springs Community Center was named after the couple in 2006.



345 Westbrook Lane, Reno, Nevada