Jews were among the first people to purchase lots when Reno was laid out by the Central Pacific Railroad in 1868. By 1900 there were an estimated 140 Jews in the area and interest developed to create a synagogue.
The first efforts to create Nevada’s first synagogue came on June 17, 1917 when local Jewish leaders met and formed a committee to raise funds for construction of what was to become Temple Emanu-El. Broad community support from Jews, businesses, politicians, and those of other faiths (including a $25 donation from the local Baptist Church) provided construction funds. The 75’ x 100’ lot was at 426 West Street, between Fourth and Fifth Streets. The plans and specifications were donated by E. Holesworth and John S. Sinai. On May 3, 1921 the congregation broke ground. The Nevada State Journal called Temple Emanu-El “a big asset to the City.”
The laying of the cornerstone included an address by Governor Emmett Boyle. An even more impressive line-up surrounded the dedication of the building on September 10, 1922. Starting with placing the Torah scrolls into the ark, there were addresses by Governor Boyle, Reno Mayor Harry Stewart, Supreme Court Justice E. A. Ducker, and many others. It ended with singing the Star-Spangled Banner. The Nevada State Journal stated in an editorial that, “The dedication of Temple Emanu-El…was a notable affair, not only for the people of the Jewish faith but also for all Reno. Finally, the Jewish people of Reno have now a real house of worship of their own.”
The Temple was a two-story baked brick building costing $35,000. The first floor contained small meeting rooms and a spacious banquet hall, with the second story taken up by the synagogue auditorium. Over the entrance arch, a large circular window depicted the Star of David and Ten Commandments in Hebrew. Orthodox Rabbi Harry Oppochinsky (originally Hirsh Opoczynski) was the first rabbi. A good-natured joke circulated around town that the Jews could now stop their wandering. The synagogue was the pride of the congregation and became a focus of Jewish social and religious life. Just days after the dedication, 200 people attended High Holiday services in the new building.
Even good things don’t last, however, and by 1969 the building’s support timbers were rotting. Many congregants wanted to save the building but the City of Reno intervened and condemned the structure. The synagogue was formally vacated on Dec. 31, 1970 and was demolished. The site is now covered by the parking garage for the Eldorado Resort Casino. After a few years of meeting at an interim location, the congregation moved into a new building at 1031 Manzanita Lane in 1973.