Filed Under Tourism

Pony Express Lodge

Developed by Harolds Club in the fifties from Cremer's Auto Court, which was founded in 1933.

In the early 1950s, ads for Harolds Pony Express Lodge directed tourists to “look for the gigantic neon sign.” It would have been hard to miss, towering then, as today, over Prater Way, at the western edge of Sparks. A classic Old West scene, the sign depicts an American Indian on horseback chasing a Pony Express rider. When lit, the horses’ legs move and an arrow shoots from the Indian’s bow, as a larger arrow at the bottom lights up in sections to point toward the motel below.

The sign was pure fifties, but the site had been attracting tourists since 1933, when George K. Cremer and his wife, Bessie, founded an auto court there. Located on a prime spot along U.S. 40, Cremer's Auto Court was a profitable side venture for them for years, offering “modern, insulated, steam heated brick cabins, all with tile bath.”

Cremer sold the place, by then known as a motel, in the mid-1940s, and it was purchased in 1951 or 1952 by Harolds Club patriarch, Raymond I. “Pappy” Smith to provide lodging for Harolds customers. Smith renovated the property considerably, hiring architect Edward Parsons to design a second story and an additional wing. Smith enlisted his wife to choose all the interior décor and installed an outdoor swimming pool, one of the area’s first. Upon its opening, the motel offered 88 rooms at $5 per double room, with a trailer court next door offering trailers for $30 per month, a deal especially popular among men stationed at nearby Stead Air Force Base.

The lobby contained 15 slot machines, exact duplicates of those found on the floor of Harolds Club downtown, and a bus ran directly from the lodge to its main entrance. Through the early 1960s, the club’s “Bright Light Tours” reportedly brought in at least 40,000 visitors per year, packaging together lodging, limousine transportation, meals, and drinks. Notably, it was the first motel in the area to offer babysitting services for guests.

Acquired in 1962 by the corporation that purchased Harolds Club and its properties, the motel was auctioned off in 1967 and went through a number of owners. Joe Keshmiri, a former University of Nevada track and field star who worked for a time at Harolds Club, purchased the motel in 1989, altering the enormous sign to read “Keshmiri’s Pony Express Lodge.” The property changed hands again in 2007, and now offers weekly and monthly rentals.

Audio

Pony Express Motel promo #1 A radio spot from 1952 promotes the Pony Express, known briefly as a "motel" rather than a lodge. Source: Steve Ellison Date: 1952
Pony Express Motel promo #2 A 1952 radio ad for the Pony Express Motel (before it was known as a "Lodge") promotes its affordable amenities. Source: Steve Ellison Date: 1952

Images

Two Pony Express Motels
Two Pony Express Motels Harolds operated two Pony Express Motels for a time, one on U.S. 40 and the other on South Virginia Street at Moana Lane. To advertise their opening, "Pappy" Smith placed expensive baked enamel signs alongside the highways entering Reno from all four directions. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
Cremer's Auto Court
Cremer's Auto Court A former mining investor and lumberman who had moved to Reno from Goldfield in 1918, George Cremer was involved in a number of businesses from real estate to the wholesale feed and grain company, Cremer-Erickson, that he had founded with a friend in the early 1920s. Source: Steve Ellison
Cremer's Motel, 1950
Cremer's Motel, 1950 An advertisement from the 1950 State of Nevada telephone directory promotes the "quiet restful sleep" visitors could experience, just three minutes from busy downtown Reno. Source: State of Nevada telephone directory Date: 1950
Individual Garages Available
Individual Garages Available A colorful brochure produced around 1958 advertised the fine accommodations and surprisingly low rates of both Pony Express motor lodges. Image courtesy of Steve Ellison Date: ca. 1958
Limousine Service
Limousine Service With its motor lodges located miles away from downtown Reno, special limousines transported guests back and forth from the central casino district. Source: Steve Ellison
Pony Express Lodge, 1950s
Pony Express Lodge, 1950s By 1956, the name had changed from the Pony Express Motel to the Pony Express Lodge. A new pool opened in 1957. Source: Dick Dreiling Date: ca. 1950s
Pony Express Lodge ad, 1957
Pony Express Lodge ad, 1957 Advertisements for the Pony Express Lodge emphasized its family-friendly nature, combining luxurious amenities like room service with a little taste of the Old West. Source: Nevada State Journal Date: April 3, 1957
After the Interstate
After the Interstate After the construction of Interstate 80, the Pony Express was still well-positioned near a busy off-ramp, with its sign clearly visible from the highway. Source: Alicia Barber
Keshmiri's Pony Express Lodge
Keshmiri's Pony Express Lodge Altered to reflect the motel's changing ownership and only lit upon request, the Pony Express Lodge sign still towers over Prater Way. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2013

Location

2406 Prater Way, Sparks, NV

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Pony Express Lodge,” Reno Historical, accessed May 19, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/32.