Historic Midtown

While “Midtown” is a relatively new term for the popular Reno district it denotes, the neighborhood itself has been a busy commercial and residential area for nearly a century. Roughly bounded by Liberty Street and Plumb Lane on the north and south, and Arlington Avenue and Holcomb Avenue on the west and east, today’s Midtown District is a place of innovation and revitalization, but also of longstanding history and architectural charm.

Starting in the early 1900s, South Virginia Street from California Avenue southward to Mt. Rose Street began to fill in with comfortable single-family homes fronted by grassy lawns and abundant trees as the farms and ranches of the early Truckee Meadows were slowly converted into housing tracts. Those subdivisions, with names like Crampton's Addition, the Steiner Tract, the Southside Addition, Villa Court, and the Sierra Vista Tract, stretched eastward and westward from Virginia Street. At first, many of the houses were spaced farther apart, but the area became more dense as more lots were purchased and construction picked up.

In the early 1920s, the comfortable residential neighborhood began its gradual transformation into a mixed-use district with the arrival of South Virginia Street’s first commercial buildings. Some were single-story neighborhood markets. Others were service stations or auto dealerships, cropping up to cater to the increasing numbers of automobiles traveling along what was then the north-south highway through town. Many were two stories high, with shops or eateries on the ground floor and apartments above. Almost all were made of brick, Reno’s signature building material, and several were designed by one of Nevada’s most prominent architects, Frederic DeLongchamps.

As Reno grew and its downtown casino district expanded, resident-oriented businesses increasingly sought out the more spacious environs of South Virginia Street. From the 1930s through 1960s, the corridor underwent a transformation into a bustling urban thoroughfare, with charming family-oriented motels joining the landscape in the 1950s. Before long, commercial buildings outnumbered houses, and residents flocked to the area’s shops, restaurants, and services.

This stretch of South Virginia Street lost its status as the north-south highway through town with the construction of Highway 395, several blocks to the east. By 1981, drivers could take the new modern highway all the way from Interstate 80 southward to an exit on South Virginia Street near McCarran Boulevard. Almost immediately, this stretch of South Virginia Street transformed from a highway to a surface street, bypassed by the majority of through traffic.

After that, the area now known as Midtown went into a period of decline, not abandoned but certainly neglected, no longer oriented toward pedestrians, tourists, or everyday shoppers. Its revival, beginning in the early 2000s, marked a new era for this established neighborhood, once more teeming with life, vitality, and entrepreneurialism.

The entries for this tour were produced with the support of RTC Washoe.