MapesXecution: the slivered legacy of lesser royalty


Expanded from the 1-30-00 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune
Updated 10-23-2021 GMT

Today brings the final solution: the Mapes execution.

Over the past couple of weeks, I took a few pictures of the crepe-bedecked old art deco hotel. Got one shot looking up into a pure white sky that made her look like 1947 again.

I met so many others with cameras, snapping up memories, eager and insistent to share stories.

It was like the funeral had brought the prodigal Reno-Sparks family back together.

Thirteen years ago, a cold-hearted businessman trying to sell the hotel told me "the Mapes will have to be torn down. It just doesn't have the rooms or the casino square footage to support a modern, competitive gambling operation."

At least he tried. He ordered drawings showing a high rise on the old Majestic Theater property next door. One architect designed a sunlit atrium rising to half the height of the hotel.

Alas, nothing ever worked out.

The insurmountable obstacle was our nouveau riche landed gentry.

When I was transferred here against my will from Las Vegas 29 years ago, my boss, the late Las Vegas Review-Journal/North Las Vegas Valley Times editor Bob Brown, gave me some good advice.

"Reno is a very clannish, very cliquey town," the Mahatma said. "So cut your hair and fit in."

I was on top of the world with a corner office in what is now the still dominant Wells Fargo Bank building. I looked down at the bustling Mapes all day and became a pretty good customer after hours.

Another of my bosses in that advertising agency was a retired professional gambler, one of the people who refined card counting before the term even existed. He had spent many years working for some of Reno's...er...let's call them "more colorful" casino owners. You know, guys who would break your thumbs or your legs on a rumor.

"There's nothing wrong with Reno that about a dozen selected funerals can't cure," the old gambler said.

All those and more have long since happened. But Reno really hasn't changed. The children and grandchildren of those clans and cliques have intermarried and still call the shots. Inbreeding is unhealthy and begets sterility.

Where the families owning Harolds Club and Harrah's once bought large tracts of south Reno land to block a Las Vegas style strip, latter day casino interests have now done much the same thing.

Seven years ago, downtown gambling mogul Don Carano said he'd like to see government buildings along the riverfront. Municipal offices usually don't install slot carousels.

I have thus not been at all surprised at the talk coming out of Reno City Hall about a huge joint venture with Washoe County to squander the riverfront.

My best guess is that the denizens of city hall will sell the Mapes land cheap to someone who can do those denizens some good in future cooperative ventures.

The Mapes corner could well end up a strip shopping center housing a gas station, mini-mart, liquor store, pawnshop and laundromat.

Next door, downtown Sparks may end up no different. Going out on a limb and stating the obvious, Reno Gazette-Journal editors opined last Friday that the city-subsidized Syufy movie theater "has yet to show dividends for that redevelopment project, despite large numbers of patrons drawn to some blockbuster movies."

Years ago, I warned Sparks that any shopping center merchant would advise that movie theaters don't draw shoppers. People drive up, see the show, drive away. Park Lane Mall has witnessed no retail renaissance with the coming of Movie Messiah Joe Syufy, new owner of the subsidized Reno riverfront movie house a block from the Mapes.

In an editorial last Thursday, no less than the New York Times stated "the destruction of this building will mean a significant loss of architectural and community heritage in a city undergoing swift transformation, a transformation that should make a national landmark like the Mapes all the more valuable."

On that same editorial page, the Times printed a letter from San Francisco architect Robert E. Moyer.

"Reno could take a cue from Las Vegas and build a replica of the Mapes, bigger and more extravagant than the original, of course. The replica hotel could serve what the city hopes will be a booming new Reno and, at the same time, pay respect to its historic ancestor," Moyer wrote.

"This way, Reno could do one better than its southern rival. Instead of recreating environs from other locales (New York and Paris, for example), Reno could just replicate itself," he concluded.

Earlier this month, I attended a hearing in the old supreme court chambers at the state capitol. A few years back, the building was taken apart piece by piece, leaving only exterior walls propped up. It was then completely rebuilt to modern earthquake standards and put back together. I felt enriched to sit in the same room with so much history.

The Mapes could have been such a place. By legend, Charlie Mapes' mom wanted her favorite New York hotel duplicated. Charlie obtained the Roaring Twenties-era plans and did so, right down to lousy wiring and lack of ducting.

Charlie enjoyed or endured a legendary playboy/mama's boy reputation. I once heard a tall tale about Charlie the big game hunter happening upon a velvet-caped elephant dozing in a clearing surrounded by gold-fringed ropes.

Charlie shot first and asked questions later, causing an international incident for having executed the pet pachyderm of that particular region's ruling rajah.

When Charlie tore down the Majestic, the theater's heavy concrete proscenium arch refused to collapse, withstanding all assaults for almost a week. Perhaps today is payback time.

People seem to have forgotten that the Mapes didn't put Charlie under. His financial problems sprang from the ill-advised expansion of his Money Tree Casino at Second and Center streets between Harrah's and the Flamingo Hilton.

Our little community is less for the loss of Charlie Mapes and his macho collection of stuffed critters; his old hotel with the tiny rooms; the Coach Room restaurant and bar with the inexplicably blacked-out windows masking the view of the Truckee riverfront.

In the final analysis, the Mapes was simply quite good-looking: the ever-attractive centerpiece of the center of town, consistent winner of the "most beautiful building" title in local newspaper polls years after going dark.

Last Tuesday's New York Times carried a photo of a hard-hatted Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin staring through a huge hole in a Mapes wall.

"You can see from here where Reno is going," Griffin states.

As hizzoner stares down the river.

Be well. Raise hell.

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Barbwire by Barbano moved to Nevada's Daily Sparks Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988, and has originated in them parts ever since.
Whom to blame: How a hall-of-famer's hunch birthed the Barbwire in August of 1987
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Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, where the past three years of columns may be accessed. Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 1/30/00.

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