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More Tennis At Tahoe
by Harry Spencer
Jun 23, 2012 | 1174 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
File Photo/John Byrne
Comedian Bill Cosby was just one celebrity that frequented Reno and Tahoe during his or her career.
File Photo/John Byrne Comedian Bill Cosby was just one celebrity that frequented Reno and Tahoe during his or her career.
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Word this week that R. C. Owens, former spectacular leaping end for the San Francisco 49ers, passed away brought to mind a time he played in the Clint Eastwood Celebrity Tennis Tournament at the Tahoe Racquet Club in Incline Village. I was fortunate enough to be on the court with him on several occasions, and while he was a so-so tennis player, you didn’t lob him. Although his playing days were over and he was relatively out of shape, he still possessed the jumping ability that made him an NFL star. After his football career, he chose to remain with the 49ers as their front office public relations man. It seemed a natural course for him as he had a gregarious personality.

On the other side of the coin there was movie actor Lloyd Bridges of Sea Hunt fame. I was surprised to find him very reticent and soft spoken especially when in the company of people like Herb Caen, the famous San Francisco columnist. Although Bridges and fellow actor Cornel Wilde were obviously the most talented athletes, they seldom won the celebrity classic because they usually were teamed with the lesser pros. Since the format of the celebrity tournament was putting a celebrity with a tennis professional, the superstars usually got the best pros.

Most outspoken among the actors was Lorne Greene. He liked his Bonanza location shoots at Lake Tahoe so much that he bought a summer home at Incline. Since he was there during the breaks in the shooting of his shows, he was a daily player at the Tahoe Racquet Club. On one occasion he approached me and said, “You know the celebrities should really get paid for playing in your tournament.” I responded that since we took care of their room, food and booze they should be happy at the lake. I had first met Greene when he was in Reno for the premiere of Bonanza some 15 years prior. I once complimented him on playing the villain in a minor TV show, not Bonanza. He said, “It’s great to play the heavy.”

Aside from the many tournaments held at the lake club, celebrities were in abundance on the courts. I can remember seeing Bill Cosby and Pat Boone and many others during their entertaining gigs at Tahoe or Reno. Another famous actor who was a regular was Robert Stack, whose family owned a large private enclave at Crystal Bay.

As active as the club was during the day, it was a social hot spot until late in the evening. At Incline at that time there were two prominent groups, one was the golfers and the other was the tennis players. Often there were many folks that joined both groups. As far as the tennis courts were concerned, I remember that on several occasions during the warmer months, sand from the beach was hauled up to cover the number one court. The reason was that a full-stage luau was held with all the Hawaiian trimmings. Then during the cold winter months one court was converted to an ice skating rink.

Adjacent to the Tahoe Racquet Club was another tennis club that had been constructed by Billy Jean King and Dennis VanDerMeer. It was used primarily as a summer facility for school children who wanted to learn to play tennis. The idea of a summer camp for kids had been pioneered by Peter Paxton of the Tahoe Racquet Club. It had been run by both Pancho Gonzales and Tony Trabert, well known tennis figures.

At one time I had the pleasure (?) of playing opposite Gonzales in a doubles match. After he and his partner had solidly trounced me and my teammate, I asked him if he had ever played Squash racquet. His reply was, “You will never get me on a Squash court. I played once in Australia and couldn’t walk for a week.”

Downtown post office

Word came early this week that the historic downtown Reno Post Office is slated to be sold to a private development firm. This means it will no longer function as it was initially intended.

As a long-time box holder at the downtown Post Office, I can remember the days when it was a bustling enterprise. Since Reno was a relatively small town in the 50’s and 60’s, most of the merchants and professional men traipsed early in the morning to the P.O. to pick up their mail. In addition to the postings, they would take their time to engage in the latest gossip about the town. I was one of those individuals, and I remember chatting most frequently with Jerry Cobb, a radioman who was pioneering FM radio in those days. The best comparison would be to the old coffee houses of colonial times where the latest daily news was disseminated. Today an hour or so on Facebook would probably yield the same results.

With the closure of what was once the main Post Office in Reno, the much larger facility on Vassar Street is due to see a tremendous increase in business. Other mail drops and satellite Post Offices will also help to take up some of the load. Nonetheless, the ambiance of one of Reno’s central gathering spots will be lost forever.

Remember to attend the Reno Rodeo today!

Harry Spencer is a Reno freelance writer.
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