“And if you came in drunk and gave her gruff, she kicked you out,” he said.
Martini took a trip back in time with various Sparks business and community members at Thursday’s “Celebrate Sparks: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” luncheon at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. The event was sponsored by the Reno-Sparks Chamber of Commerce and took place partly as a tribute to the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
The chamber’s CEO, Doug Kurkul, reflected on Thursday as Patriot Day.
“Seven years ago today, our nation was ruthlessly attacked,” Kurkul said. “I was working in Washington and will never forget the chilling sight of massive black smoke from the Pentagon. We remember those who lost their lives and loved ones. We value our God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Kurkul introduced the luncheon as a time to honor Sparks as well as a celebration of the chamber’s upcoming 25th anniversary.
“Today is a celebration of all that made Sparks special from its history dating back from 100 years ago to its legacy of family,” Kurkul said.
A video presentation from various residents and community leaders described the Rail City as “unique” and a “powerful community” that has a quality many people want to identify with and where on the streets “there’s always something going on.”
Gov. Jim Gibbons, a Sparks native, also spoke for the video and apologized to Reno Mayor Bob Cashell.
“I think Sparks is the best place to live. Sorry, Mr. Cashell.”
Gibbons went on to talk about his upbringing in what some described as a small bedroom community near Reno in the early 1950s.
“I was born and raised in Sparks on G Street, my dad worked in a railyard and my mom ran an insurance company on Prater Way near Scoopers,” Gibbons said. “She ran for mayor and instilled good public service in me and while she didn’t win, she would have been proud of (former Sparks mayor) Tony Armstong and Geno (Martini) and I applaud Geno for his good work.
“I’m living proof,” Gibbons said, “that a boy growing up in Sparks can grow up to be anything he wants to be.”
Martini then reminisced about various highlights throughout Sparks history, comparing old businesses that still exist or have closed or changed throughout the years, including the Morrills Sky Ranch in 1946, where the first Reno Air Races were held. Now, the area is La Posada, near the Spanish Springs shopping center. He showed photographs provided by the Sparks Heritage Museum that show a sharp contrast between the Sparks of the mid-20th century and today.
Martini focused a bit on Helms Pit, or what is now Sparks Marina.
“I have to give it to Bob Helms,” he said. “He wanted it to be the marina he intended it to be. We’ve received national awards for the marina. I was back in Washington D.C. talking with (Sen.) Harry Reid and showed him pictures of the marina and the things that are coming and he said, ‘The one thing I’m most proud of that I’ve ever done is help you put together the settlement that helped build the marina.’ ”
From pictures of the Old Mint Club to O’Ski’s pub on Victorian Avenue, Martini showed the transformation of Sparks and showed charts of the city’s population growth from 65,000 to 1999 to just more than 90,000 today.
“Our business licenses look pretty good, but construction permits are ugly, “ he said, pointing to chart where the number of such permits showed major dips in the last 10 years.
Councilman Ron Smith revisited current projects for which the city is gaining renown in the present, touching on the improvements on Interstate 80 and marina, considered “the gem of Sparks.”
“The marina is continually recharged with fresh water, exceeds the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards and pumps 3 million gallons of water into the Truckee River,” he said.
Smith also showed pictures of the Larry D. Johnson and Alf Sorenson community centers as places for children and teens to go to for activities safe havens.
But Smith’s two crown jewels of the city were saved for last.
“Golden Eagle (Regional Park) is Sparks’ largest public works totaling nearly $30 billion,” Smith said. “We expect more than 500,000 at the park this year and it’s the largest artificial turf project and, we’re told, in the world.”
The Legends development, however, is what will ensure Sparks’ success, Smith said.
“We can’t talk about the future of Sparks without talking about the Legends project,” he said, mentioning current tenants under construction, the anchor store, Scheels All-Sports, Best Buy and Target.
But even with Sparks’ colorful history, there’s still much more in store for the once small “bedroom community” on its way.
“If anyone knows me, I’m passionate about the city of Sparks and I truly believe the best is yet to come,” Smith said.