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The Mapes, gone but not forgotten
by Harry Spencer
Jan 22, 2010 | 1615 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Nathan Orme - An ice rink now sits on the site of the former Mapes hotel in downtown Reno. In the background is the Siena Hotel Spa Casino, where there will be a party on Jan. 31 to mark the 10-year anniversary of the implosion of the Mapes.
Tribune/Nathan Orme - An ice rink now sits on the site of the former Mapes hotel in downtown Reno. In the background is the Siena Hotel Spa Casino, where there will be a party on Jan. 31 to mark the 10-year anniversary of the implosion of the Mapes.
A week from today marks the 10th anniversary of the demise of the Mapes Hotel in downtown Reno.

To memorialize that date, one local group, the Truckee Meadows Historical Trust, is planning a “Sky Room Party” on Sunday, Jan. 31,from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Siena hotel in Reno. The event is to feature a historic art and memorabilia show, silent auction, appetizers, music, live entertainment, dancing, book signing of works about the Mapes and numerous surprise guests. The event will be open to the public and the cost is $30 at the door. In addition to benefiting the sponsoring entity, part of the proceeds will go to benefit the Northern Nevada Children’s Cancer Foundation. Further details will appear in this space next Saturday.

Many newcomers to this area, particularly those who never saw the Mapes while it was still standing, often question why a structure that stood vacant for some 18 years still had such a powerful hold on the majority of the citizenry in the Truckee Meadows. To answer that, a person has to have been here ever since the Mapes opened in December of 1947.

Prior to the Mapes' construction, Reno was basically regarded as the “Divorce Capital of the World” and the community was made of cowboys, miners, gamblers and the student body of the University of Nevada. All gambling was pretty much located in the area from the railroad tracks to the north and to the middle of the block between First and Second streets to the south. Center Street had the most clubs, dominated by the Bank Club, the Golden Hotel and the Palace Club. Harold’s Club ruled the roost on Virginia Street and Harrah’s had a very small presence. Hotel wise, the Riverside, across the Truckee from the Mapes, was the premier hotel with the El Cortez probably the next in line.

Once the opulent Mapes opened its doors it signified a sort of “coming of age” for Reno as a new, sophisticated destination. The hotel contained virtually every amenity that could be found in the top hotels in big cities across the country. Initially, its chief market was the affluent Bay Area and most of its well-heeled guests arrived by rail. In fact, one of the opening sequences in “The Misfits” took into account both the divorce and the railroad legacy as Gable, in vintage cowboy gear, is seen saying farewell to a wealthy divorcee as she boards the train following her six-week residency here. After that, he hooked up with his buddy, played by veteran actor Eli Wallach, and they set off for Harrah’s in search of divorcees still in town, where they meet Marilyn Monroe and guest house owner Thelma Ritter. Monroe has just gotten her divorce and while Wallach has the hots for her, it is pretty obvious that she and Gable are about to become an item and the film goes on from there. An interesting side note as to why the relatively small and practically unknown Harrah’s was chosen for shooting, rather than the much larger and worldwide known Harold’s Club, is the fact that the casino had to be closed down for a couple of days for set-up and shooting and Harold’s would have no part in closing its doors.

In addition to top live entertainment that the Mapes brought to Reno the owner, Charles Mapes, Jr., was an innovator and driving force behind the creation of special events like the Air Races, the Hydroplane races, the Reno Rodeo, Celebrity Golf Tournaments, the Reno Fun Train, quarterly Game Feed Dinners, the California Indians Shooting meet and numerous civic celebrations.

Celebrity Corner

This past week, there was another showing of the iconic motion picture “The Misfits” on cable TV here. As always, the black and white footage in the film was as sharp and crisp as when it was run through the cameras here in 1960. Much of the quality of the production is due in no small measure to the artistry of Russell Metty, the cinematographer for the “Misfits.”

Most of my conversations with him in 1960 occurred at his favorite bar stool on the west end of the serpentine bar in the ground flood Coach Room of the Mapes hotel, where cast and crew of the picture were housed for most of that summer.

“The Misfits,” starring Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, did not achieve box office success when first released but over the years has developed a cult-like status thanks to television reruns. The fact that it was the last picture made by both stars has probably contributed to its ongoing appeal, since Monroe also developed that same cult adulation following her death at an early age. Gable also contributes to the film’s longevity since, for the bulk of his career, he was know as the “King of Hollywood.” In the “Misfits” director John Huston was able to coach a remarkably emotional performance from Gable, particularly during his “drunk” scene. A lot of that was because Gable and Huston were cut from the same cloth as rugged, outdoorsy, macho men who had great rapport.

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