Monday, August 16, 2010

The Mapes Hotel: Best Places to Stay in Reno

Guest post By Ross Everett

The Mapes Hotel in Reno, Nevada met its demise on Superbowl Sunday of 2000 when 75 pounds of explosives packed inside the structure's support columns brought it to the ground. The controlled demolition came despite years of effort by a number of groups within the community to preserve the building with lawsuits, redevelopment proposals, and grass roots lobbying efforts. The National Trust for Historic Preservation even took up the cause, challenging the destruction in a lawsuit that eventually reached the Nevada Supreme Court.

While the logic and necessity of demolishing the Mapes is very questionable, one thing that is certain is that the hotel was an important part of Northern Nevada history. The Mapes opened in'47 and with it ushered in a new era for casino gambling and the state of Nevada. Despite some historical revisionism that suggests that the modern era began in Las Vegas with Bugsy Siegel's famed Flamingo, the Mapes was actually the first building in America to have a hotel, casino and live entertainment under the same roof. The Mapes attracted countless celebrities who'd make it their home when business brought them to Northern Nevada--this included movie stars like Clark Gable, TV stars like the cast of 'Bonanza' and political power brokers like infamous anti-Communist crusader Joseph McCarthy.

In the 50s and 60s it became, along with Lake Tahoes Cal-Neva Lodge the place to be seen in Northern Nevada. The top floor, window-walled Sky Room showcased performances by the legends: Sinatra, Louis Prima, Mae West, Milton Berle, Sammy Davis, Jr., and the Marx Brothers among others. Subsequent years were not kind to downtown Reno but the Mapes prospered during the 60's and 70's. The hotel finally closed in'82, due more to financial difficulties experienced by the Mapes family caused by one of their other Northern Nevada gaming properties than anything else.

Reno has yet to experience the sort of growth that has been seen in Southern Nevada, and for that reason the destruction of the Mapes is more open to debate than the hotel demolitions to the south. Even the demolition of The Sands--perhaps the most historically significant casino in the state--is hard to argue against given the inability of such a small property to compete in the current Las Vegas marketplace and in light of the value of the mid-strip real estate.

That's not the case in Reno, where vacant land and/or buildings ripe for redevelopment are abundant downtown and in the other casino areas of the city. The official reason that the Mapes had to come down was that the city needed the land to expand its vision for downtown redevelopment. While this is certainly a much needed effort, to suggest that the existence of the Mapes was a barrier is absurd. In fact, many of the proposals rejected by the city would have gone a long way to enhance the revitalization of downtown Reno and included artists lofts, office space and other mixed used properties. Despite receiving a number of viable concepts for the Mapes Building, the City Redevelopment Authority rejected all of them and the Mapes was destined for demolition.

The behavior of the City Redevelopment Authority throughout the process has come into question. Overlooking the Truckee River, the hotel was perfectly placed between the downtown casino area and the riverfront district. In'96, the city purchased the htoel and began accepting proposals for redevelopment. Despite receiving a number of proposals that made sense both in terms of their financial workability and positive impact on the downtown area, the City Redevelopment Authority nixed all of them and insisted that the hotel be razed.

After the demolition of The Mapes Hotel, the lot remained vacant for almost a year until a temporary ice skating rink was constructed in the winter of 2001. The site now houses a permanent ice skating rink which, while not a bad use for the land, brings into question the insistence by the City Redevelopment Agency that none of the proposals to preserve the building were viable. Clearly, they had no specific plan or even general idea of what to do with the land but for some reason wanted to see the hotel come down. This has led to all manner of speculation, ranging from financial self interest to a rumor that the structure was 'haunted' and needed to be destroyed to forestall future paranormal activity in Washoe County. Whatever the reason, the city of Reno lost a valuable landmark of a more civilized era.

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