The Mapes Hotel: Reno’s Lost Art Deco Jewel

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 Turst 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 never experienced the massive growth that occurred in Las Vegas and 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. The old properties may have historic value to pop culture historians, but their survival doesn’t make economic sense. They’re simply ‘analog players in a digital world’.

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 role of the City Redevelopment Authority was questioned throughout the process. Overlooking the Truckee River, the hotel was on a prime location between the downtown casino area and the riverfront district. A number of sound financial proposals were presented that would preserve the integrity of the structure including condominiums, office space, and perhaps most viable, upscale senior apartments. Oddly, all of these proposals were turned down by the citys Redevelopment Agency which continued to maintain that demolition was the only viable option despite copious evidence to the contrary.

Following the 2000 demolition, the lot remained vacant for over a year until a temporary ice skating rink was hastily constructed the following winter. The site now houses a permanent ice skating rink which, while not a bad use for the land, isn’t the sort of game changing improvement suggested by the City Redevelopment Agency and their adamant insistence that the building be demolished. To the contrary, it appears 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 that played a significant part in the economic growth of the entire state.

Ross Everett is a freelance writer and widely regarded sports betting expert. He is also a staff handicapper for Sports-1 Sportsbook and is in charge of setting NFL lines. He has written extensively on sports handicapping theory along with a wide range of other topics including fencing, self defense and falconry.

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