The History Of Reno’s Mapes Hotel

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On January 31, 2000, the historic Mapes Hotel in Reno was imploded by 75 pounds of explosives tucked into the art-deco structures support columns. The destruction of the Mapes put an end to years of efforts to preserve the building via lawsuits, redevelopment proposals, and grass roots action. The National Trust for Historic Preservation took up the cause of the Mapes, and challenged the destruction in a suit 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 opening of the Mapes in 1947 ushered in a new era in casino gambling, and changed the economy and way of life in Nevada forever. The Mapes was actually the first property in the country to combine a hotel, casino and live entertainment under the same roof. It also became the hotel of choice for celebrities staying in Northern Nevada. Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe stayed at The Mapes during the filming of ‘The Misfits’. Joseph McCarthy, America’s famed anti-Communist crusader, admitted to a reporter over cocktails in the Mapes Lounge that he really didn’t have a list of Communists in the US despite his frequent and vitriolic insistence to the contrary.

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: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Jackie Gleason, 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 continued to do well during the 60’s and 70’s. The hotel finally closed in 1982, 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’.

This is not the case in Reno, where land and buildings for development in virtually every casino area are abundant. The city argued that the land on which the Mapes stood was necessary for their redevelopment efforts–a somewhat absurd position given the realities of downtown Reno and the lack of any real development on the property since the demolition. 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 1996, 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.

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 property has been improved and the rink is now permanent which, while not in itself a bad use for the land, further calls into question the efficacy of demolishing the structure. It would appear that the city had no clue what to do with the land, but for whatever reason wanted the building brought down. This has led to all sorts of conspiracy theories, from the City Development Agency having financial incentive to raze the hotel to rumors that the building was haunted and was destroyed to keep the Reno area from being overrun with paranormal activity. Whatever the reason for the decision, the city of Reno has lost a beautiful art deco treasure that played a significant part in the economic growth of the state.


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