The end came on January 30, 2000, and no matter which side of the preservation fence you stood on, the implosion of the Mapes Hotel in downtown Reno was spectacular to behold. A Reno landmark (and national landmark as well, having been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984), the Mapes could not survive the prevailing economic and political winds, so down it came. It was in some ways inevitable, now that people anywhere can play online casinos.
The Mapes collapses in a cloud of dust, ending the fight to preserve one of Reno's landmark buildings.
Ah, but it was grand when it opened on December 17, 1947. The art deco Mapes Hotel was the tallest building in Nevada and first anywhere to combine hotel/casino/dining/nightclub in one structure. It was bright and classy, opening a new era in the Nevada gambling industry. For years the Mapes was a big deal. Top entertainment performed in the World-Famous Sky Room; Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and many more. For Reno residents, the Mapes was a venue for proms and other community events.
The Mapes family had lived in Reno since the 1880's. Gladys Mapes was the main mover behind the hotel, and she built something like nothing before. Her idea was a rousing success right after WWII, becoming the prototype of future hotel/casino construction. For attracting guests from across the country, it didn't hurt that Nevada had the nation's most liberal divorce laws.
Changing times and tastes, competition from Las Vegas and Indian casinos, financial trouble, simple old age; a perfect storm of bad news closed the Mapes on December 17, 1982, 35 years to the day from when she opened. There she sat, boarded up and slowly crumbling, with the historic preservation people taking up her plight in what turned out to be an unsuccessful cause célèbre.
In 1996, the Reno Redevelopment Agency acquired the property and began seeking developers to refurbish and save the Mapes. The short story is that, economically speaking, things didn't line up to make saving her worthwhile. The Reno City Council voted to delete the Mapes and it became a pile of rubble on Super Bowl Sunday 2000. Before checking out, though, the Mapes did acquire one last distinction; it became the first building ever destroyed after being placed on the National Trust for Historic Preservation "11 Most Endangered Places" list.
After the dust settled and the mound of former glory was hauled away, the question of what to do with an empty square block of dirt next to the Truckee River in downtown Reno became the hot topic. The current design is what the city calls a mixed-use public plaza, and it is in the midst of development. It's called Virginia St. Plaza and the initial phase, Rink on the River, is successfully serving during the winter season as Reno's permanent ice rink. Upcoming amenities are planned to include an amphitheater and stage, some retail space, and a cable-suspended canopy over the rink area. OK, so this isn't an historic, art deco hotel/casino oozing Reno history. Eventually, though, residents may agree the tradeoff is worth having a more open, user-friendly downtown that will generate a new history of its own.