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VIDEO: Harold’s Club Gets Official Recognition (Subscriber Content)


CLUB CARDS: “Barajas Bee del Harold’s Club (1935 – 1995) de Reno Nevada- (2014).” Image: AnelGTR / Wikimedia Commons.

The City of Reno’s first historical marker was unveiled Thursday. It honors the Harold’s Club, one of Reno’s iconic, historic gambling properties previously at 236 North Virginia Street. Harold’s Club opened on owner Harold Smith Sr.’s birthday: February 23, 1935.

He had come to “the biggest little city” because California was cracking down on the carnival games his family ran in the Bay Area, and in 1931 Nevada had legalized gambling. Smith called his place “Harold’s Club”—with an apostrophe—and it was to become one of the most famous gambling place of its day and one of the first modern casinos. (The apostrophe later disappeared from the name.) The new club measured only 25 feet by 150 feet, and featured one roulette wheel.Source: OnelineNevada

The club’s launch, however, was met with losses. Enter Raymond “Pappy” Smith, Harold’s father, who came to Reno to turn the club around financially. Pappy soon became a pioneer in legalized gaming.

He branded the establishment, and Harold’s became Nevada’s largest casino of its day.

RENO HISTORY: The Biggest Little City in the World sign was first erected in 1929. This version was built in 1963 and replaced by the current sign in 1987. Photo taken in June 1973 with a Yashica TL Electro SLR camera using 35 mm Ektachrome transparency film. Scanned with an Epson Perfection V500 Photo in Aug 2012. Image: Michael Holley / Wikimedia Commons.

Pappy, not Harold, was the public face of the club and was considered the entrepreneurial genius who created modern Nevada gambling by making it credible and fun. This must have deeply irked Harold and might have contributed to his heavy drinking and gambling in later years. Certainly, he, Pappy, and even Raymond argued frequently at board meetings and presumably elsewhere.Source: OnlineNevada

Pappy died in 1967.

Howard Hughes purchased the property in 1970.

The club met its demise in 1999.

Labor commentator Andrew Barbano remembers “the execution of Pappy Smith” at NevadaLabor.com.

“In addition to making the place his traveling carny show family’s permanent tent, Pappy basically created the Nevada gambling industry,” Barbano wrote in 1999 for the Sparks Tribune. “Even after the Howard Hughes Summa Corporation’s 1970 purchase of the place, original Smith family employees would stop and advise a player against making a self-defeating blackjack play.

“They would also give advice when asked, something almost unheard of today. At Harolds’ old competitors, such as the Mapes or Ponderosa, such actions brought automatic firing.”

Last week, the city recognized the club’s location with a historical marker. Numerous former employees and patrons of the club attended the event.

Councilmember Jenny Brekhus and the city’s historical resources commission hosted the dedication.

“As we move forward as a city and community, these nostalgic reminders of the past become all the more important,” she said. “It is paramount that we continue to preserve our history and find these opportunities to commemorate where we came from.”

Barbano remembered the property well:

A little, square plastic sign was hung on the side of the escalator, facing that high-ceilinged bar bar festooned hung with all those guns.

“Gambling is a game of chance. We advise you to wager no more than you can afford to lose. The Management.”

I hope I remembered it right.

Rest in peace, old gal and old pal. You were something special.

Watch the video of the dedication, featuring Neal Cobb, a former employee who praised the casino.

Bob Conrad
Bob Conradhttp://thisisreno.com
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. He is also a part time instructor at UNR and sits on the boards of the Nevada Press Association and Nevada Open Government Coalition.