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Day 26 – Dania Hall

By ThisIsReno
Reno Little Theater

Submitted by Karl Breckenridge

On August 24 of 1894 the Afdeling Waldemar Lodge #12 of the Dania Society held their summer ball at Laughton’s Resort west of Reno, all 120 or so of the members and their attendant brides, and the gala was considered by most accounts as a success, save for Hans Block and Peter Rasmussen winding up with a broken wrist and an amputated thumb, respectively, during a vigorous old-country Danish dance.  But notwithstanding those inconveniences, all were looking forward to next year’s party.

This has little to do with this Friday’s This is Reno column.

Time marched on, and the Waldemar Lodge #12, through the beneficence of several local Danes, one recorded as an Andrew Frandsen, were able to acquire property on North Sierra Street at Seventh Street, and build a handsome brick home for the Dania Society. In August of 1925 they christened that building, with no further bodily injuries reported.

This has peripheral interest to the column that follows; the name “Frandsen” being of some interest, as I wrote about the Frandsen family in connection with  photograph of me taken at Whitaker Park in the earliest days of this This is Reno endeavor.

A decade later, a young thespian named Edwin Semenza would fire up a group called the Reno Little Theater, reportedly kicking in a few of his own bucks to make the thing work and offer a play.

On April 15 of 1935, The Three-Cornered Moon opened with an all-star cast in the Frandsen Education Building at the University of Nevada (that building named for Peter Frandsen, related to Andrew and another icon in the early local Danish community.)  The play was an instant hit with the local townsfolk, and the new little theater’s offerings continued on a regular basis – three or four first-rate, straight-from-Broadway offerings a year – for six decades to follow.

Pioneer Center
Pioneer Center

The little theater’s productions soon moved to the State Building downtown – the Pioneer Theater now occupies the site of the wonderful old State Building. The RLT – Reno Little Theater – held their plays in that venue for many a year.  And through Semenza’s guidance, their consistency and quality of production was remarkable.

And I can’t go too much further into this column without mentioning a name: Blythe Bulmer – actress, director, mentor – Semenza and Bulmer, what a team for so many years, and how lucky our little city was to have them, kind of like two latter-day Nettie Oliverios!

The Danish community in Reno waned, and in October of 1941 they sold their little brick building on North Sierra at Seventh Street to a Dr. S. K. Morrison, who immediately resold it without profit to the Reno Little Theater and carried back a mortgage at an attractive rate while the theater, now with a venue all its own got the momentum growing. Through Semenza’s stewardship, the theater became a successful business and artistic success, and the mortgage was retired ahead of schedule.

That early prewar year was frenetic, with much work being done on the former Dania meeting hall to convert it from a hall to a first-class theater facility. The plays continued through the war years, and the casts of characters in the Nevada Historical Society’s clips – where I got invaluable assistance in putting this together – contain the names of some well-known Reno folks.

Some work was undertaken on the building in the mid-1950s, necessitating closing of the theater, so Semenza negotiated the use of a nearby church, and the theater operated as a theater-in-the-round with great success. He called it the “Circlet Theater” – little more than a stage in the middle of the church akin to a boxing ring with no ropes.  In 1954, hometown writer Walter Van Tilburg Clark’s Track of the Cat was a hot draw into the Circlet Theater, which was so successful that it operated for a while even after remodeling was completed in the main theater.  I attended one matinee performance.

The thrust of downtown Reno changed; while the popularity of the Reno Little Theater never waned, the business side of the endeavor dictated a sale of the old Dania Society/theater building. In July of 1999 the property was sold to Circus Circus for that casino’s new parking lot.  I miss it.

Sheep and cattleman Andrew Frandsen basically endowed the Dania Society’s building, later to become the Reno Little Theater.  His daughter, Anna Frandsen Loomis endowed the Christian Science Church, later to become the Lear Theater. And Anna Frandsen Loomis’ son, E. Frandsen (Bud) Loomis, was chairman of the Reno Little Theater’s building committee when the theater acquired the theater from the Dania Society.

And took my picture in Whitaker Park. So there. See ya tomorrow morning – my son Ron triggered a heck of a column idea, if I have the guts to write it! Be safe huh?

Submitted opinions do not represent the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article here.

Karl Breckenridge

Karl Breckenridge was slowly going nuts. So he decided to help out This is Reno by writing a daily out-of-his-mind column for the duration of the coronavirus shutdown. Now that it’s over he’s back to his usual antics, drinking coffee with the boys at the Bear and, well, we’re not sure what else. But he loved sharing his daily musings with you, so he’s back, albeit a little less often, to keep on sharing. Karl grew up in the valley and has stories from the area going back to 1945. He’s been writing for 32 years locally. 

Read more from Karl Breckenridge

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