Submitted by Karl Breckenridge and Jody Rice
I welcome this Tuesday morning a guest writer named Jody Rice, a Reno lass who grew up with my sons, learned to write good at Swope Middle School, then Reno High and the University of Nevada Journalism College. She’s been writing around our hamlet for years and I’m pleased to have her join me for an occasional foray into local history! She writes:
Anyone who was here in the 1960s and 1970s will remember Uncle John’s Pancake House, located next to the nightmarish old Alamo Ranch, kitty-corner to the iconic Liberty Belle, and across the street from the humble, 142-room motel Golden Road Motel. Today, the area at Peckham and South Virginia Street in south Reno is recognized for the gargantuan, cement torches adorning the Atlantis Casino Resort, with its grand, pinkish hotel towers and immense 61,000 square feet of casino space.
While the surrounding buildings were torn down or moved, 3655 S. Virginia St. continues to offer food to patrons in an informal setting. Let us go back to reminisce about Uncle John’s, the spot to go for 39 varieties of pancakes, including Iowa Corn, African banana and enough syrup choices to make yourself ill.
The informal, red and white provincial-style restaurant opened in February 1960, just in time for the Squaw Valley Olympics. From that day on, the slice of Americana was a common meeting place before and after church, on Mother’s Day, at Toastmasters meetings or any time a flapjack sounded like a good meal. It was open 24 hours a day.
I remember it well because of its location next door to the once stately Moffat Ranch, later to be known as the Alamo Ranch. My older sister scared me to death with a tale about the owner dying in the house after being stabbed in the eye with an ice pick. At least that is how I remember it. The long-abandoned old plantation-style house, with its chipping white columned fence covered in unkempt, creepy vines and broken-out windows lent itself well for such lore.
The house, one of the first in Reno with an indoor pool filled by the Moana Hot Springs through a 60-foot tower, was moved in the 1970s by, who else, John Bevilacqua! The house is now in Pleasant Valley, on the west side of U.S. highway 395, but most of the outbuildings were left behind and eventually razed.
The 15 acres on which it once sat is now a satellite parking lot for the Atlantis. The mansion is the former residence of John Sparks, elected as our state’s governor in 1902 and whose namesake is a little railroad town east of Reno. At one time, the ranch spanned 2,500 acres, where it was common to see grazing turkeys, elk, deer and buffalo.
Back to the pancake house – well, once it closed after a couple of decades in operation, there has been no shortage of reincarnations, a spot known for going through a string of restaurant and bars. Hamburger Harry’s, renamed Harry’s Restaurant for some reason, continued in the 1980s, serving food and as a meeting place for such groups as the Nevada Wildlife Federation. It advertised itself as a “multiple-choice hamburger,” with Nudeburgers to Hamburgers Wellington and 30-minute lunch specials.
When Hooters took the space over in 1992, the adjoining billboard with a scantily- clad blonde coyly invited us to try more than just the pork chops. Waitresses, clothed in skimpy gym shorts and crop tops were the draw, but Hooters soon went under with changing times and sexual harassment lawsuits. Even the menu was considered offensive to many with the double-entendres such as “More than a Mouthful” burgers and the chicken sandwich that is “the breast you can buy.”
Soon after Hooters left, the Sunset Grill moved in January 1997, with the logo “Where the Service Always Shines.” As early as 1998, the Sunset Grill advertised veggie sandwiches and touted themselves as consistently good food in a casual atmosphere where people were treated with respect. Eventually, and with little fanfare, it moved out.
More recently, the 4,000-square-foot location built for $200,000 housed Foley’s Irish Pub, which moved half a mile south from its former location across from the Peppermill in 2007. A Reno mainstay known to cater to locals for 10 years before the change of address, anyone who celebrated a St. Patrick’s Day with Noal Foley will remember his extravagant parties with bagpipes, Irish Dancers and festive green beer.
For the last six years, the upscale sports bar Lucky Beaver Bar & Burger, with its giant spinning grill and 52-foot bar, welcomes customers to enjoy an informal setting offering friendly fare and exhibition kitchens. It is a great place for happy hour and a visit with friends, but right now only take-out is available.
So with libraries and museums closed, that’s all I could find or remember about the space. Next, I would like to write about a gladiola farm once at the corner of Holcomb Ranch Road and South Virginia Street. I found a black-and-white photo at the Nevada Historical Society before it shut down for the month. I would love to hear from anyone with details on what was once a lush field covered in flowers!
Thanks for the yarn, Jody – we’ll look forward to the next one about the gladioli! We’ll all be back here tomorrow morning – and, be safe, huh?
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
Karl’s pal Jody shares the rich history of bootlegging, decorating, and engineering within the confines of the Truckee River’s banks and its picturesque islands.