Submitted by Karl Breckenridge
I bear news this Friday morning to This is Reno readers – when I was just a little kid living at 740 Ralston Street across from Whitaker Park (pictured), I used to send a lot of letters to my mother’s great aunt Lola who was a Maryknoll nun domiciled in Dubuque, Iowa. She regarded Reno, Nevada as a god-forsaken jumping-off point for my parents to move (back) to after WWII; the letters were to tell her that Reno wasn’t a town full of savages…
Lola passed away many years ago, and twenty years later a valise was discovered with many of those letters and found its way back to me. I might publish one here occasionally. One is about movies in Reno. So we’ll now all go to a movie; here’s what I wrote 70 years ago:
It’s a 1952 Saturday morning in Reno, Nevada; Big John and Sparky were on No School Today for Buster Brown Shoes on KOH radio earlier, and Hank Philcox and I are off on our Schwinns to the Tower Theater!
The Tower is an old theater on the northeast corner of Ryland and South Virginia Street, at the near right in the photo above (in this story, below). It shares a building with a bowling alley, and it’s not too hard to hear through the walls – a dashing young Reno columnist once wrote romantically of the full moon overhead lighting the trailing wake of the ocean liner, the trade winds echoing soft violins as he looked deeply into her yearning eyes in the Tower Theater, just as the half-toasted keglers on the other side of the wall in the Reno Bowl picked up a turkey third strike in the last frame and all hell cut loose.
So much for romance. But this was 10 ayem, it was Saturday morning, and every kid in town, almost all under 15, was at the movie.
We all – 500 of us from all five Reno elementary schools, plus Billinghurst, Northside and a few from Reno High – remembered what happened last week. Our admission was the tear-tab from the center of the paper cap in a glass bottle of Old Home Milk, plus 14 cents.
I’ll get argument about that, but I checked it out. A cap and 14¢, no lie.
The theater had no loge, just a big, sloped floor, with pretty comfortable seats that would stay around Reno in various venues for 75 years, but that’s another story. Most remember that the end-seat in every other row was one-and-a-half seats wide, or wide enough for cuddling with an older gal with a medium-sized fanny. They were in great demand (the wide theater seats, not the narrow fannies.)
(Boy, Mom’s really going to be mad about that line…oh well…)
Our Saturday morning movie always started with two or three funnies – ones that wouldn’t be shown to children in another 60 years – coyotes getting blown up with Acme dynamite, rabbits run over by cars, pigs, (named Porky, at that!) being slapped around by their dates, cats beating up mice, an old guy in an Elmer Fudd hat with a shotgun, blind guys like me getting the raspberry from Waldo – bullying, abuse, violence – we were all surely marred for life. We just didn’t know it yet!
Then we’d get the newsreel, and surprisingly it was pretty-well done – not too much detail, easy to follow, palatable even for a little kid like me – what was the latest on that asshat senator McCarthy and Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss? And the Rosenberg spy trial? Perry Como was singing “Don’t let the stars get in your eyes,” Patti Page – “How much is that doggie in the window?” and Dean Martin “That’s Amore!” Mickey Mantle and Pee Wee Reese lead the leagues in batting (check me on that; it’s been a while!) Thus we got our news…
Now, a serial. They don’t film them anymore.
As we left last week, she was tied to the railroad tracks, the pianist was playing some ominous chords, the locomotive, maybe an old V&T loco once from Virginia City, was bearing down on her full bore with the bad guy holding a six-shooter to the hapless engineer’s skull (ahh, those guns and bullying again) while the good guy is throwing a switch to take the loco out of harm’s way and save the damsel. Would he throw the switch in time? We’ll know in a moment…
And, finally, the main course – a full-length movie, usually a pretty good flick, fairly new, sized for kids – no deep stuff nor heavy breathing. Nor naughty words. Almost. A fun time.
We left – our thespian needs satiated for another seven days – always with the carrot to bring us back next Saturday like a locomotive, having avoided the maiden tied to the tracks, but now left in mid-event while making wide-open-throttle toward the bridge that’s out over the 400-foot ravine to the raging river, the 3,000 nuns and orphans on the train unaware of their possibly pending fate.
Daylight was bright in midday on Ryland Street, but our bikes, left unlocked with 300 others blocking the street, were still there…
So there you have it in 2020 – one of my letters to Aunt Lola. If This is Reno doesn’t get too much adverse mail I might find another one of these mornings – she saved a whole boxful of my writings about Reno. It’s hard to come up with good readable stuff every morning – Herb Caen I ain’t! But I never knew the world would come to this situation in 70 years or I’d have written better.
My new partner, Jody Rice, broke a couple fingers on her right (dominant) hand yesterday – Thursday – and ROC casted it for three weeks. The upshot of that is that you’ll read this weekend a story of Park Lane written entirely with the typewriter keys available on the left hand.
See y’all tomorrow. Be safe, huh?
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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.
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