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Day 50 – the Sharon Mansion

By ThisIsReno

Submitted by Karl Breckenridge

Enter now, stage left, Barbara (Beesley) Goss, with a query, and here I quote: “Was there a tennis court stranding all by itself at the corner of Westfield Avenue and Booth Street, or am I losing my mind?”

I can’t speak as to your sanity, my old Reno High classmate; we’re all at that tenuous age. The opening line of a book I wrote a few years ago takes the words of Gordon Chism, another RHS classmate, to heart: “I am remembering now in ever-increasing detail, events which I’m not sure ever happened…” But yes indeed, Barbara, in our bygone youth there was a lonely tennis court just about where the 7-Eleven sits at the foot of the California Avenue hill.

The court was a last vestige of other stuff that inured to the house at the crest of the hill, including a couple of ponds and a carriage house. The parcel that that home is built upon actually once stretched from California Avenue west to an area near the present Booth Street, south to the 7-Eleven and eastward all the way to the Nixon mansion.

Google Earth image
The “Keystone/Booth/California nightmare” and the 7-11 (lower left corner) where a tennis court used to be.
Google Earth image

I’ve seen it designated as the “Sharon Mansion,” which has caused some confusion over time. We learned in school that William Sharon was a fine man, a benefactor to the downtrodden, a Nevadan to the core, a major financier of the Comstock and a buddy of railroad builders Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford. He became a Nevada senator in 1875 and died in 1885, posing the compelling question of why or how he had a mansion built in 1930.

In later life we learned that he was rumored to have actually visited the Silver State annually (from his home in San Francisco) and even Washington once or twice during his six-year term and conducted his life and affairs less than altruistically, which is being charitable. In fact, the chateau was built by Sharon’s granddaughter, who happened also to be Sen. Francis Newlands’ daughter, (Newlands married Sharon’s daughter).

And if you want to appear cool, pronounce the Comstock millionaire’s name “Sha-roan,” emphasis on the roan, unless you’re struggling to call an ambulance pronto to an address on Sharon Way, in which case you’d better pronounce Sharon as we’ve come to know it. Several old Reno maps show a “Sharon Street” in the approximate location of Booth Street, and the address of the Reno Water & Light Co.’s 1893 powerhouse at the present Booth and Idlewild corner showed it on Sharon Street. (It’s still there.)

The house on the hill, a replica of a French chateau, is a dandy, inspired by a San Francisco architect who specialized in castles, and built from native stone hewn from the rock-bound location of the University of Nevada’s Nye Hall. It might be one of the most-sketched edifices in Reno, as for many years it was a lot easier to see, before the Chinese elms and cottonwood trees surrounding it matured (see featured image), before the Federal Building was built, and before the Keystone/Booth/California nightmare was dreamed up.

In those earlier days it was a virtually-requisite project for a decade of Reno High’s art students from 1951 on, as it was in plain view of the art classroom on the north side of the Adult Education wing of the school.  I’ve seen some great versions of that student artwork, a few framed and displayed in local offices and homes.

Anyway, the home’s a part of our local scene, using that term loosely because owing to the runaway vegetation it’s almost impossible to see now, from anywhere…

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, Taco Bell is right now drive-up only, and we’re reading this because of a virus named after a Mexican beer. There’s probably a column there somewhere, but within the confines of my promise to Bob Conrad, publisher of This is Reno to write only happy news and avoid the politics, you can read of that elsewhere!

I have lain awake for a couple nights writing fire-and-brimstone columns in my drowsy noodle that never get typed, so tomorrow heaven only knows where the text will take us. But be assured, I’m here and Jody’s here, and my pals like Don Hartman doing guest shots occasionally, are here also, as long as Bob will have us.

And one of these mornings I’m going to devote an entire column to profiling editor Kristen Hackbarth, who turns my reprehensible grammar and spelling into something marginally readable!

See y’all right here on Cinco de Mayo, and ‘til then, be safe, huh?

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article or letter to the editor 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. 

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