City of lost opportunity

If you’ve spent any time at all around this burg, you know that Reno hasn’t had a great deal of success in preserving its heritage.

A lot of that is the fault of the casinos’ bottom-line style of looking at the world. Competitors drop like flies in this market, and nobody really wants to remember the losers. So when historic casinos like the Mapes repair to the history books, individuals are more likely than institutions to collect the memorabilia. (Although, weren’t there a bunch of Mapes architectural appointments that were supposed to be integrated into the design of whatever was built on the Mapes lot? Anybody know what became of that stuff, which was preserved from the implosion with taxpayer dollars?)

At any rate, with the exception of the oldest building in Reno—the old Masonic building that sits on the corner of Commercial Row and Sierra Street—there isn’t a heck of a lot of history left in the birthplace of the United States’ casino gambling industry.

And yet, here we sit, waiting and watching as one of the premier collections of antique slot machines is prepared to go on the auction block. C’mon, folks. Does this collection have to go the way of Harold’s Club’s collection of antique firearms? Will it be decimated in the way of Bill Harrah’s automobile collection? (Newcomers might like to know that Harrah’s automobile collection had more than 4,000 cars, not the 200 at the National Automobile Museum.)

As long as we’re making really obvious observations, here’s one to make an executive or two clench a jaw: In many ways, Reno is still in the tourism business. A good many cities have actually embraced their history and made money off it. Can you think of a dozen cities right off the top of your head that have turned their relationship to a historic event into money in the bank? Perhaps you can think of a gallery or two right near here that have made a buck or two off things that are only there to look at?

Heck, there’s an entire city only a half hour from downtown Reno whose charming T-shirt shops, historic tours and quaint saloons could serve as an example of how to use a modest talent to make a modest profit.

Aren’t there some empty rooms over at the National Bowling Stadium where the Reno Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority could maybe charge $5 a head to look at some antique slot machines? If you look at the meteoric fall of the number of Truckee Meadows gambling houses over the last 20 years, it’s not like that tourism agency has used our room-tax money in a more demonstrably intelligent fashion.

As long as we’re talking about it, how many casinos in this town promote a certain legacy and relationship to legal gambling’s early days? Some have built monuments to this heritage. Wouldn’t a second-floor room with a $7.50 ticket pencil out—just to bring the locals downtown?

There’s a plum out there for the plucking, folks. It’s going to be a shame to see another fantastic Reno collection lost in the eddies of time. If you feel the same way but have the wherewithal to do something about it, ring up Marshall Fey at the Liberty Belle, 825-1776. You’ll have to buy your collection in lots, though—the machines are slated for the auction block on July 8 at the convention center.