Open your eyes

Get ready, Reno. Another battle in a long string of battles over historic buildings in downtown Reno is likely to be waged.

With the purchase of the Old Reno Casino in downtown Reno, the old Masonic Building, the oldest building in downtown Reno, seems once again to be in danger.

According to a University of Nevada, Reno Web site, the Reno Masonic Hall/Reno Mercantile Company, 98 West Commercial Row, was built in 1872 and is the oldest extant commercial building in Reno. It’s probably the oldest building, period. The upper story served as the hall and the first floor was the Reno Mercantile Company from 1895 to 1970. The Victorian building, with Romanesque Revival and Italianate elements, represents a type of structure that was common during Reno’s 19th century past.

The structure, which was boarded up and painted a fade-to-background-off-white long ago, has been owned by whichever company happened to own Fitzgeralds Casino-Hotel. However, in many ways, it was the stubborn owners of the Old Reno Casino who stood between the building and the wrecking ball, as there was little reason to go through the expense and controversy of demolition of the historic structure, when the Old Reno Casino would have to be constructed around.

No more. After the city of Reno’s funky use of eminent domain and game of Hide-the-Principal (played with gaming lobbyist Harvey Whittemore and the Peppermill Hotel-Casino), the city has negotiated a sale of the now-closed Old Reno Casino. The city, which purchased the land for $1, sold it to LLH Holdings for $630,000. So, the ownership of all the property on the south side of Commercial Row between Virginia Street and Sierra Street and north of Douglas Alley now rests in the hands of a New Jersey family’s corporation.

Representatives of Fitzgeralds have long claimed that the condition of the Masonic Building’s foundation made restoration of the building a losing proposition and refused tours to members of the media to support their claims. However, this tactic must be challenged and challenged quickly, because that building is irreplaceable, and it’s not worth anything to anyone as a boarded-up, neglected eyesore.

“Currently, we have no plans for that building,” said LLH Holdings General Manager Jay Hafter.

No plans for a building the company has owned for nine months? No plans for the oldest standing commercial building in Reno? Hafter’s assertion may be true, but there’s a lot of sky above the Old Reno Casino and Old Masonic Hall. It seems there’s easily enough room to build a new hotel tower, as long as you don’t mind what you’re building on top of.