Reno’s oldest

Will the development of CommRow give new life to a hidden Reno treasure?

One of the interesting prospects of Fernando Leal’s CommRow project is the potential for the Masonic Temple/Reno Mercantile building. It’s at 98 W. Commercial Row, on the southeast corner of West Commercial Row and North Sierra Street. Painted an ugly off-white that seemed calculated to conceal it from public awareness, many locals are unaware of the fact that this is Reno’s oldest public building, although preservationists have salivated over it for years. Leal has said he is committed to rehabbing and reusing the brick structure.

“My plan is to salvage that building at all costs,” said Leal. “Unfortunately, it has been vacant for decades, and it is in dire need of some significant structural work. Our goal is basically to put that building back in service, but really with taking very careful detail to try to preserve it and restore it to what it was.”

According to a white paper prepared in November 2007 by Antunovich Associates and provided by Leal to the Reno News & Review, the building was constructed in 1872 by the Order of Masons. It originally housed a second floor meeting hall, and businesses occupied the ground floor. The Masons ceased using the property in 1905. The Reno Mercantile Company operated out of the building from 1895 until 1970. After that, it housed other businesses, including a pawnshop. Most recently, Fitzgeralds Casino-Hotel used it as a storage facility. The building currently is not in use.

While Leal is in talks with several interests about just how to go about using the building, and there is yet no definite date to begin rehabilitation, whoever gets involved has their work cut out for them. According to the report, the 33-feet-wide-by-100-feet-long brick building has serious structural and façade issues both in- and outside: All wood staircases require repair. There is extensive water damage to the wood and plaster wall and ceiling finishes on the ground and second floors. Electrical fixtures don’t work; toilets don’t work. Even the wood columns supporting the center beams in the basement and the two above-ground floors have issues.

As of 2007, the building was not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Nevada State Register of Historic Places or even the City of Reno’s Register of Historic Places, all of which seemed to underpin the idea that former owners wanted to use the real estate for other purposes. The Antunovich report states that the Reno Railroad Corridor Final Environmental Impact Statement categorized the property as “pending listing on the national register” and confirmed it was “eligible for the National Register.”

Many predicted—because of its primitive foundation—that the building would collapse during the construction of the train trench, and some even worried that its collapse might be helped along. Leal said in an earlier interview that the foundation would have to be reinforced similarly to how the train station’s foundation was strengthened.

Leal said the most likely scenario is for a single entity to lease both the Mercantile building and its neighbor, the Old Reno Casino, which he also owns.

“What we envision as a great use for the Old Reno is that somebody would lease the old Mercantile from us, take the Old Reno from us, open up the west wall of the Old Reno, which would give access to the Mercantile building that could provide a great indoor/outdoor/patio/live music venue,” he said. “We really view those two properties—from a developer’s point of view—we really think that those two will need to be developed in unison to complement one another.”