Part Of Downtown History Showing Its Age

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A handful of buildings in downtown Reno have seen parts of three centuries and are starting to look like it.

Reno's Historical Resources Commission is concerned that they could go the way of the Mapes Hotel.

Commission member Neal Cobb is particularly worried about the 132-year-old former Masonic Temple, which is believed to be the oldest building in Reno. The structure at the southeast corner of Sierra Street and Commercial Row currently is a warehouse for Fitzgeralds Casino Hotel.

It's on Thursday's agenda for the commission, which advises the Reno City Council on historic preservation.

There are no plans to tear down the building, said Fitzgeralds marketing manager Roxanne de Carlo. But preservationists worry that Reno's history, including the downtown building, will continue to vanish.

"We are going to run out of anything that's part of our history," Cobb told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "We can screw around and become a city with no history."

The commission's concerns, which became a community uproar when the city demolished the 53-year-old Mapes in 2000, were heightened last month when fire gutted a 94-year-old building on Bell Street that had been Reno's first church for African-Americans.

Cobb, who, with his father Jerry, put the city's first FM radio station on the air in 1953, said it's time to start caring.

"We have this super history. It should be treasured and marketed as part of a complete community," he said.

Cobb said he was expressing his own opinions, not those of the commission, and called what's happening to Reno's old buildings "demolition by neglect."

The Bethel A.M.E. Church on Bell Street, which congregation leaders still hope to turn into a black history museum, had been boarded up for about a year when the fire broke out. The incident is being investigated as arson.

In 2001, fire destroyed another Reno landmark, the Wingfield House on Court Street.

Preservationists such as Cobb and William Simons, who operates a real estate business and owns downtown property, fear the Fitzgeralds warehouse will be torn down.

"Nobody is paying attention," said Simons, who expressed interest in buying the building and turning it into a museum. "Nobody is aware of the historical significance of that building. I think if more people were aware of it, the less it would be inclined to be torn down. Its future is precarious."

He and Cobb noted that the building is across the street from where railroad tracks are being lowered into a trench the length of downtown and is in the casino core area.

"That's something that's in immediate danger because of its location," Cobb said. "Here is this building that's just used for storage in the middle of an active economic area."

"I think it's worth saving," said Simons. "We have to figure out how and figure out what would be necessary to preserve it."