River Inn: The ultimate fixer-upper

Published: Mar. 2, 2021 at 5:17 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Even in its current state, long abandoned and slowly deteriorating the River Inn is impressive. It’s sat pretty much as you see it for about 40 years now, waiting for someone to pick up where others left off.

Most of that time many locals have worried it would burn or fall down or that someone would buy it, tear it down and build apartments. If so, they apparently can relax.

It turns out it may have been sitting here all those years waiting for Lawrence McNutt and Dana Miller.

We can’t say it was what McNutt was looking for. The owner of an IT firm over the hill in California, he’s opening a branch in Reno and was looking for a home here, something ready for the two of them to move into. Instead he found what could be called the Ultimate Fixer Upper.

There’s a lot of history to this property. Originally a water stop on the Central Pacific Railroad, it’s about as old as Reno itself.

Older residents will remember it as Lawton’s, a mineral water spa with an Olympic-sized pool and mineral water baths. Only the oldest will remember it was abandoned and looted once before. The Yori family took it over and built what most of us remember as the spa, restaurant, bar and motel most of us remember as the River Inn. The property was bought in 1970 by a man who built the big structure we see today.

It’s easy to see he had big plans, plans which came close to completion until financial and legal problems caught up with him. Decades of weather have left their mark outside. Intruders have had their way over the decades, but for carpeting, tables and machines, the casino was about ready. Restaurants and bars were close. The kitchen still well-equipped.

And, McNutt, says even after all this time, the structure itself is still sound.

“I come from a construction background before we started in the IT world and I look at the foundation, the building and the wood and aside from the cosmetic damage it’s a very solid property.”

As a project, it would be one thing to tackle this as a restoration project and pick up where the last owners left off, eventually open a casino, but they have no such plans.

“Primarily it’s a place to live,” says McNutt, “and we will remodel a part of the upstairs and make that a living space.”

“Downstairs, whatever you could dream of could happen here and nothing might happen. Ideally we do some events where we bring in some of the community, whether they are fundraisers, special events, something that brings us into the community, something that helps the youth of the community as that’s one of our passions.”

“And just from the sheer standpoint economic viability we’ll have to do something that brings in some revenue just to pay for some of the remodeling and leasing but nothing on a major scale.”

On a Facebook page they’ve launched they’re asking for ideas. And once it’s safe, they say they’d like to hold some open houses for the curious.

Whatever happens here will be a huge undertaking. The surprise is, they don’t seem overwhelmed.

“He has a way of making things happen,” says Miller.

“Let us sleep in the camper for another month,” says McNutt with a laugh. “We’ll probably feel overwhelmed.”

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