The future is looking darker for the old Masonic Temple building in Reno. It’s always been dark; in fact it was on the 2004 list of Preserve Nevada’s Eleven Most Endangered Sites. But recent news is making things worse.
The building, shown above with the Old Reno casino in a 2002 NevadaMax picture, was built by the Masons in 1872 to use as their headquarters. An 1879 fire destroyed most of the rest of downtown but left the building standing, and it’s survived until today as the oldest commercial structure in town.
For a few years now it’s been owned by the Fitzgerald’s Casino, which is on the same block (it’s the big blank wall in the background of the first picture). But the Old Reno was under different ownership; the only holdout on the block. So it didn’t make any sense to develop on the corner since they would have had to build around the Old Reno. Much like Harrahs had to build around the Santa Fe Hotel. That’s changing this year, though, as part of a deal between Fitzgerald’s, the city, and Harvey Whittemore’s company, which owned the Old Reno. Fitzgerald’s is getting the Old Reno property in trade for some land they own along the railroad trench so that the city can build their new “pedestrian plaza”. The rainbow bridge across the train tracks is also included in the deal. So after all the papers are signed and the hands are shaken, Fitzgerald’s will own the entire block at last.
So what does this mean for the Masonic Building? The Fitz has already said that it’s structurally unstable and nothing can be done with it. Between the lines, they’re saying it’s not worth the cost of renovating it, and they’d rather have casino space on that corner anyway. Now that they own the Old Reno too, doesn’t that whole corner look ripe for new development? It might have to wait until they’re out of bankruptcy, or have a new owner, but one day that corner will be marked for development. Maybe a new hotel tower, or something else that will take advantage of the renaissance downtown Reno is going through? The RN&R seems to think so.
So will the Masonic Building (and the Old Reno) go off to join Harold’s Club and the Mapes in that big downtown district in the sky? They’re not saying, but I doubt that the Fitz would let such valuable property sit unused forever.