Reno Motels Then and Now, Part 2

This is our second post looking back at the mid-century motels of Reno. Last time we kicked off the series by traveling up and down 4th Street and searching for how many of the motels might remain. We found that at least half of them had been torn down. So this time we’re going to up the ante and look at a part of town where all of them have been torn down! And they’re all on one block!

If you remember from last time, a development company called Jacobs Entertainment had been buying up all the motels west of downtown Reno. Some of them got remodeled, but most of them got torn down to clear the land for vague future development. For the most part these purchases and demolitions were done one-by-one on a piecemeal basis. But there was one spot where Jacobs managed to buy an entire block of run-down motels, and demolished them all in one fell swoop.

This was the block on the south side of 4th Street, between Arlington and West Streets. Part of the block was taken up by the former Kings Inn, an old hotel and casino which itself was abandoned for 20 years before being remodeled into the 3rd Street Flats. The rest of this block was full of motels, small 2-story motels with small parking lots that advertised how close they were to the downtown casinos as their main selling point. There were 8 little motels squeezed into this one block, and they were all torn down in 2018.

Let’s start our tour. You can use this map to keep track of which was which.

Mardi Gras Motor Lodge

The Mardi Gras Motor Lodge was at the corner of 4th and West Streets. Right across the street from the Bonanza Inn from our last post. This had a vague New Orleans theme, mostly in the jesters painted on the wall. Now there’s a Burning Man sculpture on this corner, part of the 4th Street Neon Line. Jacobs has put art and sculpture on a lot of the former motel sites in this neighborhood to disguise the fact that there’s nothing remaining but parking lots.


In-Town Motel

Next door to the Mardi Gras was the In-Town Motel. As I said, the selling point for most of these motels was how close they were to the casinos on Virginia Street. This one took that a step further and literally put “In Town” in their name. And their sign even advertises that they are only 2 blocks away from downtown. After this was torn down, they didn’t even bother putting a sculpture on this site. There’s literally just some fenced in astroturf here now.

Lido Inn

I tried to find a postcard of the Lido Inn but I couldn’t. So we’ll have to settle for some more recent photos of the motel. This was on the corner of 4th and Arlington, across the street from the Sands Regency. These motels started to attract a lot of attention in the 2000s as nostalgia grew for mid-century design. The second photo above is one I took myself on a walk around this neighborhood in 2005. But the renewed interest wasn’t enough to save them. People took photos of the motels and their neon signs, and now those photos are all that remains.

This is another corner where they’ve placed some sculpture art.

Star of Reno Motel

So many of the photos people took of these motels are just of the signs. You can find bunches of photos of these signs online, but hardly any of the motel buildings themselves. This is one of them. A Google search for the Star Of Reno Motel, which was just south of the Lido, shows only the sign. But I guess I can see why. It was a tiny little motel squeezed in between two bigger ones. And by the 2000s most of the colorful accents on the building, like the breeze blocks and balcony panels, had been removed, making it even more nondescript.


El Ray Motel



The El Ray is another one that I can’t find a postcard for. And just like the Lido, almost all the photos online are of the sign. So I’ll resort to using one taken from down the street a little, and a Google Street View image. This was one of the biggest motels on the block, with a large central courtyard holding a parking lot. The Spanish roof tiles gave it a little character to set it aside from some of the other motels. And a coat of fresh paint around 2016 showed that the previous owners were putting a little thought into its appearance. In the end it didn’t matter and it was wiped out along with the others.

Keno Motel #1

Two of the motels on the block were named the Keno Motel. And they weren’t even next to each other; they were on opposite sides of the block. They didn’t share a parking lot or anything. I’m not sure if they shared owners at one time, or how this naming situation came about. The similarity between the signs suggests that they were affiliated at one time. This one faced Arlington Street and was the first Keno Motel, as evidenced by the lack of a number on the back of the postcard. I’m calling it Keno #1 since the other one was known as Keno #2.

Keno Motel #2

Keno Motel #2 on West Street was a little bigger, with an enclosed driveway giving the parking lot a little privacy. I’m not sure if that room above the driveway would have been more or less expensive. The sign is almost the same as Keno #1, with the addition of a keno ball.

In the now photo, to the left you can see part of Harry’s Business Machines, which has been in business since 1928. They haven’t sold out to Jacobs yet, so they are still operating out of their West Street storefront as the rest of the block gets demolished around them.

City Center Motel

The last motel we’ll look at today is the City Center Motel, which shared a wall to the north of Keno Motel #2. This was another motel that advertised their proximity to downtown right in the name. However, this one made the bold claim that they were right in the center of the city!

I had said that the neon signs from these motels were a popular subject of photographers, but they can also be historic artifacts. Las Vegas has an entire museum of neon signs, and preservationist Will Durham is attempting to save signs and build a museum in Northern Nevada as well. KUNR did a whole article on the neon signs of Reno. The neon signs were enough of an icon that Jacobs Entertainment renamed their planned Fountain District to the Neon Line District to honor the signs, even as they were in the process of removing them. I don’t think any of the Jacobs signs made it into Will Durham’s collection. They seem to have kept them for themselves. If you remember from Part 1 of this series, Jacobs has built a “Glow Plaza” on the site of the old Carriage Inn along 4th Street. And part of the decoration for this festival space are reproductions of some of Reno’s neon signs. For some reason, they don’t display the original signs at the Glow Plaza. Except for one. This sign for the City Center Motel is the only sign from all of 4th Street to have been preserved and put on display. It sits right on the site of the Carriage Inn, next to the polar bear statue. The rest of the signs hopefully are in storage somewhere, waiting their turn to be restored and displayed.

And next door to the site of the City Center Motel, you can see one remaining house. It used to be one house surrounded by a sea of motels, now it is one house surrounded by a sea of parking lot. They seem to have resisted Jacobs’ land purchases on this block. I hope to see the house remain there for a while.

So that’s a tour of this block, and a view of the same parking lot from 8 angles. I don’t know if or when anything will get built here, but Jacobs can’t be buying all this land just to keep it empty? Right?

Come back for Part 3, where we might actually find some motels that haven’t been torn down yet!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *