It’s time for another visit to downtown Reno, and a look at the motel postcards of the past. In our other installments, we’ve seen how the old motels of Reno have been demolished and wiped away. This time we do have our share of empty lots, yes, but over half of these motels are still standing! I think this is a new record for us.
Some of this success rate has to do with the part of town we’re looking at. Before, we’ve looked at the western part of downtown, where Jacobs Entertainment has been buying up and demolishing motels, and along Virginia Street, where growth and city pride led to motels being removed because their run-down condition reflected poorly on the city. But now we are looking at the eastern part of downtown, where there has been less of a drive to redevelop or beautify the neighborhood. The motels here have been allowed to exist as low-income housing, except for a few that were removed for civic projects.
The Shamrock Inn was on the same block that we looked at in the last post, across the street from Circus Circus. It was on the corner of Center and Fifth Streets, right next door to the Monte Carlo Motel. It watched the Circus Circus grow up and overshadow it, and it was torn down in the early 2010s.
Right next door to the Shamrock on Center was the Chalet Motel. It was also part of this little block of motels that came under fire for being a “blight” on the city. However, this one had a long drawn-out demise, unlike the Shamrock. It was boarded up and fenced off by 2011, but it sat there abandoned for a decade. Even after the Shamrock next door was torn down, the Chalet remained, closed and forgotten. It was finally demolished in 2020. I’m not sure if anything will be done with this block, but now that all the motels have been removed it’s a blank slate for redevelopment.
Directly across the street from the Chalet Motel was the Flamingo. It was definitely a colorful beacon on Center Street. It stayed open as low-income housing, even as other motels across the street were demolished. But unlike those other motels, it found a second life. In 2022 it was remodeled into the Center Street Flats, featuring updated rooms and new paint (and increased rents). But this is pretty rare; out of all the motels we’ve been looking at in this series, only a couple have been remodeled like this. It shows an investment in their future that goes against the trend of demolishing the motels and leaving nothing but empty lots behind.
Another one that has seen a remodel was the Coach Inn, right next door to the Flamingo. This one stood out with a bright red sign and a giant gas lamp. This small motel at the corner of Fifth and Center remained untouched until around 2015, then it was boarded up and fenced off. Usually this is the death knell for motels around here. But in 2018 it was rescued and remodeled. It is now known as 21 On Center.
Next to the Coach Inn, at the corner of Fifth and Lake, was the Swan Motel. Though, for a time, this motel was also known as the Coach Inn. They must have had the same owner back then. The postcard above advertises both Coach Inns as if they are one property. Later the motel became the Swan again, but it was known as the Swan Inn instead. And that’s what it still is today. It’s had a coat of paint but it doesn’t look like much else has been done to it.
Catty corner from the Swan Inn, on the southeast corner of Fifth and Lake, is the Horseshoe Motel. Today the motel is still there, hardly changed at all. The sign is the same, the paint scheme is mostly the same. The biggest change seems to be a large mural on the blank wall.
South of the Horseshoe, along Lake Street, is the Wonder Lodge. This is one of the larger motels, four stories tall in a U shape. It is also pretty much unchanged. Even the original mid-century sign is still there. The Wonder Lodge is much more colorful today than it was in the postcard. But the day I was there painters seemed to be putting on a coat of white paint.
Gold Key Motel
Across Lake Street from the Wonder Lodge was the Gold Key Motel. This one was really striking with the breeze blocks and the arches and the yellow paint. The Gold Key Motel was demolished around 2004, along with everything else on the block. The city demolished this block to build the Reno Events Center, which is a basketball stadium and concert arena. The back of the arena faces Lake Street.
White Court Motel
A block away at the corner of Fifth and Evans is the White Court Motel. This is another one that has been untouched by time. Downtown has grown since then, as evidenced by the skyscrapers in the background, but this little corner has hardly seen any changes.
Our last motel is the only one that is south of 4th Street. The Roulette Motel was just south of 4th on Lake Street. A large mid-century facade hides what looks like a pretty standard motel. But what a facade it is! This motel was torn down in the late 2000s and the Reno downtown bus station was built on this block. A flying bus sculpture now sits on this corner.