The Southern Pacific Railroad Depot in Reno, Nevada, has watched people come and go since Reno’s early days as a railroad town. Built in 1926, the station was actually the fifth in Reno, following four that had been lost to fires. The Mediterranean style station is modest in size but its tall, arched windows echo a grander scale. Sunlight falls across the floor in long stripes perpendicular to the rows of wooden train station benches. Large pendant light fixtures hang from the high ceiling. If historic postcards are to be believed, ice cream was once served beneath a red-and-white-stripe awning. The train station reflects Reno’s important relationship with the railroad and even played a roll in the 1961 film, The Misfits (which stars Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe).
The preservation success story, however, is much more recent. In the early 2000s, Reno began a train trench project. The trench would enable smoother traffic flow between the north and south sides of town: roads passing over the trains mean that vehicles like ambulances and firetrucks are no longer impinged on by Reno’s heavy train traffic. But what would happen to the train station when the tracks were lowered almost a full two floors below the original train station level? When the tracks were lowered in 2006, the train station received a tasteful addition that allows continued use of the original building while providing access to the tracks below. In 2012, the train station was put on the National Register of Historic Places.
Next time you’re in town, you can stroll in and take a seat on one of the long wooden benches. You can admire the archaeological display with finds from the trench digging effort when you pass from the old station into the new. And even if you’re seated on one of the black, plastic, airport-style chairs at track level, you can still admire the 1908 drinking fountain that was once located nearby on Virginia Street.
It may need a fresh coat of paint on the facade, but the beautiful Reno train station lends a taste of Reno’s past to a downtown that has grown exponentially since the station’s 1920s construction. And that is a preservation success!
Reno Historical has a wonderful collection of photographs and materials related to the Reno Southern Pacific Railroad Station, including ca. 1930 image from the University of Nevada, Reno, Special Collections (top) and the 1940s advertisement also from UNR Special Collections (below).
All other photos are my own (I had the good fortune to pay a visit this past weekend! Were you there on instagram?)