Expanded from the 12-26-99 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

TOGA, TOGA TOGA! Burn, baby, burn for Reno Y2K


Expanded from the 12-26-99 Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune

HAROLDS CLUB GOES BUST-- The grand-daddy of them all bites the dust in downtown Reno in the wee hours of Dec. 15, 1999. The "Bandstand" name on the front refers to Dick Clark's American Bandstand dance club which had occupied an upper floor of the otherwise dark property during its waning years. Completed in 1955, the Quinn Building was home to the major portions of the venerable Harolds Club, founded by Harold Smith, Sr., up the block in 1935. Harrah's north and west towers are the two white buildings immediately next door toward the top of the photo. In the distance to the right are Cal Neva's Virginian Hotel-Casino and the Cal-Neva owned Wells Fargo Bank office tower. The Mapes Hotel lies just beyond the Wells Fargo tower. (Photo: Debra Reid, the Daily Sparks [Nev.] Tribune)

The Casino With a heart — An Obituary for Harolds Club


Roman Emperor Nero gained immortality for innovation in downtown redevelopment. In so doing, he set the tone for the next two millennia of bonfires, block parties and blow-out music concerts.

Reno came too close to becoming a Roman candle during Harrah's Dec. 15 implosion of Harolds Club. We should take it as fair warning before the beleaguered Mapes Hotel blows up in our collective face.

The city abrogated its responsibility and disaster was narrowly averted with Harolds. Right next door, hundreds of Harrah's workers and guests were rousted and ousted in the middle of the night after the Harolds implosion ruptured a natural gas main.

Reno Fire Marshal Larry Farr blithely tossed it off as "sometimes, those things happen."

Another Reno official told me that no one with the city has expertise in high rise implosion. (The closest anyone comes are Mayor Jeff Griffin and downtown Councilman Tom Herndon, whose high rise egos, I predict, will implode in the not too distant future. See below.)

The Reno official also told me that the city largely took the word of Harrah's and its demolition contractor that all would be well.

"I don't know the implosion business," he stated, "it's up to (Harrah's) to see this is taken care of."

Guess what? A Harrah's official told me the same thing. "For the most part, you could say we took their word for it," she said.

Controlled Demolition, Inc., a multi-national company specializing in such stuff, dropped Harolds and will also put a bullet through the head of the Mapes unless the courts say otherwise.

Was everything done which could have been done to ensure public safety when Harrah's took Harolds down? The answer is not only "no," but "hell, no."

Last week, I asked if Harrah's had warned guests making reservations that they might want to book somewhere else. Their spokeswoman said "we did the best we could," both at reservation and at check-in. That's commendable.

Then she added that there were no guests in the entire North Tower when explosives were detonated, but chalked it up to a slow period of the year. Also, "the north portion of the West Tower was closed down due to water work," she noted. (The seven-story building which housed Harolds stood on the northwest corner of the same block occupied by Harrah's high-rises; the North Tower to Harolds' east and West Tower to the southeast.)

The only occupied rooms near ground zero were those used by staff from one of the demolition contractors, she said.

"The majority of the evacuees were from the south part of the west tower, less than 200," the Harrahs' official added. About 200 employees were also moved out.

What bothers me most is that Reno's point person told me that "it's up to the implosion contractor and his liability insurance company will be on the line." A casino official whose property lies in the Mapes red zone echoed that sentiment.

Okay, all these guys with all this expertise and all this money at risk will make sure that nothing bad happens. But just look at what could have happened at Harrah's. I find no comfort therein.

The official caution corridor on the Mapes lies within an area bounded on the west by Sierra St., to the east by Center St., by Second St. to the north, then across the river to Court Street, at the south end of the Pioneer Theatre.

City of Reno contract demolition crews go back to work immediately after Judge James Hardesty lifted his injunction stopping demolition of Reno's historic Mapes Hotel. The Nevada Supreme Court later stopped work pending a review. The hotel remains scheduled for implosion on Super Bowl Sunday Y2K. Further clouding matters, the city still owes about $1.5 million on its purchase of the Mapes from former owner George Karadanis, operator of the Sundowner Hotel-Casino. The outstanding debt was not revealed by the city until a Reno Gazette-Journal story the day after the council voted to demolish the hotel. Councilman David Rigdon said he would not have supported demolition had he been informed of outstanding balance. The Mapes has been closed since just before Christmas, 1982. (Photo: Debra Reid, the Daily Sparks [Nev.] Tribune)

Cal-Neva CEO Phil Bryan says that his high rise (the Wells Fargo/ First Interstate Bank building) will be emptied, as will the parking garage to its east, but neither the Virginian Hotel nor Cal-Neva casino.

We've been warned. The city must hire a completely independent demolition expert. Call your councilcritter. Tell them Nero sent you.

PAINT SNOW WHITE OR BEHEAD 7 DWARFS? Washoe District Judge James Hardesty's decision regarding the Mapes demolition is now in the hands of the Nevada Supreme Court. Hardesty ruled that the Reno City Council broke Nevada's open meeting law by considering the Mapes destruction during illegally private, sub-quorum serial meetings. However, he further held that a later public meeting cured the defects.

That's like saying I can stick up a 7-11 but if I return the money, I won't face prosecution. The open meeting law says any action taken while violating the statute is void. (NRS 241.036) The law also states that upon conviction, the perpetrating public official gets bounced from office. (NRS 283.040[1][d])

Ironically, Hardesty's decision refers to Attorney General v. Board of Regents (114 Nev. 388, 1998). The Supremes over-ruled Washoe Dist. Judge Janet Berry and held that former University of Nevada Regent James Eardley of Sparks and his fellow board members had violated the open meeting law with a serial (by fax) censure resolution of Las Vegas colleague Nancy Price.

Read More About It:

Theater Sale Worries Locals About Monopoly

You may also use the search engine of NevadaLabor.com. Search terms: Syufy, Regal

Had the state's highest court not reversed Berry's airheaded decision, Nevada's abused and battered open meeting law would have evaporated. (For details, use the NevadaLabor.com search engine from the front page of this site. Suggested search terms: Berry, Eardley, Price, open meetings, university.) No regents were ever prosecuted.

SLUTS AHOY. Century Theaters boss Joe Syufy knows a cheap date when he sees one. So far, he's walked from more than $1 million in penalties from the City of Sparks. He just took over Reno's brand new corporate welfare movie complex, which will allow him to perpetuate his local monopoly and continue his decades-long tradition of pillaging the public with contempt. Reno Mayor Griffin says he's not worried. Of course not. It's only taxpayer money.

Unless you have other plans, happy holidays.

Be well. Raise hell.



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Copyright © 1982-2011 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a 42-year Nevadan, editor of NevadaLabor.com and JoeNeal.org; and former chair of the City of Reno's Citizens Cable Compliance Committee, He is producer of Nevada's annual César Chávez Day celebration and serves as first vice-president, political action chair and webmaster of the Reno-Sparks NAACP. As always, his opinions are strictly his own. E-mail barbano@frontpage.reno.nv.us.

Barbwire by Barbano premiered in the Daily Sparks (Nev.) Tribune on Aug. 12, 1988, and has originated in those parts ever since. Tempus fugit.

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Copyright © 1999 Andrew Barbano

Andrew Barbano is a member of Communications Workers of America Local 9413 and editor of U-News, Barbwire by Barbano has originated in the Daily Sparks Tribune since 1988 where an earlier version of this column appeared on 12/26/99.