ON A FINE SPRING DAY in 1928, Reno held a great municipal celebration at the railroad tracks in honor of paving the two-lane highway over Donner Summit to California. As the band burst into a brassy ragtime, and the bankers, bootleggers and other leading citizens beamed with pride, neon letters on the new iron arch spanning Virginia Street blazed with light for the first time. “RENO,” they bragged against a downtown skyline of Edwardian brick, “The Biggest Little City in the World.”
The iron arch is gone now, replaced by a brighter version, jazzier than the Jazz Age original, and Reno’s golden age of society divorcees, bootleg whiskey and basement gambling rooms is gone with it.
Modern Reno dates from another fine spring noontime, almost 50 years to the day after that gaudy little celebration, when an enormous tan tower rose 26 stories from its bright, light-bejewelled base on an enormous asphalt pad near the edge of the airport, far from the city center.
The $131,000,000 MGM Grand Hotel greeted every incoming flightto Reno-Cannon International the same way the old arch greeted every train at the railroad depot downtown.
But Reno’s not so little any more and the 1928 slogan’s saucy tone doesn’t suit the complex Tesla-flavored city it is still becoming. The great hotels, as splendid as they are, are no longer the whole story. As the city has spread out, its neighborhoods have become more diverse, more interesting and more welcoming.