255 North Virginia Street
est. 1976
Photo from the Alan Meyers Collection

Don Boyer
Grade 1

In early 1964 Lincoln Fitzgerald started purchasing property on the half block bounded by Commercial Row, Sierra Street, Douglas Alley, and Virginia Street. Some of the businesses he purchased were the Blue Bird Hotel at 12 West Commercial Row, Cannan's Drug Store at 14 West Commercial Row, the Stag Inn at 265 North Virginia Street, and the Silver Dollar Club at 261 North Virginia Street. Fitzgerald operated the Silver Dollar Club as a casino from 1965 until 1974, when the building was raised. In December 1974 Fitzgerald broke ground at Commercial Row and Virginia Street and announced plans for a $12-million hotel-casino. He said the sixteen-story, 347-room hotel would be completed by June 1976. By January 1976 the outer shell of the building was completed, and the McKenzie Construction Company started on the interior of the building and the furnishings.

In April 1976 the Gaming Commission licensed Fitzgeralds Casino-Hotel for thirty-five table games, two keno games, and one thousand slot machines. The structure was tentatively scheduled to open on May 24. Lincoln Fitzgerald and his wife, Meta, would own 99.9 percent, and Carlton Konarske, Mrs. Fitzgerald's brother, would own the remainder.

Fitzgerald, who was known in the industry for his high standards, knew exactly what he wanted. His assistant hotel manager, Jim Mack, stated before the opening, "We're going to have one hell of a hotel and casino, and it's going to be first class. Mr. Fitzgerald wants it done right, and by God we're going to do it right." The same standards ere applied to employees for the new facility. According to Mack, "Fitzgerald has been in the business long enough that he knows what he wants. He will look for people in the tradition he wants to start at the new hotel. He looks for dependability and honesty, of course." Fitzgerald intended his new operation to become a major attraction in Reno. "We intend to go nose to nose with Harrah's from the time we open our doors," Mack said.

On May 27, with no fanfare, Fitzgeralds Casino-Hotel opened. Actually, only the restaurant, Molly's Garden, and the casino were fully open, along with a few of the hotel rooms. The rest of the facility opened within a few months. Fitzgerald paid all the building costs of the $16-million structure out of his cash reserve.

After Fitzgerald's death in 1981, the property was operated by Meta Fitzgerald and Carlton Konarske until April 1, 1985. At that time, the Lincoln Management Corporation, headed by Phil Griffith, took over. Along with the management contract, the corporation obtained an option to buy the property from Meta Fitzgerald. It exercised the option on December 31, 1986. Records on file at the Washoe County Assessor's office showed a purchase price of $26.25 million. The property was appraised at $25.96 million. The records also indicated a down payment of only $750,000.

The property is currently operating at the same location with the same owners and is firmly established as one of the showplace hotel-casinos in the Reno area.

According to Dwayne Kling

Lincoln Fitzgerald

Lincoln Fitzgerald was born on October 21, 1892. He came to Reno in 1945 from Macomb County, Michigan, with his long-time partner, Dan Sullivan. Before coming to Reno, the two men had operated a large gambling club in Macomb County, just outside Detroit, where the famed Purple Gang was centered.

In Reno, Fitzgerald, Sullivan, Ruby Mathis and Mert Wertheimer entered a partnership with Harry and Ed Robbins, who were operating a club called Robbin's Nevada Club. In March 1946 the name was shortened to the Nevada Club.

In August 1946 Sullivan and Fitzgerald were named in a fugitive-from-justice case, charged with bribing public officials in Michigan on several dates between August 1,1940, and August 1, 1946. They were sent to Michigan in August 1948 to face the illegal gambling charge (the bribery charges had been dropped). They were found guilty and fined $52,000. After paying the fine, they were released and returned to Reno to continue operating the Nevada Club. Sullivan acted as general manager and Fitzgerald was the casino manager. When Sullivan died in 1956, Fitzgerald became sole owner of the club.

On November 19, 1949, Fitzgerald was ambushed and shot twice with a shotgun at his residence on 123 Mark Twain Drive. "Fitz," who was fifty-seven when he was shot, was very close to death and did not fully recover until April 1950. The attack left him slightly crippled, and he walked with a limp for the rest of his life. He also suffered damage to his liver and one kidney. His assailant(s) were never found, and it was said that Fitzgerald requested that investigations into his ambush be curtailed.

After the ambush, Fitzgerald made the Nevada Club his residence. For many years, he seldom left the club, and it was only in the last years of his life that he made many appearances outside of the Nevada Club. His actions were-by choice and design-the complete opposite of his next-door neighbor, "Pappy" Smith. Only their style of dress was somewhat similar. "Fitz," like "Pappy," almost always wore a white shirt, necktie, and suspenders, and his curly hair and gold-rimmed glasses gave him an almost cherubic image. Robbins Cahill, chairman of Nevada's first Tax Board, said that Fitzgerald "was an individual character all his own. He knew the gaming business and he ran a good gaming operation."

Fitzgerald was the image of an old-time casino boss. He ruled the Nevada Club like a lord, with his strong-willed-yet often compassionate-wife, Meta, by his side. He believed in a hands-on management style, and for many years, no one was hired at the Nevada Club without being personally interviewed by "The Boss" himself. Known as a strict, demanding employer, Fitzgerald quickly expressed his displeasure with poor service or food. His abhorrence of stale pastries made the Nevada Club's dessert shelves among the freshest in town. However, his employees apparently respected him. A porter at the club was quoted as saying, "It's different at his club. All the help works together."

In 1970 Fitzgerald was singled out by Nevada Gaming Control Board member Keith Campbell, who commented that "the Nevada Club and the Nevada Lodge had incurred no control violations in over 25 years and they were both well run operations."

In 1957 Fitzgerald purchased the Biltmore Lodge at North Lake Tahoe. He renamed it the Nevada Lodge and operated it until his death. From 1969 to 1974, he also owned the Silver Dollar Club, which later became part of Fitzgeralds Casino-Hotel.

In December 1974 Fitzgerald began construction of his "monument," Fitzgeralds Casino-Hotel. The property was opened for business on Memorial Day weekend, 1976.

Fitzgerald was named to the Nevada Gambler's Hall of Fame during the fiftieth anniversary of legalized gambling in 1981. He was unable to attend the ceremonies because of poor health.

Lincoln Fitzgerald died on April 18, 1981, in a Reno hospital. He had been in declining health for some time and had been hospitalized since March 31. He was eighty-eight years old at the time of his death.

According to Dwayne Kling