Club Fortune
38 - 40 East Second Street
1937 - 1948
Club Fortune
Photo from the Mark Englebretson Collection
Club Fortune
Photo from the Steve Wells Collection
Club Fortune
Photo from the Steve Wells Collection

To the best of our knowledge, no casino ashtrays were ever created for the Club Fortune. If you happen to know where one exists, please consider sharing a photo of it with the collecting community.

The Club Fortune was one of the finest gambling clubs in downtown Reno. It featured superb dining, entertainment, a cocktail lounge, casino diversions, and a tango (bingo) salon. Its dining room was recommended by Duncan Hines, who in the 1930s and early 1940s was considered one of the foremost gourmets in the United States. To be recommended by Duncan Hines during those years was the ultimate compliment that a restaurant could receive.

The story of the Club Fortune began in October 1936 when James McKay and J. B. Scarlett(also known as Jack Sullivan) purchased the two-story Fordonia Building at the corner of Second and Center Streets for $85,000. The building had housed the Palace Dry Goods Store for many years and just prior to the sale had housed the National Dollar Store. The second floor contained offices.

In February 1937 Robert Feder of Los Angeles announced the completion of arrangements for the opening of what became (up to that time) one of Reno's largest clubs. Feder had taken a five-year lease on the Fordonia Building from McKay and Scarlett. The Club Fortune would feature tango, although other games would also be available.

After two months of construction, the palatial gaming and dining establishment opened on May 28, 1937. More than two hundred men had been employed in the construction and remodeling of the club, and over $175,000 were spent on construction, furnishings, and equipment. Two large, high-ceilinged rooms were built on the ground floor of the Fordonia Building to house various features of the Club Fortune. The room on the east side of the building was the tango salon, modern in all respects, with many innovations in electrically controlled equipment. The room on the west side held a continental lounge, an elaborate bar, and gaming tables. A cocktail lounge and the club's offices were located on the mezzanine floor.

The center of attraction in the tango parlor was a movable cart into which patrons threw baseballs while playing the popular game. The compartments into which the balls fell were wired to a large board that registered the number hit by each throw of the baseball. An operator sat in a control booth at one end of the room and called out the numbers and at the same time switched on lights in the register board at the other end of the room. The patrons throwing baseballs into the compartments added excitement to the game because customers felt that their skill in throwing the ball could influence the outcome of the game and help them win.

Most tango games in the early 1930s used common beans to mark the winning numbers. However, the Club Fortune ordered several thousand small composition markers to be used instead of beans or kernels of corn.

Decorations throughout the club were elaborate. The windows in the partition between the two main rooms featured handsome sandblasted silhouettes. The continental lounge, filling most of the west room, had a stylish moderne decor. In the dining area, patrons were seated at horseshoe-shaped tables and served by waiters working from a small counter (the kitchen was in the basement). Gaming tables were lighted by specially designed fixtures. The main bar in the club was contructed in the shape of a T, and several sets of neon tubing built into its edges furnished a novel lighting effect.

When the club opened, it employed approximately eighty people, and the payroll was around $15,000 a month.

Acting as official greeter on opening night was the club manager, Robert Feder. He estimated that at least five thousand people entered the premises that night. Formal dress predominated among the groups of first-nighters who dined in the continental lounge and on the mezzanine floor. Diners were entertained by Joey Lee, "the G-Man of the G-String and his music." The most colorful scene was in the big tango room, where pretty girls attired in bright western outfits assisted the game operators.

The newspapers reported that even Reno's most avid homebodies were drawn out to join the thousands of habitual gamblers attracted from their usual haunts by the opening. Sidewalks outside the club were crowded for hours with curious onlookers who peered through the big windows when the endless stream of visitors created such congestion that no one else could enter.

In October 1937 Joe Zemansky replaced Robert Feder as owner of the Property, and in July 1938 Sam Erlich was named manager of the operation.

In August 1939 the Rainbow Bingo Salon (also known as the Rainbow Club) opened its own bingo game, which resulted in a "bingo war" between the three top bingo clubs in town--the Club Fortune, the Rainbow Club, and Bill Harrah's Heart Tango Club. The three clubs kept raising the value of their prizes and lowering the price of their cards until all three were in danger of going out of business. At one point, the Club Fortune gave away $150 at its 11 p.m. nightly cash drawings. Eventually, the Rainbow Club backed out of the bingo war, and the games returned to normal.

In March 1940 the Club Fortune redecorated its dining room, added potted palm trees, called it the Palm Room, and hired the famous chef, Jean Sigg. The Palm Room became the most popular downtown eating place for the next several years. Jean Sigg left the Palm Room in 1942 to work for the Riverside Hotel and was replaced by Andre Simetys.

In 1944 Louis Rosasco, one of Reno's favorite musicians, osts, and food and beverage managers, took over as managing director of the Club Fortune. He replaced Sam Erlich, who had left the club to enter the military service.

On July 27, 1944, Sammy Davis Jr. made his first appearance in Reno when he performed at the Club Fortune with the Will Mastin Trio.

Sam Erlich returned from the military service in April 1945 and reclaimed his job as manager. He retained that position until October 1946, when he left to open his own business, the Bar of Music. Matt Howard replaced him as manager.

In January 1945 the Club Fortune was licensed for fifteen slot machines, one craps game, and one roulette game.

On January 18, 1947, Jo Zemansky, sole owner of the club, announced that his lease had expired and that the club and all the facilities would close on January 20, except the bingo game, which would close one week later.

The Club Fortune during its almost ten-year existence employed several people who were well known in the gaming, entertainment, food, and beverage world of Reno in the 1930s and through the 1960s. Men such as Ad Tolen, Brad Hewins, Matt Dromiack, Sam Erlich, Louis Rosasco, Jean Sigg, Andre Simetys, Ed Orrick, and Isadore Kreisler all worked there at one time or another.

During its tenure, the Club Fortune presented over three thousand acts and entertainers. Among the stars who appeared there were Liberace, Blossom Seely, the Will Mastin Trio with Sammy Davis Jr., and Joaquin Garay.

Joe Zemansky and his wife, Sadie, who took an active role in the operation, were well liked in Reno and active in civic affairs.

The Fordonia Building, in which the club was housed, was sold by James McKay and Jack Scarlett (Sullivan) for $250,000 in June 1948 to Sanford Adler and his associates. In November 1948 the Adler group opened the Club Cal-Neva at this location, and it has operated as such ever since.

According to Dwayne Kling