Ponderosa Hotel
515 South Virginia Street
1967 - 1978
Ponderosa Hotel
Photo from the Mark Englebretson Collection




Jim Bothwell
Grade 2

Jim Bothwell
Grade 2

Sheldon Smith
Grade 2

Louie Eliopoulos
Grade 2

Michael Richter
Grade 2

Louie Eliopoulos
Grade 2

Jim and Jeanette
Grade 2

In October 1965 the newly formed P and G Hotel Corporation announced that it planned to build a $1.64-million hotel-casino at the corner of California Avenue and Virginia Street. The proposed 165-room hotel was designed by Frank Merrill, and the architect was Jerry Poncia. The P and G Corporation was originally composed of Conrad Priess and three members of the Gastanaga family, Eugene and Jose of Reno and Segundo "Jake" of Winnemucca. The Gastanagas were the principal owners of the Eagle Thrifty Stores.

Construction of the hotel-casino began in December 1965 when the Codding and Wetzel Ski Center was torn down to make room for the new building. By October 1966 the Ponderosa was nearing completion, and the cost of the hotel had risen to over $3 million. Also in October, Conrad Priess, president of the P and G Corporation, announced that Kurt Kerber, former manager of the Riverside Hotel, had been appointed manager of the Ponderosa.

On November 30, 1966, the Ponderosa opened its doors to the public and proudly displayed its many luxury features. Included among the amenities were color televisions in all of the hotel's 165 guest rooms. The décor was early Spanish-American. The hotel offered year-round individual room control of heat or air conditioning, the 112-seat Bonanza Room for formal dining, a 260-seat coffee shop, a lounge seating 116, five executive suites, five bridal suites, and several other facilities.

The opening entertainment at the Ponderosa featured Ray Sawyer, popular Reno organist, in the lounge, and Lenny Herman and his orchestra for dancing. Key personnel employed at the opening of the Ponderosa included Armand d'Amico, executive chef, and Ellis Baldwin, bar manager.

On December 20, 1966, the state licensed a six-man group at the Ponderosa for forty slots and two electronic 21 games. The group had invested $350,000 to open gaming. The six men and their percentages were: Lawrence Tripp, a retired Southern California lawyer who moved to Reno in 1959, the major investor, investing $150,000 for 42.9 percent (he had also held interests in the El Rancho in Las Vegas and the Bonanza in Reno); Conrad Priess, owner and manager of the Red Carpet Motor Lodge, $50,000 for 14.2 percent; Everett Brunzell, a Reno contractor, $50,000 for 14.2 percent; Eugene, Hose, and Segundo "Jake" Gastanaga, owners of Eagle Thrifty Stores, $33,333 for 9.5 percent each.

In April 1967 the Ponderosa was licensed for five table games, one dice game, one roulette game, and three 21 games. The casino opened on May 4, 1967. Decorator Paul Burton had the honor of making the first bet in the casino. The opening ceremony was held up for a short time when it was discovered that the bankroll for the pit was locked up in the safe, with the key to the safe locked inside. Conrad Priess and Larry Tripp hurried to a downtown bank to borrow a new bankroll. After that, all went well.

In December 1967 the Ponderosa celebrated its first anniversary. At that time, the casino had eighty slot machines, four keno machines, one roulette game, one craps game, and four 21 games. Kelly Black, former longtime Harolds Club employee, was casino manager.

After a three year, sometimes stormy relationship, Priess, Brunzell, and the Gastanagas parted with Larry Tripp. On December 11, 1969, the state approved Tripp's buyout of his five partners' combined 57 percent of the operation for $1.1 million. In 1970 Larry Tripp was licensed as president, secretary-treasurer, and director of the Ponderosa. Art Green was the new casino manager. In the next few years, Larry Tripp's wife, Kathy, became more and more involved in the operation of the hotel-casino, and in October 1974 the state licensed Kathy Tripp for 46 percent of the operation.

In August 1979 the Nevada Gaming Control Board announced that the Ponderosa had violated dozens of gaming regulations, and a hearing was set for October 18 to seek a license revocation and a $300,000 fine against the Ponderosa. The meeting resulted in a $95,000 fine against the property and a warning that if the owners did not improve their accounting system by June 1980, the hotel-casino would be closed.

In October 1980 Nevada Gaming Control Board member Jack Stratton said that because of several accounting violations the Ponderosa might be closed by the following month. Stratton was right. On November 23, 1980, the Gaming Commission closed the casino portion of the Ponderosa for failing to furnish two of the three audits that the Commission had directed them to make available at their meeting that day. The Commission felt that the Tripps had purposely failed to comply with its request. Kathy Tripp announced that the hotel and restaurant portions of the Ponderosa would remain open. However, in a short time the property was closed.

During the 1980s several owners were licensed at the Ponderosa. George Prock was licensed from 1982 to 1988, and Josh Ketcham was licensed from 1989 to 1990. Ketcham is noted for operating the Ponderosa as the world's first totally non-smoking casino.

Currently the Ponderosa is open for business at the same location and is owned and operated by the family of the late Joe Keshmiri. There are slot machines on the property but no table games.

According to Dwayne Kling