Riverside Hotel
17 South Virginia Street
1931 to 1988
Riverside Hotel
Photo from the Mark Englebretson Collection


Louie Elioupoulos
Grade 4

Mark Englebretson
Grade 3

Laurence Miller
Grade 2

Laurence Miller
Grade 2

Laurence Miller
Grade 2

Laurence Miller
Grade 2

Jim Bothwell
Grade 2

Mandi Birkinbine
Grade 2

Mike Klackle
Grade 2

Mark Englebretson
Grade 2

Doug Deems
Grade 2

Michael Richter
Grade 2

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 2

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 2

Walt Akin
Grade 2

The Riverside Hotel is located on the original site of the Lake House, built in 1870 by Myron Lake, founder of the settlement of Lake’s Crossing. William Thompson purchased the Lake House, a three-story barn-like structure, in 1880 and renamed it the Riverside-a name that was to have a significant place in Reno history.

In 1896 Thompson sold the hotel to Harry Gosse, who subsequently replaced the wooden building with a 110-room, three-story brick structure with ornate towers and moved the Lake House onto the rear of the property. On March 15, 1922, Gosse’s Riverside was destroyed in a disastrous fire. The property stood vacant until 1925, when Gosse sold it to George Wingfield.

Wingfield rebuilt the property and opened what is now known as the Virginia Street section in 1927. When gaming was legalized in 1931, Wingfield was licensed from 1931 until December 27, 1933. At that time, he leased a portion of the hotel to Nick Abelman, Steve Pavlovich, and Bert Riddick. They named the area the Riverside Buffet and offered a dining and bar area as well as a roulette wheel, a 21 game, and a hazard game. In December 1935 Abelman, Pavlovich, and Riddick announced that they would introduce supper dancing at their Riverside Buffet.

In the years ahead, more table games were added. Abelman and Riddick operated the gaming on a month-to-month rental basis for fifteen years.

In April 1949 the Abelman group left the Riverside, and George Wingfield leased the gaming area to Mert Wertheimer. Wertheimer was licensed for one 21 game, one craps game, one roulette game, and ten slots. On May 7, the date of Wertheimer’s grand opening at the Riverside, he was quoted as follows: “We have left some of the old and added much that is new.”

In September 1949 construction began on an addition to the Riverside, which was to be erected just west of the existing structure. The addition, which was not finished until August 1950, consisted of eighty-four rooms, a swimming pool, a theater-restaurant, a dance floor, and a banquet area. The addition cost $1.5 million, and the swimming pool was the first to be built in a Reno hotel.

Mert Wertheimer made the Riverside famous for featuring big-name entertainers. His opening act on July 1, 1950, was the well-known headliner Ted Lewis. In August 1951, Frank Sinatra was the headliner, and over the next several years just about every big-name entertainer in America played the Riverside showroom. The Riverside, the Mapes, and the Golden competed with each other to present the top acts in show business, to the extent that during the forties, fifties, and sixties Reno was known as the entertainment capital of the world.

In August 1951 Lou Wertheimer, Mert’s brother, was licensed as a partner at the Riverside. The property was also licensed for 105 slots, four craps games, two roulette games, and ten 21 games. In July 1954 the Riverside completed a three-story addition that cost $500,000 and doubled the number of hotel rooms.

On December 17, 1955, George Wingfield sold the Riverside to Lou and Mert Wertheimer, Baldy West, and Ruby Mathis for $4,010,000. The property was then six stories high and had two hundred hotel rooms. Prior to this time, the Wertheimer brothers had leased the Riverside gaming area but had not owned the hotel. The new group immediately named Lee Frankovich as hotel manager. Frankovich had previously been employed as hotel manager of the Commercial Hotel in Elko and for the last year had worked for Harrah’s Club.

In January 1958 the Crummer Corporation of Reno purchased the Riverside for a price estimated to be between $4 and $5 million. The Wertheimer group was given a ten-year lease on the casino, bars, restaurants, and entertainment. The Crummer group would operate the hotel only. Five months after leasing the Riverside, Lou Wertheimer died, and two months later Mert Wertheimer also died. The two deaths effectively ended the group operation, and in August 1958 Virgil Smith took over the lease. Smith’s corporate officers were his wife, Nelva, and his longtime attorney, Clark Guild Jr.

September 1958 saw the end of a long-time relationship. The Bill Clifford Orchestra, which had performed at the Riverside for seven years, was replaced by the Eddie Fitzpatrick Orchestra. Fitzpatrick had been at the Mapes for ten years but left when Charles Mapes ended entertainment in the famous Mapes Sky Room.

In December 1959 Virgil Smith bought the Riverside for $5 million from the Crummer Corporation, after having leased the property for sixteen months. In January 1960 Smith sold 49 percent of the hotel to Harold Munley, Dr. Robert Franks, Sam Leavy, and Jack Douglass, and in February Smith announced that he would sell his remaining interest to his four partners. In April 1960 the sale was approved by the Gaming Commission, and Virgil Smith was completely out of the Riverside. Although there were obvious policy differences between Smith and his partners, the pressure of operating the hotel-casino had been a strain on Smith’s health and he felt it best for him to leave the Riverside.

The new owners and their percentages, as of April 1960, were: Dr. Robert Franks, 44 percent; Harold Munley, 14 percent; Jack Douglass, 14 percent; Sam Leavy, 6 percent; and the corporation, 22 percent.

In September 1960 the Riverside was sold for the third time in less than a year. Each sale was for “around five million.” The new owner was Bill Miller, a former investor in the Last Frontier Casino in Las Vegas. The sellers were Franks, Munley, and Leavy. Jack Douglass had sold his percentage a few weeks earlier.

In November 1960 the Gaming Commission okayed Miller, former licensee at the Last Frontier, the Sahara, and the Dunes, for 95 percent of the Riverside, with Franks retaining the remaining 5 percent.

In January 1961 Gerald Layne, the Riverside casino manager, disappeared after leaving Reno with several thousand dollars on his person. He was headed for a high-stakes poker game in Placerville. His abandoned car was later found in the Harrah’s Tahoe parking lot, but Layne was never found.

During the next few months, Frank Cunardi and Roy Denhart were licensed for small percentages of the Riverside, and E. F. McGarry and Gene Young were licensed for a percentage of the keno game.

While under Bill Miller’s ownership, the Riverside introduced a female impersonator show that caused such an uproar that the Reno City Council passed an anti-impersonation ordinance.

In June 1962 Miller, who had owned the Riverside since November 1960, sold his interest to Raymond Specter for “over five million dollars.” Spector was a former director and principal stockholder of Hazel Bishop, Inc., a cosmetic firm in New York City. After taking over the Riverside, Specter obtained a $2.75-million loan from the Central States, Southeast, and Southwest pension funds of Jimmy Hoffa’s Teamsters Union. With the loan he retired the hotel’s obligations to the Crummer Corporation and the Wingfield interest. Specter had to issue a deed of trust to the pension fund with the hotel real estate as security for the loan, which called for monthly payments of $20,625.

On December 20, 1962, the Riverside was closed and the corporation filed for bankruptcy. Three hundred and twenty-five employees were put out of work five days before Christmas, without their final paychecks. In explaining the closure, a hotel executive said, “We simply ran out of money. A payment of $35,000 was due yesterday and we didn’t have the money.”

In February 1963 the Hughes Porter Corporation of Nevada purchased the Riverside for $3.5 million. In July Hughes Porter leased the property to a ten-man corporation known as Riverside Incorporated. The corporation was composed of Jack Streeter, Calven “Red” Swift, Leonard Wykoff, Don Hall, John Sanford, Jack Sommers, Ferdie Sievers, Richard Fraser, James Ensign, and Neil Johnson.

On July 25, 1963, the Riverside reopened with two hundred slots, two craps games, one roulette game, and eight 21 games. Jack Sommers was hotel manager and John Sanford casino manager.

In June 1964 Lee DeLauer was approved by the Gaming Commission to become general manager of the Riverside Inc. Corporation and to sublease the hotel, food, and bar operation. The Riverside Corporation already operated the casino. DeLauer brought in a new management team consisting entirely of Reno people. The department managers whom he hired, who together had over two hundred years of Reno residency, were Bill Goupil, casino manager; Bill Campbell, casino supervisor; William “Bull” DeMarco, casino supervisor; Jim Jeffers, purchasing; Dee Garrett, credit manager; Jake Sigwart, keno manager; and Neil Brooks, comptroller. DeLauer, who owned 25 percent of the corporation, had as his partners Leonard Wykoff, L. A. Dickinson, Neil Johnson, James Ensign, Don Hall, Calvin “Red” Swift, Richard Fraser, and Ferdie Sievers.

After a short time, it became obvious that the reorganization of the Riverside wasn’t going to work. In November 1964 the Gaming Commission approved Bernie Einstoss, John Richards, and Andrew Desimone to purchase the Riverside. Ed Olsen, chairman of the Gaming Commission, said, “The Riverside has many financial problems, its chances of surviving the winter without new capital are pretty slim.” In December James Lloyd Sr. and Bernie Richter also bought an interest in the Riverside. The new arrangement provided for Einstoss to own 50 percent with Richter, Lloyd, Desimone, and Richards each owning 12.5 percent.

In November 1965 Richter bought Richards’s share of the Riverside, and in February 1966 Lloyd bought Bernie Einstoss out of the Riverside. This arrangement made Lloyd a 50-percent owner, and Desimone a 16-percent owner.

The gambling at the Riverside was closed on September 16, 1967, after gaming agents confiscated crooked dice from the craps table. On September 26, 1967, Newell Hancock was named trustee to manage the Riverside and keep it operating. The showroom and the gambling were closed, but the restaurant, bar, and hotel rooms remained open.

On December 29, 1967, the Gaming Commission revoked the corporate license of the Riverside as well as the individual licenses of James Lloyd Sr., Bernie Richter, and Andy Desimone. The Commission did allow Lloyd to keep his $100,000 investment in his slot-route operation, the A-1 Novelty Company.

On February 5, 1968, the Riverside closed completely. The hotel had been sold the day before, at auction, to the Teamsters Union Pension Fund for $1.9 million. The bid was actually nothing more than a paper transaction, because the Teamsters already held a first deed of trust on the property for $2,745,000. Second and third deeds of trust were held by Hughes Porter and the Reno Riverside Hotel, Inc. On September 5, the Riverside was sold for $3 million to three southern businessmen, Winfield Moon of Birmingham, Alabama, and Jake Clegg and Jim Saccomanno of Houston, Texas.

The hotel was not reopened until May 16, 1969, and it opened without gambling. It was closed again on November 3, this time by the Internal Revenue Service, which was owed $46,283 in back taxes by the hotel corporation for the quarter ending September 30, 1969. On November 19, 1969, Robert Berry, an attorney for a New York corporation, Bonafide Productions, Inc., presented a check for $84,500 to the IRS to settle the claim against the Riverside. The corporation had no plans to open a hotel.

In May 1970 Texas land developer William Phares purchased the Riverside for $3 million. He was licensed for two craps tables, one roulette game, eleven 21 games, one keno game, and two hundred slots. He was scheduled to open the hotel-casino on July 4.

On July 3, Phares was killed in an automobile accident. One week later, on July 10, 1970, it was announced that the Riverside would go on the auction block again, because Phare’s death prevented the sale from closing. The Teamsters Union Pension Fund-for the second time-bought back the 186-room hotel on October 7. Its bid of $1.8 million was the only one made.

On January 6, 1971, Jessie Beck purchased the Riverside for “an amount in excess of three million dollars.” She announced that she expected to spend more than $1 million renovating the building. In February 1971 the Jessie Beck Corporation was licensed for one hundred slots, nine table games, and one keno game.

The Riverside reopened on April 1, 1971, with Arthur Allen as hotel manager; Jim Hunter, formerly of Harolds Club, as director of public relations; Don McDonnell as casino manager; Augie Landucci as assistant casino manager; and William Salas, Gene Mattson, and Art Aloiau as shift managers. Some of the people who were licensed as shift managers in the coming years included Kelly Black, Clark Brown, Chuck Clifford, Keith Jones, Mary Delaplaine, and Connie Paris.

In March 1978 the Riverside was sold to Harrah’s Club as part of a three-way real estate deal with Overland Inc. and Jessie Beck. Harrah’s purchased the Riverside in order to trade it to the Overland (Pick Hobson) for that firm’s old hotel-casino at the corner of Center Street and Commercial Row. The Overland site, on which Harrah’s had taken a long-term lease in March 1977, would become the site of Harrah’s multimillion-dollar expansion.

On April 21, 1978, the Gaming Commission okayed Pick Hobson to take over the Riverside and licensed J. J. Page as general manager, Robert Hawkins as casino manager, and Richard Sturdivant, Anthony Gabriel, and Steve Gurasevich as vice-presidents and directors.

In November 1986 Pick Hobson, faced with a debt service of over $4.6 million and a decreasing market share, filed for bankruptcy. A little over a month later, on December 30, 1986, Hobson closed the casino. He was able to keep the restaurant and the hotel rooms operating until November 1, 1987, when he had to close down because operating expenses exceeded the business’s revenue. On November 25, 1987, Hobson turned over the hotel and other property to the Valley Bank of Nevada. The action left nearly three hundred other creditors owed about $1.4 million.

On June 20, 1989, a Canadian investment group headed by Peter Ng, a Canadian businessman, purchased the Riverside from Valley Bank of Nevada for an undisclosed price. Despite talk of plans for improvements and development of the Riverside, Ng did nothing with the property.

Finally, in 1997, after years of bargaining and negotiation with Ng, the City of Reno took possession of the Riverside. On November 14, 1997, demolition crews began to tear down the newer section of the Riverside Hotel, which had been built in 1951, leaving the older portion, which was built in 1927, untouched for the time being. On February 25, 1998, the Reno City Council gave the final approval to a contract with Oliver McMillan, a San Diego developer, to renovate the Riverside and turn the property into artists’ lofts, restaurants, and shops.



According to Dwayne Kling