The Town House
39 West First Street
1951 - 1955
The Townhouse
Photo from the James Campiglia Collection

The Riding Lesson Bar

The Riding Lesson Bar
Photo from the Mark Englebretson Collection

Mark Englebretson
Grade 3

Mark Englebretson
Grade 3

Pam Goertler
Grade 3

Mark Englebretson
Grade 3

Don Boyer
Grade 3

Louie Eliopoulos
Grade 3

Richard & Bev Siri
Grade 4

The Town House was built in 1932 by Charles Rennie, who was also its first operator. Another casino, the Deauville, which opened in 1931, was located in the basement area of the Town House. When the Deauville closed, the large basement area was used for dancing and small parties, and the ground level of the Town House contained the restaurant, bar, and gaming area. Rennie, who later opened the opulent Country Club on Plumas Avenue, had as his partners Louie Marymount and Chester Condon.

In the first few years of operation, the club was also known as the Dude Ranch Town House. One of its early slogans was, "You may have your country home, but make this your Town House."

After the Country Club burned down in 1936, Rennie was unable to keep the Town House operating and it went into receivership in 1937. A public auction was held in November, with the money received going to pay off the Town House's many creditors.

The club reopened in December 1937 with Fay Baker and Tom Brown as the new owners and operators. Baker and Brown had both been in Reno for many years and were well known to what was called the "sporting crowd" around town. They featured a French menu, but their decor was rustic western. The walls looked like those of a log cabin and featured equine murals. The dude-ranch theme was extended to the logo--a rear view of two young women sitting on bar stools. Standing between them was a cowboy, and the caption was, "The Riding Lesson." In 1939 Fay Baker left the Town House, and Leon Indhart and Tom Brown took over the operation.

In January 1940 the controlling interest in the Town House was sold to Monaei Lindley. She had been a Reno resident for two years and was the owner of the Shadow Dude Ranch. Russ Bixby was named club manager. George Perry and Jelly Jack Blackman took over the Town House in 1941 and operated it for over three years. In February 1945 Lou Vallin purchased the club and named Jim Turpin club manager. The next few years were probably the highest peak of financial success for the Town House. Business flourished after the war and continued until the big hotels began to lure away free-spending customers with floor shows and larger facilities.

In January 1948 Lou Vallin lost his gaming license. As a result, he also lost the lease. Taking over the property in April 1948 were Jim Metrovich, Jack Duffy, and John Achuff. As chef, they hired longtime Reno favorite T. F. Gee, whose name alone meant a flourishing business for any restaurant with which he was associated. The new owners were licensed for one craps game, one 21 game, and eight slots.

In November 1949 the ownership was restructured, and Ernie DeLoe and Jim Metrovich assumed the remainder of a three-year lease. Jack Duffy and John Achuff left the Town House to pursue other interests. In less than a year--August 1950--the club closed and the owners filed for bankruptcy. The liquidation of assets was put in the hands of Glen Meyers, head of the Nevada Board of Trade.

In January 1951 the Town House reopened. Robert Hunt and Al Vario were partners in the operation, and Roy Nelson was given a license to operate the gaming tables. Over the next few years, there was a multitude of owners and managers. In April 1951 the full list of owners included Harold Walters, Art Miller, Robert Hunt, Joe Viano, Silvio Vario, Al Vario, and Roy Nelson. They were banded together in a corporation known as the Nevada Enterprise. In August 1951 Al Vario was licensed for seven slots, one roulette game, one craps game, and one 21 game.

In 1952 Harold Walters and Roy Nelson left the corporation, and in 1953 William Riordan and Charles Brown were added. Also, in July 1953, Carl Amante was licensed by the state for 31 percent of the Town House with an investment of $14,000. In 1954 Amante became sole owner.

On September 2, 1955, the Town House was destroyed by fire. In August the landlord, Mark Yori, had served Carl Amante with an eviction notice effective January 1, 1956. Yori planned to have the premises razed to make way for the construction of a J. C. Penney store.

On December 16, 1955, a trial began in federal court over the fire in the Town House. Two insurance companies had refused to pay claims, charging that the fire was a result of arson. On December 21 the court ruled that the insurance companies did not have to pay the claims. The court also accused Amante of deliberately burning the property.

The J. C. Penney store operated for over twenty years at the former site of the Town House. The site was occupied by a craft mall in 1991.

According to Dwayne Kling

The Town House operated in Reno at 39 West First St., from 1932 through 1955. Shortly after it's opening it soon became one of the most upscale clubs in town. Although the cuisine was French, the club's decor was rustic with a western flavor high-lighted with interior walls of pine logs and murals of horses and western scenes. The club slogan at the time was: "You may have your country home, but make this your Town House."

Perhaps the Town House benefitted more than any other establishment in Reno at that time by recently passed legislation in Carson City. In 1931 the Nevada legislature in Carson City approved legalized gambling and also shortened the residency requirement for divorce from six months to six weeks. These strong measures were taken as a means to help Nevada's devastated economy. The days of Comstock, the Tonopah and Goldfield bonanzas were over. The depression had wiped out any chance of making a profit by running cattle or sheep. Nevada had little else to offer. The state had nothing to loose, it was already known nationwide as unruly, corrupt and "wide open: due to legalized prize-fighting, prostitution, widespread illegal gambling and lingering "old west" mentality. For example, it is said the old mining town of Pioche, in Southern Nevada buried 35 men who died a violent end before a burial took place which resulted from natural causes.

The legalization of gambling was surely a boon to many businessmen throughout the state. In Reno, dozens of small fly by night operators opened seedy, poorly lit and illy heated saloons, which typically got by with a couple of slot machines and at most one or two table games. No carpet joints were these. The sawdust covered floors were not to make for smoother dancing, but to absorb the spit, phlegm and terbacky juice. And no, these places did not provide fancy, custom designed gaming chips, and most probably got by with pocket change, and the silver dollar was the ideal medium for a big bettor. (As a kid too young to legally gamble, I played poker, blackjack and craps in the 1960's in Lovelock's Pershing Hotel and don't recall ever seeing a chip in use. Davins had a poker game in the back, but no chips. Felix of course was big time and had chips, but he, with more to loose, also checked ID's.

The liberalized divorce laws soon created a major industry in Nevada's otherwise crippled economy, particularly Reno. The six week residency requirement was of no benefit to the majority of Americans at that time. In spite of the depression, there was still a large moneyed class that could afford to send a spouse to Reno to quickly dissolve the marriage. Some of the costs were: travel, legal fees, proper attire, hotel or dude ranch accommodations, meals and entertainment.

The Town House owners were amongst the first to recognize that a "carpet joint" would surely prosper by catering to these rich and lonely women waiting out their six week obligation to gain their freedom. Surely many of these ladies were anxious to experiment with their newly found freedom even before the decree had been granted. If one could attract these well-to-do women with the luxury they were accustomed, the local cowboys, bankers, lawyers and businessman would surely follow. Early on, the Town House unofficially let it be known that it was to be called the "Dude Ranch Town House."

In a flash of brilliance, the Town House hired a local commercial artist, Lew Hymers to design a logo for the club. The logo became the theme of the establishment, and the theme became the very essence of the club's being. The logo was a simple single line drawing of two women seated at a bar, on stools, between them is standing a lanky, bow legged cowboy. The drawing was entitled "the riding lesson." This simple drawing embodied humor, sex, recognition of the divorce industry's impact on Reno, and of course an inference of drinking, dining and gambling, all mainstays of the Town House' offerings. The logo was soon on virtually every piece of printed material pertaining to the club: matchbooks, postcards, stationery, business cards, etc. A large hand painted version of the "cartoon" was prominently displayed in the club. Racks of new H. C. Edwards (hub mold) chips were ordered with the drawing occupying one side of the chip.

Charles Rennie, the original builder, owner and operator of the Town House had the foresight to recognize the clientele would flock towards opulence and luxury. He took over the Deauville which was immediately next door and occupied the basement under his own establishment. The Deauville ownership was the first casino operation in Nevada to finance itself by a public stock offering. The Deauville's decor equaled any of the illegal gaming spas of the East coast, New Orleans and perhaps Europe. It had spiral staircases, crystal chandeliers, thick carpets, elegant draperies and huge flower arrangements adjacent to the ten gaming tables. Too much vision, too soon, probably doomed this pleasure palace to an early closure, which was also abetted by a rare summer rainstorm which flooded the premises. Opened on July 31, 1931, it was closed before the New Year.

Charles Rennie, after gobbling up the Deauville in 1933, also became a victim of his own vision of the future. With the Town House prospering in the early thirties, he opened yet another elegant and luxurious casino, the Country Club, in 1935. The Country Club burned the following year and dragged the Town House into bankruptcy and closure.

The chain of ownership of the club is lengthy, with many partners joining in for a year or two and then selling out and moving on. By 1941 the club was owned by George "Frenchy" Perry and Jack "Jelly" Blackman. Blackman shot a man to death on October 31, 1944, in the Bank Club. James Lanigan and Blackman had "words", resulting in an altercation in which Blackman suffered a broken nose and was knocked to the floor. While in a prone position he pulled his gun and fired six shots, three of which resulted in Lanigan's body heat dropping to room temperature. Justice was served, Nevada style, with Blackman being found innocent of murder by way of self defense. I guess you had to be there.

The Town House' most profitable years were the post war era. At various times ownership grew to as many as seven partners. In 1945, Lou Vallin became sole owner and ran the club for three years. With the creation of the Nevada Tax Board (predecessor to the Gaming Commission) some housecleaning of the gambling industry was in order and in January, 1948, one of their first acts was to revoke Vallin's license. You can bet it wasn't because he had been accused of singing too loud in church.

With the ascension of Bill Harrah and Harold Smith Sr., as well as others who had a new vision of what Reno and gambling could become, the Town House and other smaller clubs could not compete with these marketing geniuses, and these clubs began a slow decline.

In 1953, Carl Amante took a 31% stake. A year later he was the sole proprietor. In August 1955, the landlord served Amante with an eviction notice effective January 1, 1956. On September 2, 1955 the Town House was destroyed by fire.

The two insurers denied payment of the claim, citing arson as the cause of the fire. The federal court agreed with the insurers, accused Amante of arson, and no payment was made. The local court system however, failed to find Amante guilty of arson. One wonders if Amante was represented in court by the original "Dream Team."

The Town House and Deauville site was soon occupied by a J.C. Penny's store and now is home to an antique mall.

The Town House used three chip issues in its 22 year existence. The first issue is widely believed to have been the yellow, dot mold, hot stamped five dollar chip. Within very few years the initial issue chip was supplanted with the classic "Riding Lesson", Lew Hymers designed chip, hub mold, $5 orange and $25 black, each with a white inlay. In 1951, Roy Nelson obtained the gaming license for the club and brought in to play the hot stamped, RN, T mold chip issue.

First published in the Casino Chip and Token News Magazine, Volume 17, Winter 2004 issue author John Moore.

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One of the many wall murals displayed in the Town House

Town House Mural
Photo from the Mark Englebretson Collection

The Town House Grand Opening Invitation
Photo from the Mark Englebretson Collection