|Old Verdi Road (currently Mayberry Road)|
|31 Apr 1931 - 14 Jun 1932|
Photo from the Mark Englebretson Collection
|To the best of our knowledge, no casino ashtrays were ever created for The Willows. If you happen to know where one exists, please consider sharing a photo of it with the collecting community.|
The Willows was originally owned by Rick DeBernardi and called Rick's Resort. Built in the early 1900s, it was a popular road-house. It gained fame when the location was used as the training quarters for Jack Johnson, who defeated Jim Jeffries in the 1910 heavyweight title fight held in Reno.
With the coming of Prohibition in the 1920s, the Willows closed its doors, and in 1922 James McKay and Bill Graham purchased it from Rick DeBernardi for $40,000. McKay, Graham, and their associates spent $160,000 on renovations and improvements.
Tex Hall, one of Graham and McKay's associates, was instrumental in the remodeling and decorating. He spent thousands of dollars on machines that stamped out the delicate metal filigree work that adorned the hundreds of lights in the Willows and on the grounds surrounding the plush casino and dinner house. The entrance was approached along an avenue of colored lights. The interior was divided into four areas-the Blue Room, where the popular pianist and manager, George Hart, held court; the restaurant area; the dancing area; and the Chinese Room, where gambling was conducted. The Chinese Room was decorated with Chinese red and blue lacquer on the walls, ceiling, and fixtures. Soft lights shimmered on gold tablecloths and upholstery and on silk draperies.
The Willows was a Reno landmark with a nationwide reputation for its gaiety, hospitality, beauty, and opulence. It catered not only to the more exclusive gamblers and fun-seekers in the western United States but also to the many women from the East who were in Reno seeking a divorce. A Saturday night in the Blue Room often resembled the premiere of an important motion picture. Men dressed in tuxedos and women in evening gowns would enter the room, and George Hart kept the crowd informed as to what was going on in the club. "Mrs. John Doe is now entering the room," he would chant. "She is dressed in a lacy black silk, cut low at the neck, and she is wearing a corsage of violets." Then Hart would take his seat at the piano and paraphrase a popular song, substituting the real names of persons intended to be complimented. Frequently in his introductions Hart volunteered the information that the person introduced was in Reno "to take the cure" (to get a divorce).
The Willows operated as a speakeasy and gambling operation long before gaming was legalized in 1931. When gambling was made legal, it became easier for clubs such as the Willows to operate.
Disaster struck the Willows on June 14, 1932. A fire that originated in the furnace room in the basement of the resort leaped through the wooden structure and destroyed it in less than two hours. The club had been closed for remodeling and was expected to reopen in a few days. James McKay, head of the closed corporation that owned the Willows, announced that they would probably build a new Willows at the same location. But the facility was never rebuilt.
A housing development now covers the area where the Willows formerly stood. The exact location would be the northwest corner of Sherwood Road and Mayberry Road.
According to Dwayne Kling