Royal D. Hartung Home for Orphans and Foundlings
Between 1908-1911, stylish two-story Victorian house was built at 501 Riverside Drive. By 1913 it had become the Royal D. Hartung Home for Orphans and Foundlings, a project of the Daughters of Rebekah, originally the Ladies Auxiliary of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
The Home was the third orphanage to be created in Nevada. The first was the Sisters of Charity Home in Virginia City, which opened in 1867. Children were orphaned in this western environment—mining, the primary occupation of Virginia City men, was fraught with danger—mine cave-ins, explosions and tool-related accidents all occurred with frequency; mothers died in childbirth or from disease.
Several years later, the Nevada Legislature decided that taking care of homeless children was the State's job. They authorized a State Orphan's Home to be built in Carson City. A large Victorian dormitory was built and in 1870, the first child was admitted. This home operated until a fire destroyed it in 1902. It was soon replaced by a structure built of sandstone blocks quarried from the State Prison. The Children's Home survived until its demolition in 1963.
The Hartung Home was not created out of a need for an orphanage in Reno; rather, it came from the heart of a grieving father, a local businessman named Otto Hartung. In 1900, Hartung's adopted son Royal died of diphtheria. The boy was a foundling, left in a basket one night on the steps of the Depot Hotel, today the site of the train station. A local newspaper reported, "Under the tutelage of Hartung and his wife, the lad became, at six years of age, a most polished little gentleman. He was universally loved and admired and his death was a fatal blow to Hartung's home and happiness." Another article read, "As the result of the boy's death, it is said, his wife left him and the two calamities together brought about Hartung's end."
Otto Hartung's death was reported as insomnia, brought on by his grief. He wrote his will on April 2, 1909 in Berkeley, California where he passed early in 1910, leaving an estate valued at $28,000. His will stipulated that he be buried in the Reno Odd Fellows cemetery by the side of his son Royal and brother William. He wished $2,000 to be given to the lodge to see the graves would be cared for in perpetuity. His will also directed that if the Odd Fellows Lodge No. 14 built an institution to bear the name the Royal D. Hartung Home for Orphans and Foundlings within five years of Hartung's death, they would receive the income from his estate. But if the home was not built within that time, the income would go to the Reno School District to create an Industrial Arts program in Royal's name. However, the district would need to construct a building for the program with their own funds. If they chose not to do so, the funds would then go to the University of Nevada.
The Odd Fellows passed the project to the Rebekahs who complied with the terms of the will, being as determined as their predecessors, the Sisters of Charity. The home was dedicated in September of 1914, within the 5-year time limit set by Otto Hartung. The dedication was a grand affair. The newspaper reported, "Hundreds wearing regalia assembled at the hall then formed a long procession and marched to the home at Ralston Street and Riverside Avenue, on the Lincoln Highway."
The University, exhibiting sour grapes, took the Odd Fellows to court, claiming it was a subsidiary lodge creating the home and therefore the terms of the will were not met. Reno Schools could not afford the required building so the university should receive the funds. Court battles continued throughout 1915-16 with the High Court finally ruling in favor of the Odd Fellows.
The Home operated for 25 years, but in 1938 it closed and the building was sold and demolished to create a site for a small gem of a church, the project driven by two influential women, Anna Frandsen Loomis and Luella Garvey. A renowned California architect was brought to Reno to design the church. It is sad that such a beautiful building as the Hartung Home could not have been moved, but we are fortunate to have what later became the Lear Theater. Let’s hope this building can be saved, and continue to grace this lovely and historic site on Reno's beautiful Riverside Drive.