The scenario is all too familiar: the owner of a historic building suddenly announces plans to demolish it. They might label it as blight, "too far gone to save," or simply outdated and in the way of the new, modern future they hope to construct in its place. There is an immediate outcry from community members who argue that the building is worth saving, and inevitably, someone who supports the demolition asks, "If you care about it so much, why didn't you say something about it earlier?"
That perennial question is one of the reasons why we created Reno Historical in the first place. It's also why it's so fitting for the app and website to now be managed by the Historic Reno Preservation Society, because one of the driving forces behind both Reno Historical and HRPS is the belief that education is the key to appreciation. And when it comes to historic structures, one of the biggest challenges to their preservation is a lack of knowledge about them, the history they represent, and the stories they contain.
We launched Reno Historical in 2014, just as development was starting to pick up again after the extended economic downturn. That uptick in activity, which has only accelerated since, has put a lot of older buildings in the crosshairs. In the process, it has become clear that very often, those who own, purchase, or inhabit historic properties aren't themselves aware of their history or the fact that anyone even cares about what happens to them.
That's especially true for buildings that aren't typically viewed as grand or important. As we walk around cities, we often look for exterior markers or plaques to indicate which buildings are historically or architecturally significant. But in Reno, we haven't even physically designated some of our most celebrated historic landmarks like the Washoe County Courthouse and Riverside Hotel, much less the wide array of more modest yet historically significant buildings scattered throughout the community.
Reno Historical can help bridge that gap, in order to help strengthen the public memory of the city's historic places and help to generate more widespread appreciation of them, long before any threat to them might arise. That focus is why we primarily write entries for buildings that are still standing. Of course, we also include important sites that are no longer with us, like the Mapes Hotel and Chinatown, but our central mission is to help people understand and appreciate the historic landscape that can be viewed around them every day.
And that's where you come in. Today, Reno Historical contains almost 200 entries, but that's just a fraction of the number we could include. If you have ideas for historic sites you'd like to see featured, or information or photographs that could help us to improve any of the existing entries—or even if you’d like to try your hand at writing one yourself—please drop us a line. This is a project by and for our community, and we need you to tell us what historic places are important to you.
But that's not all. If we want to expand public knowledge of Reno's historic properties, we need to share that knowledge—not just when a building is under immediate threat, but all the time. So whenever you have a free moment, browse the Reno Historical website (renohistorical.org) or open the app on your smart phone. Share entries that you enjoy on social media, in person, and in your blogs and emails. Help us spread the word that Reno is both forward-thinking and historic, with a landscape rich in character, diversity, and architectural interest. Together we can help to keep Reno's historic sites in the conversation and do our best to ensure that the places meaningful to Reno's past and present will remain part of its future.
Dr. Alicia Barber is a HRPS Board member and the editor of Reno Historical.