Reno underwent a rapid transformation in the first decade of the 20th century, as mineral discoveries in Tonopah and Goldfield brought more residents and more secure economic footing to the state. The city’s business district expanded, as did its civic infrastructure. The blocks on both sides of the Truckee River between Virginia and Center Streets experienced a particularly impressive flurry of construction within just a few years. A Carnegie Free Library was constructed on the south side of the river in 1904, followed by a new concrete Virginia Street Bridge in 1905, and a brick Riverside Hotel and three-story Masonic Temple in 1906.
In 1905, City leaders decided that it was time to build a new City Hall. The one-story brick building being used by City officials at the time was so small it was referred to by the editors of the Reno Evening Gazette as an “unspeakable shack.” A single room was being used as a Council chamber, police station, City Clerk’s office, and police court, and the jail was badly crowded.
Five architects competed to design a new City Hall, to be located at the northwest corner of East First Street (then called Front Street) and North Center Street. The winning design was submitted by local architect Morrill J. Curtis, who drew up plans for a two-story brick building on a foundation of granite blocks with an ornamental clock tower and an entrance facing south. The building opened in the spring of 1907. On its first floor were offices for the Mayor, City Clerk, Chief of Police and City Judge, an emergency two-room “hospital,” and a court room, with a jail for men in the northwest corner. The second floor held offices for the City Attorney, City Engineer, the Board of Health, a reading room, library, Council chamber, and jail quarters for boys and women. The basement held utilities, vaults, and a “dungeon for unruly city prisoners.”
The new City Hall became the hub of civic life, a role that was strengthened in 1908 when the owners of the Reno Evening Gazette decided to construct their new building just to its north. In 1909, a new Federal Building and Post Office was constructed on Virginia Street between First Street and the river.
By the late 1950s, City government had determined that its existing City Hall was too small, and could not be expanded due to physical constraints on every side. The First National Bank of Nevada offered to purchase the parcel, and before even finding a new site to construct a new City Hall, the City accepted the bank’s offer and announced its sale of the property in March of 1961. The bank started construction on a high rise building just to the west in September 1961 (see separate entry for First National Bank Tower) and had a parking garage constructed on the site of the old City Hall in 1964. A new City Hall was built on the former site of the Southside School at 490 S. Center Street, opening in 1965. The parking lot on the former site of Reno's original City Hall now provides parking for the current City Hall, which moved into the First National Bank Tower in 2004.