Some call Reno’s downtown alleys the heart of the city’s infamous past. Others say the alleys paint a vivid picture of early Western society. Either way, for decades the network of alleys that criss-cross downtown represented the heart of Reno’s gambling and demimonde activity.
The alleys were laid out by Joseph Madison Graham as part of the first map of Reno in 1868. At that time, these unpaved avenues provided access to horse corrals, sheds, and small industries. Early maps don’t name the alleys, but they were designed generally to be 20 feet wide. By the 1890s, large buildings were being built that fronted on main streets and crossed the entire street depth through to the alleys. Modernization affected the alleys and eventually they were paved, utilities were put underground, and parking was regulated.
Douglas, Lincoln and Fulton Alleys were colorful portals into a world of gambling, speakeasies, bootlegging, vice, corruption, and occasionally, murder. Further east, Lovers Lane had a long-standing reputation for prostitution, and occasionally, opium dens and speakeasies. Today the alleys are mostly utilitarian and overlooked, often unpleasant with dumpsters and idling vehicles. Most of the alleys have been shortened, as casinos and new buildings took over their footprints.
The alleys are public rights of way. These major alleys were dignified in recent years with glitzy signs, shaped like red arches and outlined in light bulbs. But the razzle-dazzle of these signs mark mostly vacant pathways, evoking a by-gone world of excitement, thrills and the underbelly of Reno life. There were many more alleys, now gone, in downtown Reno north of the railroad tracks. In addition to the commercial alleys in the downtown area, many of Reno’s older neighborhoods have residential alleys that provided access to garages and yards.