Filed Under Transportation

California Building

Built as a gift from the State of California on the occasion of a 1927 Highways Exposition

Located in the northwestern portion of Idlewild Park, the California Building is the only remaining architectural element of the Transcontinental Highways Exposition of 1927. The elaborate Exposition celebrated the completion of the Lincoln and Victory Highways (present day U.S. 50 and U.S. 40), which converged in Reno.

In 1913, members of the automobile industry had begun raising money to create a hard-surfaced highway coast-to-coast, with accurate signs along its entire length. The Lincoln Highway Association was formed that same year to help complete this early transcontinental highway, and with the assistance of the Federal Highway Aid Act of 1916 and 1921, their goal was soon reached.

The completion of the highways opened up Nevada to the lucrative automobile tourism trade, and led to growth and development of communities along the highway routes. The Bay Area landscape architect Donald McLaren, who had designed the landscaping for the 1915 Pan-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco, developed the layout for Reno’s exposition. The California Building was a gift from the neighboring state of California, which spent two years and $100,000 preparing the building and its exhibits for the Exposition.

The California Building was constructed in the Mission Revival architectural style, appropriate as a representation of California’s Spanish and Mexican heritage, with the style-defining features of stuccoed walls, clay tile roof, a bell tower, and arched openings. The California Building was the grandest exhibit at the exposition, paying homage to those who fell in combat in World War I. In January 1927, the California legislature dedicated the building "to those Men and Women who from pure Love of Country have made the Supreme Sacrifice that We who remain Might Enjoy the Blessings of this Wonderful Country."

During the Exposition, specific days were dedicated to celebrating individual California cities inside. San Francisco promoted its port and tourist attractions, while Los Angeles devoted much space to its budding movie industry.

After the Exposition, the structure was presented to the local post of the American Legion, Darrell Dunkle Post Number 1, which gifted the building to the City of Reno in 1938. Today, the California Building is affiliated with VFW Post Number 3819 and is used for a variety of recreational and community purposes. It stands as a reminder to Nevadans of their role in early transcontinental highway development, of its close relationship with California, and of the sacrifices of our nation's military. It was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1992 and the City of Reno's historic register in 1998.


The dedication
The dedication A diverse crowd poses in front of the California Building in Idlewild Park at its dedication on March 12, 1927. Note the statues of California's state animal, the California grizzly bear, flanking both sides of the entrance. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: Nevada Photo Service Date: 1927
Viewing the plans
Viewing the plans Men gather to view the plans for the California Building at Idlewild Park. From left to right, they are William Justi, W. S. Lunsford, F. J. Delongchamps, Mayor E. E. Roberts, John Blum, Donald McLaren, Brewster Adams, George C. R. Wagoner, Wally B. Gelatt, Harry Chism, and George A. Bartlett. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: Nevada Photo Service Date: 1925
Groundbreaking festivities
Groundbreaking festivities A large crowd of dignitaries attended the groundbreaking for the California Building. Construction began in October of 1925. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1925
The dedication event
The dedication event Cars lined up outside the building for its dedication in March 1927. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: Nevada Photo Service Date: 1927
California Exhibits
California Exhibits Exhibits inside the California Building and an adjacent tent promoted attractions and industries throughout the State of California. This exhibit inside the building featured Los Angeles County. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1927
California State Resolution
California State Resolution In January 1927, the California State Legislature adopted a joint Resolution gifting the California Building to the Reno post of the American Legion (effective upon the close of the Highways Exposition) and dedicating it to the memory of members of the military who made the ultimate sacrifice for their nation. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1927
Idlewild Park in the twenties
Idlewild Park in the twenties A view of the California Building soon after its construction shows its peaceful setting on the west side of Reno, in the shadow of the surrounding mountains. Donald McLaren, the official landscape engineer of the Exposition, was clear about his intention "to preserve in its entirety the scenic beauty of Idlewild Park." Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: Nevada Photo Service Date: ca. 1927
Bell and Tower
Bell and Tower Eighteen feet tall with a tiled gable roof, the Mission-influenced bell tower has a large arched opening in which an artificial bell is hung. The building was showing its wear in 1992, the year of this photo. Source: National Register of Historic Places nomination form Date: 1992
National Register
National Register In 1992, the year this photo was taken, the California Building was listed in the National Register of Historic Places, which recognized its architecture as well as its significant role in the history of transportation. The fountain, erected downtown by the Woman's Christian Temperance Union in 1908, has since been moved to the lower level of Reno's railroad depot on Commercial Row. Source: National Register of Historic Places nomination form Date: 1992
Community Center
Community Center Thanks to a grant from the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office, the California Building was given a facelift in 1998, complete with new stucco painted an authentic maize yellow, a white entrance, and a red tiled roof. Creator: Max Chapman Date: 2008
Architectural details
Architectural details The west elevation of the building is highlighted by an 8-foot diameter circular window at the center of the wall. The recessed opening is splayed outward so that the diameter is greater at the outside face of wall than at the window frame at the inside face. Creator: Max Chapman Date: 2008
The interior
The interior The majority of the building's interior consists of the spacious main room, with a catering kitchen, restroom facilities, and a small amount of office and storage space. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2017



Mella Rothwell Harmon and Alicia Barber, “California Building,” Reno Historical, accessed July 19, 2024,