Filed Under Transportation

Reno Southern Pacific Railroad Depot

The 1926 Mediterranean-style depot is the fifth to stand on the same site.

The Reno Southern Pacific Railroad Depot was completed in 1926. It was the fifth Reno depot since 1868, the first four having burned down. Constructed of brick with a stucco finish, it was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2012 in recognition of the important role it played in Reno's historical development from its founding as a small railroad stop in 1868 to its status as the Biggest Little City in the World.

The depot was built by Ryberg-Sorenson, Inc., a construction firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, following plans drawn by Southern Pacific architects. Though relatively small, Reno's depot reflects the Mediterranean style through architectural elements such as semi-circular arch-shaped openings, a red tile roof, a stucco exterior finish, and swag or garland motifs set within recessed panels. The waiting room with its inset ceiling and elegant pendant light fixtures is a highlight of the building.

The depot played a major dramatic role in the ebbs and flows of life in Reno, the destination for thousands of people seeking to take advantage of the state's relaxed divorce and gambling laws throughout the first half of the twentieth century. In the 1930 film simply titled Reno, a man who is asked what he is doing at the depot wittily replies, "Watching the tied come in and the untied go out." Early in the 1961 film, The Misfits, Clark Gable's cowboy character, Gay, bids an impatient farewell to a tearful new divorcee at the depot as she boards the train to return home.

With the exception of the addition that was constructed during the Reno ReTRAC project, which lowered the two miles of railroad tracks in the downtown area below ground level in 2005, the building remains much as it was in 1926.

Reno’s 1908 WCTU drinking fountain, originally located on Virginia Street two blocks to the west, can now be found on the track level inside the new section of the Amtrak Depot. The fountain was dedicated to the veterans of the Spanish-American War by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the American Red Cross.

Images

The new depot, ca. 1930
The new depot, ca. 1930 The new SP Depot was decorated with colorful landscaping, and ice cream was sold from the window under the red-and-white striped awning. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: ca. 1930
The original depot
The original depot The original depot, built in 1868, was a typical, utilitarian wood frame building that could be easily recognized as a depot by travelers. This building burned in a fire in 1879, but not before second and third stories were added. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: ca. 1875
Original Reno town site, 1868
Original Reno town site, 1868 The original Reno town site platted by the Central Pacific Railroad in 1868. On May 9, 1868, the railroad held an auction of town site lots, and the town of Reno was born. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1868
Depot Hotel, ca. 1880
Depot Hotel, ca. 1880 The Depot Hotel constructed in 1879 featured three tower-like cupolas, a wooden balcony, and an adjacent park. It burned in 1889. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: ca. 1880
Overland Express
Overland Express The Overland Express connected Chicago and San Francisco during the heyday of American train travel. The brick depot pictured here stood between 1889 and 1926. Source: Dick Dreiling
Beloved Landmark, 1940s
Beloved Landmark, 1940s The depot quickly became a beloved local landmark, used in advertisements like this 1940s Lew Hymers postcard to portray Reno's unique combination of urban sophistication and western charm. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: Lew Hymers Date: 1940s
Eastern facade
Eastern facade Viewed here from the southeast, the east end of the depot, fronting Lake Street, contained railroad offices. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
Phone booths, 1962
Phone booths, 1962 This 1962 photo shows the phone booths and the entrance to the public rooms in the hallway between the waiting room and the baggage room. The baggage room now separates the old depot from the new Amtrak station. Source: Nevada State Railroad Museum Creator: R.H. Hancock Date: 1962
Colony Turf Club, 1973
Colony Turf Club, 1973 The west end of the depot, facing Center Street, was leased to a small casino, originally named the Colony, then the Colony Turf Club, then simply the Turf Club. Source: Nevada State Railroad Museum Date: 1973
Turf Club, 2002
Turf Club, 2002 The Turf Club as it appeared in 2002, a few years before being demolished to make way for the new Amtrak wing added in the mid-2000s. Creator: Max Chapman Date: 2002
Exit to tracks, 2001
Exit to tracks, 2001 Prior to construction of the railroad trench through downtown Reno, a project completed in 2006, passengers accessed the train directly from the historic waiting room, just as they had for 80 years. Creator: Max Chapman Date: 2001
Waiting Room, 2013
Waiting Room, 2013 The picturesque waiting room is one of the loveliest attributes of the historic depot. Source: Architectural Research Group Date: 2013
The Baggage Office
The Baggage Office The room that today opens into the new addition was once the westernmost section of the original depot and housed the Baggage Office. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2012
Depot, 2013
Depot, 2013 The Reno SP Depot as it looked in 2013. The modern Amtrak Station is out of view to the left. The new station addition opens to the tracks at the bottom of a trench. Source: Architectural Research Group Date: 2013
WCTU Fountain, ca. 1915
WCTU Fountain, ca. 1915 Looking southward down Virginia Street from Commercial Row, the WCTU fountain, erected in 1908, can be seen in its original location, on the north side of the railroad tracks (at the far right in this photo). The two tile-roofed structures on the right were the entry portals to a pedestrian "subway" that ran underneath the railroad tracks. The fountain can now be seen on the lower level of the new portion of the Amtrak depot. Source: Jerry Fenwick Date: ca. 1915
WCTU Fountain, 2013
WCTU Fountain, 2013 Reno's 1908 WCTU Fountain, originally located outdoors, two blocks west on Virginia Street, has been moved for preservation purposes to the lower level waiting room of the newer portion of the Amtrak depot. Source: Architectural Research Group Date: 2013
Trench archaeology
Trench archaeology Archaeologists excavate the trench site for cultural data during the construction of the railroad trench in 2004.  The excavation uncovered a Native American village site north of the Truckee River. Working at the site at the western end of the trench archaeologists meticulously revealed housing pits and artifacts thousands of years old.The photograph is captured from a 360 panorama by Howard Goldbaum. Creator: Howard Goldbaum Date: 2004

Location

135 East Commercial Row, Reno, NV

Metadata

Mella Rothwell Harmon, “Reno Southern Pacific Railroad Depot,” Reno Historical, accessed July 19, 2024, https://www.renohistorical.org/items/show/61.