Reno became the Divorce Capital of the World in the 1930s. Open-gaming was legalized in 1931 and the state lowered residency requirements to six-weeks for divorces. So, people arrived in droves, ready to “take the cure” as they called it, and hotels were available for those on the rich side. Those with more adventurous souls or more modest pocketbooks stayed at one the many dude ranches found in the countryside all over Washoe Valley.
Pictures from the ’20s and ’30s depict Reno visitors in cowboy garb, even if they just took the train in from New York City and had never been on a horse in their life. To fit the crowd and the countryside, Reno saloons and casinos sported a country theme well into the ’60s.
One of the most popular saloons to open in downtown Reno was the Town House, first known as the Dude Ranch Town House. The property was built and operated by Charles Rennie. The bar didn’t have to be as big as the coming Las Vegas casinos like the El Rancho to be successful, and the saloon sported just a long bar, restaurant, and six slot machines. After opening, the club had three games, a 21 table, craps, and roulette.
Although drinking was still illegal due to Prohibition, the Town House offered liquor, as most Reno establishments did. As chronicled in “Mob City: Reno Connection,” Bill Graham and George Wingfield had the fix-in for any club that was sharing a piece of their action, and the Feds never busted the Town House.
Rennie tried to expand his gaming empire to Plumas Avenue, several miles from the downtown corridor in 1936. The move didn’t sit well with the men in charge of Reno, and within a year Charles Rennie owned neither the Country Club nor the Town House.
After a public auction in 1937, the Town House was purchased and reopened in December by Fay Baker and Tom Brown. Postcards and even gaming chips from the era depict the Town House logo: A tall, bow-legged cowboy bellied up to the bar with well-shaped women on either side of him. The logo’s caption was “The riding lesson.”
The Town House struggled to stay in business with different owners for nearly 20 years. In 1955 it was destroyed by a suspicious fire.
J.C. Penney built a new store in its place on First Street that survived until 1990. Reno may no longer be a cowboy town, but it’s still more country than city.