by Janet Ross
When we moved to Sparks in 1973, Victorian Avenue as such didn't exist. Back then it was B Street, a 22block thoroughfare, that served as the City of Sparks' version of Main Street. John Ascuaga's Nugget and Karl's Silver Club were its center, while around 12th Street a variety of small businesses were to the East and West. Interstate 80 was under construction then, severing the city from its founder, the Southern Pacific Railroad to the South.
We shopped for clothing at Gazin's, enjoyed meals at the Nugget's Golden Rooster Buffet and Trader Dick's, and had our watches repaired at W.R. Adams & Son Jewelers. None of those Sparks institutions remain as we knew them, though it was only a year ago that W.R. Adams closed its doors forever and the Nugget changed ownership twice in as many years.
The fact oldtime Sparks no longer exists doesn't mean it doesn't have a vibrant, new history. This brings us to a delightful, eightblock (both sides of Victorian Avenue) exploration of the city's core. We begin on the Northwest corner of Victorian Avenue and Pyramid Way. Take a minute to look East and just past a 7Eleven you'll see an auto body shop with a VW black spider on its roof; the former Reno resident looks quite at home in Sparks.
Turning West we'll see Sparks' Memorial Park, a shady enclave with sculptures and plaques dedicated to Sparks Police, Firefighters and veterans of Vietnam, Korea and the War on Terror. Created in 1981, this unique park is dotted with benches for quiet contemplation.
Next to the park is Sparks' first library, later a Justice Court, and now the Sparks Heritage Museum. Built in 1931 and designed by prominent architect Frederic J. DeLongchamps, the Museum is dedicated to the history of Sparks, Nevada, and the old West. Exhibits range from railroad memorabilia, model replicas, unique collections and lifelike displays. The Museum frequently hosts special events – lectures and tours – and has a nice gift shop. (Admission is $5, ages 12 and under are free. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, 1 to 4 p.m., Saturday. For additional information call (775) 355-1144.)
Next door to the handsome brick Museum building, and fronting an annex to the Museum, is the much larger than life figure of "Last Chance Joe". Joe previously decorated the north entrance to John Ascuaga's Nugget for 56 years. Walking on, we come to a building that now houses The Blind Onion Pizza & Pub on the ground floor and Pietro's Famiglia Ristoranti Italiano upstairs. Formerly the Davis Hotel, built in 1930, the old lobby still features a fireplace made from Nevada Rocks and ores. Look up at the exterior so you can admire the rooftop ironwork.
Today Oski's Pub & Grill occupies a 1917 building that once housed a barbershop followed by a grocery store and, later, storage space for a furniture store. Walking on, we come to the Great Basin Brewery and Restaurant (the oldest brewery in Nevada). Located in a building from 1952, then home to Baker's Hardware and Furniture, this structure replaced an older one, and eventually housed a minimall (mostly antiques) before becoming Great Basin. The current structure now has a tower topped with a bowling ball. Again, look up! Out front there's an information kiosk with an expanded map of the Victorian Avenue/Square area and listing of special events.
Across an outdoor eating area for the Great Basin Brewery, you'll now find Paddy & Irene's Irish Pub in the location that was formerly Gazin's clothing store. From 1930 to the late 1990s Gazin's was the place to find a special outfit in Sparks. Next door is the new Mummer's Saloon, owned by Reed High School grads, and the Victorian Saloon in what was a barber shop back in 1917.
Filling a void in between several no longer existing buildings is the Cantina Los Tres Hombres with two large outdoor dining areas. Moving on, we come to the W.R. Adams & Sons Jewelers building where the people of Sparks did their shopping and enjoyed a yearround Christmas corner in the store. The firm closed in 2015 after 100 years in business.
Next door is the Bank of Sparks, built in 1905 and added to the National Register of Historic Buildings in 2007. Now a bridal shop, the bank once handled the payroll for Southern Pacific Railroad workers and it was the site of a daring $32,000 robbery in 1925.
At this point we'll cross to the South side of Victorian Avenue and head West, stopping first at St. Mary's Amphitheater. The structure was built in 1989, part of Sparks' Redevelopment plans. Check out the mural inside that includes railroad scenes from the city's history.
The Glendale School building (18641958) was moved from its original location in the community of Glendale (Southeast of Sparks) in 1994. It has the distinction of being the oldest remaining school building in the State of Nevada.
Sparks lives up to its "Rail City" moniker with a magnificent train display. (Tours are available through the Sparks Heritage Museum across the street on Saturday afternoons; call for times and reservations, 775/3551144.) There's a Pullman car fitted out for railroad executives with a parlour, bedrooms, baths and kitchen. Next in line is a Caboose with a cupola, followed by Engine #8 (1907 to 1954) with an oilburning engine. Engine #8 moved passengers and freight between Reno and Lakeview, Oregon, from 1907 to 1916. All cars have been carefully restored and a tour gives you access to walk through. A halfsize replica of the Sparks train depot completes the railroad exhibit.
We end our walk at James C. Lillard Park, a pleasant, shady spot dedicated on July 4, 1976 to mark our nation's bicentennial. The park includes a marble memorial to the Chinese who labored during Nevada's early years, plus sections of a railroad bridge. Benches and a picnic table enhance the nexttothefreeway entrance on Pyramid Way.
This small slice of Victorian Avenue is the perfect venue for special events in Sparks that include a Food Truck DriveIn (the second and fourth Saturdays from 59: 30 p.m., summer evenings), Fourth of July Starspangled Sparks with fireworks from the top of the Nugget, a summer Farmer's Market on Thursdays, Hot August Nights, and the wildly popular Nugget Rib Cookoff. There are numerous spots on the north side of the Avenue to drink and dine al fresco, so take a walk and enjoy Sparks' Victorian Avenue this summer.