A local château hidden in plain sight

sharon_mansionOK, a Little Story now of a Reno home, the best-kept secret in the 89509 Zip and sadly hidden by a 70-year growth of vegetation. A friend e-mailed, “Was there once a tennis court standing all by itself at the corner of Westfield Avenue and Booth Street by Reno High, or am I losing my mind?”

In our misspent youth there was indeed a luxurious tennis court at the foot of the California Avenue hill. That court went along with a couple of ponds and a carriage house that inured to the house at the crest of the hill, barely seen in this picture from the Federal Courthouse parking lot. This home’s lot once stretched westward to an area near the present Booth Street, and southward beyond the 7-Eleven.

It’s known by very few as the Sharon mansion. We were taught as kids that William Sharon was a stellar man indeed; a benefactor to the downtrodden, a Nevadan to the core, a major financier of the Comstock and a buddy of railroad builders Charles Crocker and Leland Stanford. He became a Nevada senator in 1875 and died in 1885, posing the compelling question as to why or how he had a mansion built in 1930.

In later life we learned that he might have visited the Silver State once from his home in San Francisco and even visited Washington a couple times during his six-year term. He conducted his life and affairs less than altruistically, which is being charitable. The fact is, the château was built for Sharon’s granddaughter, who happened also to be Sen. Francis Newlands’ daughter, (and to help one comprehend that, Francis Newlands, who was also a piece of work, but that’s for another Little Story, married Senator Sharon’s daughter.)

And if you want to appear cool, pronounce the Comstock millionaire’s name “Sha-Roan,” unless of course you’re calling an ambulance pronto to an address on Sharon Way, in which case you’d better pronounce Sharon as we’ve come to use it. Several old Reno maps show a “Sharon Street” in the approximate location of Booth Street, and the address of the Reno Water & Light Co.’s 1893 powerhouse at the present Booth and Idlewild corner showed it on Sharon Street. (That powerhouse is still there.)

The house on the hill, a replica of a French château , was designed by a San Francisco architect who specialized in castles, and built from native stone hewn from locations in northern Nevada. It might be one of the most-sketched edifices in Reno; in days long past, before the Chinese elms and cottonwood trees surrounding it matured, before the Federal Building was built, and before the Keystone/Booth /California Avenue nightmare intersection was dreamed up, it was easily visible from the art classroom in Reno High School’s north wing, and drawing or painting the home was de rigueur for art students. Anyway, the home’s a part of our local scene, although the tennis court and carriage house on Booth Street are long-gone…and it presently looks more like a cross between a train wreck and a garage sale from Keystone Avenue, and that’s my Little Story and I’m stickin’ to it.

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