Spinning Showgirls and Cows

Prima Donna Casino, 1970, spinning international showgirls

Many of you know that I was born in Reno, Nevada, Yes-sir-y Bob, I was birthed at Saint Mary's Hospital in 1964. Most people only know about Reno as a divorce town with dude ranches of divorcees, or from Reno 911. Sure it has a seedy side, what town doesn't? Wait there's Celebration in Florida—scary even to me. It was a great place to grow up. It's nestled up against the Sierra Nevadas in the high desert. Lake Tahoe is 20 minutes away, and much of everyone's time is spent hiking, skiing, and doing all types of outdoor activities. When I was growing up, Reno was still a cattle town with a few casinos on a small strip of Virginia Street.

I hate too admit it, but this strip had a huge influence on my design sensibilities. How can you be taken to the lunch counter at a place with a 20 foot tall showgirl that spins outside, and not be influenced? The western scene painted on the side of Harold's Club is pretty snappy; I'm more than happy to steal it if someone would let me. In fact most of my Knoll and Nelson furniture came from Harold's Club founder, "Pappy" Smith's estate. He was purty hip in 1955. There is an innocence to these images. The design was meant to be exuberant and playful. Good taste be damned. I'm sad that casinos today seem to be weighed down under the weight of focus groups and strategy, determining what theme will motivate gambling, and directing the design to the smallest detail. I'm sure nobody was thinking about human manipulation and revenue per square foot when they put the wonderful spinning atom on top of the Reno arch.

What most people think Reno is

Pappy Smith's Harold's Club

the Reno arch: the good one

Oxford Motel, 1969

Carousel Inn, it's a circus in every room