UNR gave away 4 historic houses. Where are they now?
Old Southwest Reno is a haven for lovers of historic architecture.
Dating back to Reno’s earliest years, the tree-lined streets are where to find some of the city’s oldest and most architecturally interesting houses.
And now the neighborhood has a few more.
Four historic-but-rundown houses in the University of Nevada, Reno’s Gateway District that were slated for demolition to make room for an expansion project have been resettled in and near Old Southwest.
The moves were epic undertakings involving countless permits, highway closures, hydraulic jacks and big rigs.
Now, two years after they were moved, one house is fully remodeled, one is near completion, and two are in the very preliminary stages of being updated or restored.
But the important thing, according to the people who saved the houses, is that they still exist.
“It’s a prime example of what we used to produce in Reno as far as architectural form,” said Loren Jahn, who relocated a Queen Anne-style house slated for demolition to Old Southwest Reno. “I don’t understand why we don’t move more of these houses.”
And the character of the Gateway houses, which date back as far as 1890, fit into the architectural style of Old Southwest Reno and surrounding areas.
“Here in Reno, where there aren’t many residential areas like this intact, these few blocks are special,” said Tim Gilbert, who — with his wife, Nancy — has saved and restored numerous houses throughout Reno, including one of the UNR houses. “They represent history, and they have a cachet.”
‘A lot of nitty gritty’
In 2017, the university announced a dozen houses dating back to the 1890s would need to be relocated or demolished to make space for new academic buildings and a parking garage.
The houses formed a historic university neighborhood, according to Deb Hinman, who has written for the Historic Reno Preservation Society for nearly 20 years.
The proposed demolition of the houses was about more than the buildings, she said: “It was the context of the whole university neighborhood as part of the university’s history.”
The university opened an application process to historic-home lovers. Interested parties who would undertake moving them would be granted the opportunity to save the houses.
“They were so gorgeous. I couldn’t believe they were going to tear them down,” said Beth Krug, who toured the houses with her husband, Jerry.
Enamored with the old buildings, they saved two of them.
The Krugs, who own a paving company, have renovated many houses before. But never a historic one, let alone two.
“God only knows” why they chose to tackle such a large project, Beth said with a laugh.
Because for the Krugs and Jahn, the projects have taken much longer than planned.
In 2019, Jahn estimated it would take about six months to renovate the house he moved to West Taylor Street, next to his own residence.
Three years later, he’s barely scratched the surface.
Working on necessary repairs, like the roof and gutters, supersedes fun work, like the interior, Jahn said.
“It’s been a lot of nitty gritty,” he said. In fact, he’s so far behind the schedule he envisioned he jokes that his house “would make a great ghost hotel at this point.”
He isn’t sure when the house will be ready for occupation again, but that’s beside the point — at least to Jahn.
His goal is to conserve the historic features of the house using salvaged materials from other old houses.
Craftsmanship that’s hard to find these days
The Krugs relocated the two houses they saved to 2520 Plumas St. and 741 Lander St. Both houses were so large they needed to be sliced in half horizontally to facilitate the move and reassembled at their new locations.
The houses had been used as student housing, and when the Krugs acquired them, they were chopped and subdivided into many small rooms and compartments, making restoration work challenging.
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They haven’t started restoration work on the Lander Street house yet, but they plan to subdivide it into three apartments: A three-bedroom, two-bedroom and studio. A single detached house in the back will also be remodeled.
But the house they moved to Plumas Street had most of its original leaded glass, hardware and woodwork covered with layers of white paint that took about four months to remove. That house features original built-in cabinets, a three-sided fireplace and an intricately carved banister.
“The craftsmanship," Beth said, "you don’t see it anymore."
‘An unbelievable amount of permits’
That craftsmanship is something that attracted the Gilberts when they saved the Gateway District’s Humphrey House.
Now standing on the corner of Arlington and St. Lawrence avenues, the 1907 house is an example of an Asian bungalow, and there aren’t many those still standing, according to Nancy Gilbert.
In addition to architectural style, the house has sentimental value to the Gilberts. Tim’s great-uncle bought the house in 1917, and the family-owned it until 2001.
The university acquired the property in 2008. For a decade, it stood alone, surrounded by a tall iron fence. But Tim wrote a letter to the university, highlighting his family’s history with the house. In 2018, the Gilberts were granted the house.
Moving it the following spring was no small feat.
Even with its expansive front porch removed, the house still weighed 96,000 pounds, heavier than the weight many local bridges can support. The move took between six and eight months of planning, more than $100,000 and “an unbelievable amount of permits,” Nancy said.
After the house was settled on its new foundation in a formerly vacant lot in Reno’s Newlands District, it was like a giant puzzle to take the interior of the house apart, restore it piece by piece, and reassemble it, Nancy said. She has decades of experience restoring old houses, and the energy she puts into each project is immense.
Now, the Humphrey House is the first of the relocated UNR Gateway houses to be habitable. It now serves as a rental unit.
The goal was to update the house while preserving its architectural integrity. The roof and siding are new, as are some of the windows, but inside, she sourced antique tile, fixtures and other household pieces from contacts throughout the country.
“This whole project probably makes no financial sense. But it’s a part of Reno history,” Tim Gilbert said. “It gives me satisfaction that we saved part of Reno, one bungalow at a time.”
Amy Alonzo covers the outdoors, recreation and environment for Nevada and Lake Tahoe. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.