History & Preservation: The History of Stewart Park, Part One

Posted: 2/26/2010 Last Updated: 2/26/2010

 Written by: Kim Roberts


Stewart Park began its recorded life as a gravel and rock pit, dug out of the hillside that still surrounds the park along Wells and Moran Street. It became a refuse dump as Reno expanded south of the Truckee River. This all changed during the Great Depression. When the stock market crashed in 1929, Nevada’s economy, then dependent on banking, transportation, mining and livestock, collapsed. Federal aid poured into the state through the WPA. By 1938 the WPA had paid out approximately $1,600,000 for projects created in conjunction with the city of Reno. The Wells Addition featured prominently in this work. Many streets in the neighborhood were widened, graded and graveled, including Wells Avenue. Roberts Street was lowered by two feet between Wilson and Locust; this is still visible today. Prominent among these projects was the creation of Stewart Park, “transformed from a rubbish heap into an attractive city asset”, according to Reno mayor John Cooper. The grounds were filled and leveled, tiered restraining walls were constructed and filled with plants, sprinklers were installed and a brick restroom built. The tennis courts were the star attraction of the park. The WPA proudly proclaimed that people who could not afford to belong to country clubs could now swim and play in the very places they had built.
During the 1940s and 50s, Stewart Park was among the city’s most popular playgrounds. In 1945 the Reno Recreation Commission started a playground program and designated Stewart Park as a destination for small children, with nearby Pickett Park becoming the playground for larger boys and girls. In 1951, councilmen Marshall Guisti and Edwin Semenza called for a public meeting to upgrade the park, saying it “resembled a miniature golf course with abundant hillcock hazards.” The grounds had settled since the initial excavation of rock and gravel, leaving the lawn very bumpy and uneven. Advertised as a facial and a beauty treatment, serious work was done. During the summer new sidewalks were laid and the walls resurfaced and strengthened, new sprinklers were planned and new roofs were put on the service buildings. A protective fence was planned along Stewart Street. Since the lawn was ripped out in November, the park was converted into a shallow skating rink until new sod was laid the next spring. Lights were erected for nighttime playground use and a future of winter ice skating.

This is an image worth considering. Think about what our park must have been like in the early 50s, well lit and vibrant, full of activity long after sunset, with people out playing late at night even in the cold of winter. This is something we can strive towards as we work to improve our neighborhood; it is a part of the social history of this place that goes far beyond the boundaries or the physical structures, creating a sense of place and community.


Post your comments
Posted by: Barrie - 2/26/2010 6:49:50 PM
This is really great information and perspective. Stewart Park is a great asset to the neighborhood. Thank you Kim for writing the article and finding this great photo!

Return to History & Preservation