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4th Street, Prater Way under historical microscope
by Garrett E. Valenzuela
Nov 15, 2013 | 1923 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- A Sparks Tribune newspaper headline from September 1954 discusses Labor Day crowds flocking to Deer Park, a local city location being highlighted by the Regional Transportation Commission through the 4th Street/Prater Way Corridor History Project.
Tribune photo by Garrett Valenzuela -- A Sparks Tribune newspaper headline from September 1954 discusses Labor Day crowds flocking to Deer Park, a local city location being highlighted by the Regional Transportation Commission through the 4th Street/Prater Way Corridor History Project.
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Open house meetings for the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) are not often the place you hear talk of the Coney Island Bar -- Sparks’ fourth-oldest active business -- mentioned in the same sentence as the Pony Express Motel and Highway 40. However, it will be very common for months to come.

The RTC held an open house Thursday for the 4th Street/Prater Way Corridor History Project, a segment of the comprehensive corridor study and multi-modal safety improvements in Reno and Sparks. The process is seeking more public opinion and stories from local residents, who have either witnessed the changes in the corridor or have ideas on ways to improve it.

After a year-long study of the corridor from 2011 to 2012, the RTC sought the help of University of Nevada, Reno professor and historian Alicia Barber and tasked the local consultant to begin digging up the history of the once-dubbed Lincoln Highway.

“One of the things we really wanted to do was not only acknowledge the history of the corridor, but demonstrate how rich the heritage still is and how exciting all the new developments are along the corridor,” Barber said during an interview inside the RTC Centennial Plaza station in Sparks. “It is kind of the perfect combination of history and urban studies.”

While Barber was familiar with Reno and much of 4th Street, she said delving into various historical sights in Sparks has been a highlight of the project. She said recreational facilities such as Deer Park fuse with local businesses like the Coney Island Bar and even Sparks High School to form an extensive Rail City background.

“Along Prater Way there were so many places that were important to residents through time,” Barber said. “We are learning about tourist-oriented places like the Park Motel and the Pony Express Lodge, but also the Park Grocery and the Copenhagen Bar that was originally located next to the Coney Island Bar, where the Interstate goes through now.

“We are highlighting Deer Park in the project as well. I had known very little about it, but I found some of the original newspaper articles when it first had an enclosure for deer, and there would be periodic articles about how the deer had escaped. That’s a really fun history because we traced it from being a very early park for a of couple deer and some housing, and now it is a recreational space since the 1940s when they put in the pool. It is fun to think about how there has been that continuity in that one place for as long as there has been Sparks – and even before.”

Barber said the 4th Street/Prater Way Corridor History Project will involve several multimedia components, including an oral history, historic television and radio clips and photographs, along with first-hand accounts from residents and business owners along the corridor and plaques made for the National Register for Historic Places. She said the information will first be packaged for a mobile app through the cities of Sparks and Reno, then to a website through Online Nevada Encyclopedia. Finally, exhibits and bus shelters along the RTC transit route will feature historic markings.

“We will be looking at the route from the transit center in downtown Reno to the transit center on Victorian Avenue,” Leach said. “We want to increase the frequency of transit and have RAPID stations similar to those on Virginia Street where we can incorporate the history of the corridor through art exhibits.

“We have found there is so much interest in and love for this corridor. It is amazing. A lot of good things are going on and a lot of new developments are coming up, so hopefully this can be a way we can use transportation to spur economic development and to spur more interest in the corridor.”

Leach said the response from the community along Prater Way and 4th Street has been “amazing” thus far and she hopes more residents will chime in with their thoughts for improvement or fondest memories of locations both new and old. She said the project will have much of its design completed in September of 2014, leaving plenty of time for the public to voice its opinion.

Until then, Barber plans to continue her interviewing of Sparks residents, tracking down more information about the historic northern Nevada route.

“It is the best thing you can experience as a historian to talk to people who are so delighted to share what they know. To me, that’s as good as it gets,” Barber said. “Those people can look out the window and tell me how it has changed over time, and because we have those words recorded, anyone who is listening can witness that. I think people will be fascinated with what they find.”

The 4th Street/Prater Way Corridor History Project is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/4thPraterHistory and more information about the entire corridor study and project outlook can be found at 4thprater.com.
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