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Time for a facelift
by Harry Spencer - Tribune Columnist
Oct 17, 2008 | 760 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Tribune/Debra Reid - A roofer works on Reno’s 100-year-old St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in downtown Reno.
Tribune/Debra Reid - A roofer works on Reno’s 100-year-old St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral in downtown Reno.
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Reno’s most iconic church in the downtown area, St. Thomas Aquinas Cathedral at 310 W. Second St., is currently encased in a spider web-like coating as workers seek to rehab the classic red structure and bring it up to code.

For many years the Catholic cathedral and its adjoining grammar school and priests’ rectory were the focal point of church activities in this area. The once old-fashioned interior was designed along the lines of spectacular cathedrals that dot the landscape of every town in Italy. I recall covering masses, priest ordinations and other events when I wielded pen and camera for the Nevada Register, the weekly statewide Catholic newspaper. In those days the bishop for the entire state was Thomas Gorman, a crusty individual of the old school of church rules and discipline.

His successor, Bishop Robert Dwyer, was of a modern cut of cloth and one of his early acts — much to the distress to the older parishoners — was to completely gut the historical interior of St. Thomas and bring in the ultra modern altar and other treatments that it now features.

The current retrofitting to the 100-year-old building is being spearheaded in large part by former Reno Mayor Sam Dibitonto. The fomer mayor was baptized at St. Thomas in 1929 and has served as a eucharistic minister there since the 1960s. Being such a minister, Dibitonto has served Mass, passed the collection plate and performed many other duties. During his stint as mayor he was probably one of the few civic leaders you could catch at City Hall during the week and then see him perform his churchly duties at Sunday Mass.

St. Thomas Grammar school was in operation for 38 years and it was staffed by the Dominican sisters, the same order that ran St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center for many years.

A cornerstone ceremony to commemorate the centennial of the church was held on July 28. The workings of the church have been run by Conventional Franciscans for the past 20 years.

In addition to its faithful parish congregation St. Thomas was the favorite spot for tourists to attend church and many of the pews have been home ot the world famous personages and entertainers that used to descend on The Biggest Little City in its heyday.

Here’s to another century of service for the Grand Dame of Reno churches.

Celebrity corner

An actor who was as famous for his physical prowness as his many leading roles in high-budget films was on the Turner Classic Movie channel the other night in one of his lesser known, black and white films entitled “Shockproof.” The 1949 flick was shot around the first time I met Cornel Wilde, the curly haired swordsman in many Technicolor epics of the silver screen.

In “Shockproof,” Wilde was teamed with a lesser-known actress named Patricia Knight. Wilde played a probation officer responsible for Knight, and he subsequently fell in love with her and the pair “went on the lam” after she shot and wounded her former boyfriend. All turned out well in the end and you could tell the movie was shot on a low budget and in short time.

During the winter of 1949 I made the acquaintance of Wilde when he showed up at the Flying ME divorcee ranch in Washoe Valley on the old 395 Highway. Wilde, who was adept at all major sports — but especially fencing — had a penchant for horseback riding and the Flying ME had a nice string of horses.

Extremely pleasant and engaging, Wilde was the toast of the ranch and an interesting celebrity. He told of how he had gone to Tinseltown in the first place. He was enrolled at Columbia University in New York and was eventually going to become a doctor. At that time Laurence Olivier was starring on Broadway in “Romeo and Juliet” and unfortunately his fencing skills were not up to par so a call was sent out to a local fencing club and Wilde was dispatched to be the instructor. He got along famously with Olivier, who quickly wired some contacts in Hollywood to give the ruggedly handsome Wilde a screen test and the rest is history.

What was most impressive about Wilde at that first meeting was learning that he could speak more than a half dozen languages fluently.

Some 26 years later, when my company was promoting the Clint Eastwood Celebrity Tennis tournament at the Hyatt hotel in Incline Village I came across Wilde’s name on the list of celeb players. Contacting him to appear at Tahoe was a no brainer and he proved to be one of the most enteratining of the two dozen celebrities who competed. The next year we staged the tournament in Las Vegas at the Tropicana Hotel and Cornel was on top of the list of invitees. Over drinks one night at the Trop he confided in me, “You know, I’ve played in dozens and dozens of these things but I’ve never won!” I told him I’d see what we could do. Since the format for celeb tourneys was to pair the star with a tennis pro it was an easy matter to give Cornel the top pro as his partner. Needless to say they walked through the tournament and grabbed first prize.

Following that I used to talk with him frequently by phone but never saw him in person again. The last performance I caught of him was years later, just before his untimely death, as a lead character on a segment of the popular “Murder, She Wrote” TV show.

One of the rare “man for all seasons” in the acting profession.

Harry Spencer is a freelance writer in Reno. His column about the past and present of northern Nevada appears weekly in the Tribune.

Editor’s note: Harry Spencer’s column is sometimes a mix of reporting and opinion. Opinions expressed in his column are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Tribune.
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Time for a facelift by Harry Spencer - Tribune Columnist


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