Explore Reno’s Little Italy – did you know we had one?

5/3/2010 - By: Claudene Wharton

Anyone who has been in Reno for a short while soon discovers the city’s rich Italian heritage, with many Italian names in our community. What many people don’t know is that the beautiful historic neighborhood located just north of the Truckee River between Keystone and Arlington Avenues was largely built and populated by Reno’s Italian-American community, making it Reno’s own Little Italy. The area, named the Powning Addition for founder C.C. Powning, is the first neighborhood to be designated a Conservation District by the City of Reno.

An exhibit featuring the history of the Powning Addition is free and open to the public 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays this month at the McKinley Arts & Culture Center, 925 Riverside Drive, Reno. The public is also invited to a free opening reception of the exhibit 5 to 7 p.m., this Friday, May 7.

“May is National Preservation Month, making this a perfect time to explore this lovely historic neighborhood by the river,” said Alicia Barber, a history professor at the University of Nevada, Reno and director of its Oral History Program.

The exhibit, cosponsored by the University and the Historic Reno Preservation Society, was designed and curated by graduating senior and history major Drew Gerthoffer as part of a Museum Training internship offered by the University’s history department. Titled “An American Dream in Little Italy: Work, Play, and Geography in the Powning Addition,” the exhibit focuses on the Italian-American community that once dominated the neighborhood, which dates back to the 1880s.

Gerthoffer, who wrote his senior thesis on Reno’s Italian-American community, said he used to live in the neighborhood and noticed the older buildings and architecture. He found out that it was a Conservation District and did some research, finding that many of the homes were “craftsman bungalow” style.

“Many of the residents ordered plans from catalogs and then constructed the homes themselves, or with the help of a couple of Italian-American contractors in town,” Gerthoffer explained. “They shared the same plans and just changed them a bit to suit their needs, so many of the homes look very similar.”

Through a combination of photographs, maps, oral histories, artifacts and newspaper clippings, Gerthoffer shows the jobs that residents held, the games they played, and the long-lasting impact they had on the look and feel of this distinct ethnic neighborhood.

“One of the most fascinating things I found was the resourcefulness of the Italian immigrants,” he said. “They came here with almost nothing and were able to create new lives for themselves, helped each other, and created a real community spirit.”

For more information on the exhibit and reception, contact Alicia Barber at (775) 682-6466 or barber@unr.edu. For more information on the Historic Reno Preservation Society, visit Historic Reno. A list of preservation-related activities can be found at nvshpo.org.


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