Exploring 4th Street and Prater Way Online

Alicia Barber, Ph.D

[Harolds Club patriarch Raymond I. “Pappy” Smith purchased Cremer’s Motel in the early 1950s, thoroughly renovated the property, and reopened it as Harolds Pony Express Lodge.  Photo courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries.]

When I began to interview small business owners, neighborhood residents, and city representatives about Reno’s 4th Street back in 2011, I had no idea that  more than three  years later, I would be announcing the launch of a multimedia digital feature dedicated to the history of 4th Street and its companion street in Sparks, Prater Way.

And yet here we are! The new site, housed on the ONE at 4thprater.onlinenevada.org, is one component of an innovative and multi-pronged history project spearheaded by the Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County (RTC) in partnership with Nevada Humanities and other local and state organizations including the Nevada Historical Society, the Special Collections Department of UNR Libraries, and the Sparks Museum & Cultural Center.

It all began with a planning study. The rich heritage of the 4th Street-Prater Way corridor—formerly the route of the Lincoln Highway and U.S. 40 and a longtime home to small businesses of all kinds—inspired the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) to make its history and culture a key component of their planned corridor improvement efforts.  

Since the completion of the interviews, conducted by me and a team of graduate students from UNR (and transcribed with assistance from Nevada Humanities), the project has continued to expand.  In addition to the online feature, the public can view historical displays in the RTC’s main transit stations in Reno and Sparks and explore 4th Street on the Reno Historical app and website, renohistorical.org.

Still in development are a Prater Way tour on the Sparks Historic app (operated by the Sparks Museum & Cultural Center) and designs for eight historically-themed transit stops, to be located along the busy thoroughfare.

Visitors to the project’s website can read oral histories from 40 individuals (and counting!) with ties to the corridor and listen to audio clips from their interviews.  A six-part historical narrative features historical slideshows and links to relevant entries on Reno Historical and the ONE.

The result is a tapestry of individual experiences, woven together into a diverse cross-section of American life. Just as exciting is the role that the project is already playing in revitalization and placemaking efforts in the area. I invite you to explore the site and the corridor for yourself, and I think you’ll quickly see what makes this project and its participants so special. From lumberyards and streetcars to iron works, schools, and mid-century motels, this corridor is a landscape of labor and love, and it is an honor to help bring its story to life.