Reno's Lake Mansion was completed in 1877 for one of the area's prominent families. It was later owned by Reno founder Myron Lake and other important families in Reno's history. Washington Jerome "Rome" Marsh, a wealthy rancher and land developer, and his wife Maria (or "Ria") bought land on the northwest corner of South Virginia Street and California Avenue from Lake for $375 in June 1876, and built the house for their seven children at this location over the next year.
Architect John S. Sturgeon designed the two-story white house. Its architectural style is Italianate with pronounced moldings, decorative "eyebrows" over the windows, and recessed doorways. Sturgeon built a widow's walk, or a railed platform, on the hipped roof.
Built of redwood, the original symmetrical eleven-room house contained about 2,376 square feet. A veranda wrapped around three sides of the building, and a twenty-six-foot, one-story addition provided space for a kitchen and storeroom. The original house had no running water. The master bedroom was located on the main floor behind the library to the right of the entry hall, with four more bedrooms upstairs.
The Marsh family lived in the mansion for three years before selling the house to Lake for $5,000 in November 1879. Following Lake's divorce from his first wife, Jane, in 1881 and his subsequent death in 1884, ownership passed to Jane and their son, Charlie. In November 1888, Jane and her family moved into what is now known as the Lake Mansion.
Jane modernized the mansion, adding indoor plumbing, a telephone, and wall-to-wall carpeting. She enclosed the veranda outside the dining room to create a conservatory (sunroom). In March 1902, Jane sold the mansion for $1,000 to Tina and Carl Otto Herz, a prominent Reno family since April 1885.
After a succession of owners, Home Savings & Loan acquired the property, which it planned to demolish to erect a bank. But Jane Lake's granddaughter, Amy Gulling, rallied Renoites to save the house, and the bank agreed to donate the building to the Washoe Landmark Preservation Inc. In July 1971, this group moved the house to the Centennial Coliseum site (now the Reno-Sparks Convention Center) at South Virginia Street and Kietzke Lane, where the house remained for thirty-three years. During that time, VSA arts of Nevada, rented part of the house. VSA arts is a nonprofit entity that offers arts programs to children and adults, focusing on people with disabilities or who are disadvantaged or at-risk.
When the Reno-Sparks Convention Center needed to expand, it gave the mansion to VSA arts, which moved it on July 11, 2004, to 250 Court Street. VSA Arts restored the building and now offers affordable, open-to-the-public workshops and art camps at this new location. VSA arts received several awards for historic preservation and adaptive reuse of the building.
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