Ready to get to know the Biggest Little City in the World one flashing bulb at a time? There’s no better first stop than the iconic Reno Arch. Situated in the heart of downtown Reno at Virginia Street and Commercial row, visitors will find the third iteration of this Reno landmark flashing in all its silver and blue glory, standing sentinel over a part of downtown that teems with history while hinting at an urban future that looks radically different from the past.
History of the Reno, Nevada Sign
When we talk about the historic Reno Arch, we’re actually talking about a series of arches that have graced the entrance to the city since the 1920s, welcoming travelers and promoting the Biggest Little City in the World. It all began on October 23, 1926, to coincide with the completion of the Victory and Lincoln Highways (which, in Nevada now follow the paths of I-80 and US-50, respectively). Reno held a legendary party where, according to eyewitness accounts, all the free food and whiskey one could drink was offered to locals, visitors, and dignitaries alike over the course of three days. While the festivities aimed to promote the Nevada Transcontinental Highway Exposition, the centerpiece of the celebrations was the arch itself, which officials decided was worth keeping permanently.
To accompany the new landmark at Virginia Street and (now) Commercial Row, a contest was held to give Reno a new slogan, with “The Biggest Little City in the World” taking top honors, thanks to an entrant from Sacramento. The idea of the sign and the slogan would both eventually stick, but not before a few transformations.
Phases of the Reno Arch
The original Reno arch greeted visitors with the “Biggest Little City” moniker from 1926 until residents tired of it in 1934, when it was swapped out in favor of a more minimalist neon sign simply reading “Reno” in green neon. There it stood for the next 29 years when it was relocated to Idlewild Park before being retired to safe storage and replaced in 1963 with “Biggest Little City” restored. The 1963 steel arch would be replaced in 1987, when it was given to the city of Willits, California for a new chapter in its history. Meanwhile, the original 1926 sign was reassembled as a prop in the 1994 baseball biopic “Cobb” starring Tommy Lee Jones. Residents felt a sense of nostalgia for the old sign, so it stayed, and is currently located on Lake Street near the Renaissance Reno Downtown Hotel and Bill Harrah’s National Automobile Museum.
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Modern Day Arch
By 1987, residents and visitors once again found the Virginia Street sign dated, so a new one was commissioned and unveiled to great fanfare. It originally brightened the cityscape with red, white and yellow bulbs, but in 2017 the City Council voted to change its colors to silver and blue in honor of the University of Nevada, Reno’s Wolfpack sports teams. Through the years, it has been featured in many movies, including Waking Up in Reno, the cult classic Kingpin, and Sister Act—the latter of which boasts its own commemorative plaque, bolted right onto the arch itself.