The Prospectors' Club - History

By Coe Swobe, Club Secretary

When World War II ended in 1945, those who had been prominent and active in Reno were quick to pick up where they had left off before the war and return to their business and professional roles back home. Most everyone belonged to one service club or another, but unlike many other growing communities, there was no unique social organization or club where businessmen could retreat for lunch or other events.

Although Reno was a small community of only 29,000, it's thinking was big! The late Roy H. Bergstrom, a Reno industrialist, and Eddie Questa, the leading local banker, spearheaded a group that began to develop plans for such a club. The club would have only two standing committees... a membership committee and a house committee to plan parties and events. The club would be nonreligious, non-political and non-charitable. The club would not seek recognition nor publicity. It would exist and continue solely for the enjoyment and company of its members and their guests.

In 1946, the new Mapes Hotel began to take shape at the corner of First and Virginia Streets. Space on the top floor, next to what was later to become known as the "Sky Room", was negotiated as home for the new club which was named "The Prospectors' Club".

The new club opened for lunch after a ribbon cutting on January 20, 1948. The first guest to sign the club's guest book and cut the ribbon was then Nevada Governor, Vail Pittman. The first lavish event, a spring party held at the Sky Room, set the grand style for parties and gatherings of The Prospectors' Club for years to come, adding new life to Reno's social spectrum.

As a personal note, in 1948 when I was 19 years old and a student at the University of Nevada, I attended classes in the mornings and worked in the afternoons and on Saturdays at an upscale men's wear store called "Herd and Short" which was located on North Virginia Street across from the Cal Neva Club. Both of the owners, Hugh Herd and Charlie Short, were members of the new Prospectors' Club. In those days most businessmen and professionals worked on Saturdays or at least until Saturday noon. About once a month, one of my bosses would take me to lunch at The Prospectors' Club at the top of the new Mapes Hotel. This was quite an experience for this 19 year old. But what I remember most was that the club served draft beer in ice cold, frosted glasses, and each time you ordered a refill you got another fresh ice cold, frosted glass. This was really great, but may have been the start of my drinking days!

Membership in The Prospectors' Club was initially limited to 200. Roy Bergstrom was named president by acclamation and Eddie Questa was the first secretary. The club's membership was increased through the years to accommodate community growth.

The club reached the membership goal in the mid 1950's, resulting in the beginning of a lengthy "waiting list".

In 1952, The Prospectors' Club moved to the mezzanine floor of the Riverside Hotel, which under new ownership added a facility on the second floor for the organization. The new Riverside owners, Mert and Lou Wortheimer, were associated with the notorious "Purple Gang" from Detroit. The Wortheimers were very pleased that the "cream" of Reno's business community was meeting in their hotel. To show their appreciation, they often flew fresh crab in from the east coast and hosted a crab feed for the members.

However, in 1956, the Riverside Hotel sold again and The Prospectors' Club Rooms were converted into a private card club for high rollers. The private card club failed, but The Prospectors' Club continued to thrive, moving to the Mapes Hotel's mezzanine floor. By this time, the membership was increased from 300 to 320.

In 1968, Bill Harrah incorporated a special facility in his new Reno hotel to accommodate the club. However, Mr. Harrah's hotel wasn't completed on schedule and the club's lease at the Mapes Hotel expired on January 1, 1969, so the club moved temporarily to the Holiday Hotel (the present Siena Hotel) until it moved into the spacious new club rooms at Harrah's in November of 1969.

A move to the "Top of the Hilton" (the Flamingo Hilton) occurred in 1986, as Harrah's insisted that women be allowed as luncheon food servers at the club.

In October of 1990, the club voted to amend it's by-laws to admit women as members. The first women were initiated into the club in 1995. The change allowed The Prospectors' Board of Directors to negotiate a return to Harrah's.

In 2007 and 2008, relations with Harrahs began to deteriorate. Presidents Matt Smith and Mark Elston tried repeatedly and unsuccessfully to meet with Harrahs to obtain their cooperation to redecorate the club rooms, increase food quality and improve communications between the Club and Harrahs. Finally, President Elston, with the support of the Board, began to seriously investigate moving the club from Harrahs. He also requested the Club's attorneys, Bob Enzenberger and John Gallagher, to review the Club's options. Ironically, about the same time the Eldorado Hotel was exploring ways to expand its local market. In the fall of 2008, President David Thompson and members of the Board negotiated a mutually beneficial agreement to move The Prospectors' Club to the Eldorado Hotel and gave notice to Harrahs. The Club moved to the Eldorado on March 27, 2009. The membership of the Club was enthusiastic about moving to the Eldorado, especially since most of the members of the Carano Family, the owners of the Eldorado, were long time members of The Prospectors' Club and were excited about the move. All indications point to a long and happy relationship for The Prospectors' Club in it's new home at the Eldorado Hotel.

The basic reason for The Prospectors' Club's existence remains fellowship as the founders intended. Today members enjoy the company of each other, their guests, and the great parties and events such as the annual Christmas Party, which is the most lavish party in town.

I have only touched upon the highlights of the history of the club. The real history is the club's growth and stability created through the contributions of the members.