NoeHill Travels in the American West: Nevada

National Register of Historic Places in Washoe County

National Register #83001117:  William J. Graham House in Reno 15 March 2016
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National Register #83001117
William J. Graham House
548 California Avenue
Built 1928

This Tudor Revival house was built in 1928 for William J. Graham, a major figure in the history of Nevada gaming. Graham and his wife lived here until they died there in 1965 and 1968, respectively.

Graham's gaming career began at age eighteen in Tonopah, where he ran the Big Casino Club. In 1922, he and lifelong business partner James McKay bought and operated The Willows, which became nationally known as a gathering place for the divorce colony in Reno. Later, Graham and McKay established the famous Bank Club in downtown Reno.

The notorious Stockade red light district was built in 1923 by the Riverside Securities Company, of which Graham and McKay were the principal stockholders. The Stockade was in business until World War II, even after 1938 when Graham and McKay were convicted of mail fraud. Senator McCarran obtained a full pardon for Graham from President Harry Truman.

Graham and McKay also were prominent bootleggers in northwestern Nevada and they promoted famous prizefights, including the 1931 Baer-Uzcudun Reno fight, in partnership with Jack Dempsey.

When Robert Leland bought the house and its contents from the Graham estate in 1969, remnants of Graham's many interests were still in the house: a champagne glass etched The Willows, bootleg liquor and the makings, sawed-off shotgun holsters, photographs of prizefights and racehorses, marked ballots for the 1926 general election, cards suspiciously arranged by face value rather than in decks, and much more.

Source: Adapted from the NRHP nomination form submitted in 1983.

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