Scene In Passing: Sweeping Carson changes weren’t in a vacuum

A downtown facelift and traffic shift about a half century in the formative stages is firming up for Carson City.

In light of that, it’s time for people opposed to accept reality, stop acting like the runup is recent history, and for those among the proponents who preen over their roles to look at the sweep of history rather than crow about recent events. My first chance to see Carson City came in 1970, 45 years ago this summer. Though I knew nothing of it then, the likelihood of what is transpiring soon downtown was already on some peoples’ minds here.

It was just a year earlier Carson City had absorbed Ormsby County, so to speak, moving to consolidated county-city status and setting the stage for growth. Nevada’s capital had been a sleepy burg of under 10,000 in a backwater state of 800,000 or so. Today the city is more than 50,000, the state some 2.5 million, and both are on the cusp of more growth.

As Nevada’s former state archivist put it in Myth No. 114 preserved in the archives he formerly oversaw, dreams or nightmares about a bypass freeway on the city’s east side — the catalyst for today’s inevitable changes downtown -- were harbored a dozen years before my first visit to Carson City. Guy Rocha wrote the myth destroying essay to knock down any idea the bypass hasn’t been more than a half century in the making.

“A visionary general planning study for Carson City, published in April (of) 1958, proposed a parkway around the east end of the city and a ring road,” wrote Rocha, the former archivist. He also reported a proposed master development plan in October of 1964 included an “Eagle Valley freeway” that most city business representatives and some residents protested vigorously.

Among the protestors, according to Rocha’s research in part relying on the Nevada Appeal, was one William Crowell, Sr., an attorney, who as it happens was the father of Robert Crowell, the city’s current mayor.

Today’s mayor says back then, “we owned” a former bank building that over the years morphed into the Horsehoe Club at 402 N. Carson St. The mayor’s dad was among the vocal opponents of a freeway and it was deleted from the plan then. It was gone from that document but far from forgotten.

As Rocha put it: “The Carson City Comprehensive plan published in 1972 referred to previous master plans calling for a freeway bypass.” But that 1972 report noted traffic volumes needed to justify freeway construction were some years away. “By 1980, Carson City’s population had reached over (sic) 32,000, and Washoe County to the north and Douglas County to the south were experiencing significant growth and development.”

More to the point, according to Rocha’s Myth No. 114, “Carson City officials and its city manager now called for a bypass.”

“It’s been percolating for 50 years,” the current mayor of the capital city now says. He embraces reality, wants downtown change to deal with it, and all but dismisses talk during the intervening 50 years what to do about downtown when the freeway came wasn’t on the minds of local planners, elected officials and residents.

He says, in effect, the impact on the downtown core and what to do has been cussed and discussed, analyzed and planned for because you can’t ignore the freeway’s implications.

“I guess you could if you lived in a vacuum,” he offered with what sounded like droll sarcasm. So if an opponent or proponent thinks one recent organization or private sector voice has been the impetus behind the imminent downtown makeover, he or she undoubtedly is living in the vacuum between his or her own ears.

John Barrette covers Carson City government and business. He can be reached at


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