Architect Mercedes de la Garza came to Reno in 1995. She quickly became involved in community issues, such as the destruction of the Mapes Hotel and construction of a Beverly Hillbillies casino.
What are you working on these days?
I’m working on several projects. One is a renovation/preservation of a DeLongchamps home. I’m working on modernization/addition to a Raymond Hellman house, and I’m doing the preliminary concepts for Morrill Hall. That’s the oldest building on the [UNR] campus. And I have a bunch of new construction on the boards—all very exciting projects.
In one-sentence descriptions, explain who Frederick DeLongchamps and Raymond Hellman were.
Frederick DeLongchamps was an architect that did a lot of buildings in the Western states that were of a fair significance, such as the [Washoe] courthouse, Auburn courthouse, post office [in Reno] and a number of houses. Raymond Hellman—I don’t know a lot about him, but I do know he did a lot of work locally. For instance, the Planetarium and a number of very modern, progressive homes.
Morrill Hall used to be the entire University of Nevada. What’s happening to it?
They did a renovation in the mid-'70s, and at that time, it brought it essentially from near-crumbling to a usable building. They brought it up to a level of utility. But it’s not a really nice building on the inside. And so now we’re coming back, and we’re really making it a gem on the campus.
When I was in high school, a national group called Reno a “cultural wilderness.” How would you describe Reno?
I would call it quirky first. I think that’s a really great word. I think [Reno] certainly has become more culturally progressive. I would agree with that comment—cultural wilderness—when I first arrived … but it’s significantly different. At that point, it was on the fringe. It was either going to go terrible, or it was going to go in the direction that it’s currently going.
What are the positive developments?
Some of the younger generation is coming back or moving or staying here, and it’s helping the community be more culturally diverse as well as sort of hip and progressive. The Artown [festival] that Karen Craig brought to our community was tremendous, and the belief that the people had in the art community at that time, I think, really turned this town around.
Did good things come out of the loss of the Mapes?
Yes, absolutely. It really tended to bring the historic community together. Everybody was out there. They just didn’t know the other person was out there. I think everybody was amazed at how much interest there was and that people were interested in the same things that they were interested in. It was a sad thing the building went, in some respects. But it was also great to see it bring people together. Whether they were for the keeping of the Mapes or not, it really brought people’s interests to a peak as to what they think is important for this community and what this community should be built around. … The Mapes building was certainly a martyr in that whole process, but the Riverside was an example of a success.
You’re a working mother. Do you ever have trouble juggling?
Oh, yes, I do, but it’s interesting. One of the things I’ve learned is that being a parent has helped me be a better time manager. You learn that you really don’t need all that much sleep. And you actually don’t miss as many things as you thought you would miss. It’s probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but it’s worth it.
Do you ever have misgivings about coming to Reno?
Not one bit. I miss my family in Texas, but the people here are wonderful.