November 18, 2008

Such Is Life! Harold's Club's 1949 Silver Dollar Buick Super Estate Wagon

harlolds_club_wagon2_life.jpg harolds_club_buick3_life.jpg

Google just opened a high-res archive of all the photos from Life magazine, and it's pure surfing gold. But the first awesome thing I found was silver.

Harolds Club in Reno was the first themed casino in the world, and for a while, it was also the largest. Harold Smith, the son who ran the gaming side, gave the place a Wild Western theme, which ran from the billboards to the wagon-woven carpet to the Silver Dollar Bar, which had a bourbon waterfall and over 2,000 silver dollars embedded in the curving countertop. Then for the 1949 expansion, to celebrate the opening of the Roaring Camp Room, Smith created the Silver Dollar Buick Super Estate Wagon.


Harold covered the top-of-the-line Buick with silver dollars, 430 of them, to be exact. Except for the odd parade or promotional appearance, the car enjoyed pride of place at the entrance to Harold's Club for years.

Sometime in 1949, Life photographer Michael Rougier shot a whole series of pictures of Smith and his brand new Buick. The rich, black & white images dominate the Life search results for "station wagon." I contemplated the fantastic car, clad all in engraved silver. Which just so happened to match my grandfather's silver dollar belt buckle. What if they were a set? Maybe Grandpa had lost the Buick in a card game, but Harold refused to take the buckle, letting him leave Reno with his head and pants high. I must reunite them, obviously. It's my destiny.


Yeah, well. A few minutes into my quest, I found the color postcard image above, which had a caption describing the hand-tooled leather that overlaid the mahogany paneling. For some, compelling evidence against my set theory, but I'm still not convinced. I'm wearing the buckle right now. The whereabouts of the Harold's Club Silver Dollar is unknown.

Harold's Club's Fancy Station Wagon, Life 1949 []
history of Harolds Club, which was finally torn down in 1999 []
A pristine 1949 Buick Roadmaster Estate Wagon, which had four side vents, not three, like the Super []


Wow. Just, wow.

I love the lighting on that picture of him looking through the window. Photographers: how is that done? I never see lighting like that anymore, but it seems pretty common in 40s era photos.

The gentleman in the first photo is my grandfather, Raymond Stagg, who worked for Harold's Club for several years. Among many occupations, he too, was a photographer.

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