Victorian Square in Sparks, Nevada: a public plaza with no public

Early on an autumn morning I walked around Sparks (contiguous to Reno) a bit, just the area around the Nugget casino. The Nugget is about the biggest thing in this low-rise town; the original casino and one of its newer hotel towers are pictured below.


Across the thoroughfare is what seems to be an extensive public area, called Victorian Square,


with a bandshell-like gazebo.


But alas, the constantly-flowing music comes from speakers mounted on the lightpoles, and the only other living creatures I saw were a man picking cans out of a garbage bin, and a lonely pigeon.


The lack of pigeons emphasized to me the lack of public use, since wherever people congregate outdoors for any period, pretty soon they start dropping bits of food. When pigeons can’t find any reason to flock around, then the area is really unused.

But there was a sundial showing the correct time, just in case you’d hocked your watch and lost the money the night before.


If I’d been there a month earlier, on a Thursday between 4 and 9 pm, I could have caught this event:


The sign promises a “family activity park”––whatever can that be? Probable answer: one without “adult activities” like drinking and gambling. (I’m so behind the times, when the TV tells me a movie contains “Adult themes” I always have a micro-instant of thinking, Oh, it’s going to be about philosophy, or honoring one’s commitments, or solving world problems.) Anyway, as far as I could see the plaza itself included no play structures, no kid-sized statuary of animals to swarm over and sit on, no tile chess boards, no fountains, no picnic tables, few green areas to sit by…in fact for a while it seemed designed with the idea of clearing a defensible space around the casino where machine guns could command an open line of fire. Or it may be a disembarkation place for gamblers arriving by bus from California.

Along the edges there were a few survivors of the older buildings that must have been cleared for this big paved plaza area. One was the Victorian Penny Park Casino, closed.


And an old brick building, maybe a former hotel, with a vivid exterior including painted roses under the windows.


Looking back toward the Nugget I spotted these women: a few other wanderers who’d gotten bored and turned to stone? no, it’s a really incongruous effort at public statuary.


I didn’t cross the street for a closer look, but a good guess would be that they are either four of the muses, or figures representing Nevadan history and industry. The two female figures in the middle seem less than pleased: one gathers her skirts up as if recoiling from her surroundings, while the other has a melodramatic “You’re breaking my heart” look. The third is holding something bulky to her stone bosom, probably part of the day’s take from the casino, while the last (on the left) stands erect, leg akimbo, and has thrown back her outer garment. Her I can place, with the aid of a taxi sign seen later; she’s inviting you to the world-famous, umm, museum that is nearby.


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