A portrait of Reno’s Racist past – Newlands Terrace covenants in detail

“That no person of African, Japanese, Chinese, or any Mongolian descent shall be allowed to purchase or lease any real property in said Newlands Terrace.”

The monument in memory of Francis G. Newlands in Newlands Park in Reno, NV. Citizens are calling for removal of the memorial and renaming the park and adjacent street, Newlands Circle - photo: Brian Bahouth/the Ally

On June 7, 1921, Jesse E. Smith, fiscal agent for the Newlands Corporation, sold a lot near the intersection of California and Arlington avenues in Reno to Fred and Neva Newmarker for $10.00 in gold coins, paid in-person. In order to buy the land, the Newmarkers had to sign a set of covenants intended to reflect the aesthetic of a popular urban planning movement of the time along with overt racist language to prevent non-white land ownership or occupancy.

Francis G. Newlands, founder of the Newlands Corporation, was a man of many accomplishments and a noted white supremacist.

He married the daughter of Virginia City silver magnate and US Senator from Nevada William Sharon. Newlands ultimately moved to Reno after his wife died and he remarried.

Reno, NV circa 1908. The undeveloped Newlands Terrace is in the foreground – photo: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division

Newlands was a member of the US House of Representatives from Nevada’s “at-large” district from March 4, 1893 to March 3, 1903. As a congressman, Newlands called for repeal of the 15th Amendment to the US Constitution, a move that would have rolled back voting rights for Black men.

Also while in Congress, according to numerous accounts, Newlands secretly acquired land outside the nation’s capital and developed it along with a rail car system to support the new community he founded of Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Newlands built a mansion in Reno on the bluff overlooking the Truckee River in 1889. The structure was reportedly a solitary building amid sagebrush. Soon other patricians would build opulent houses on the ridge overlooking the Truckee  to include US senator from Nevada and business partner George S. Nixon.

Congressman Newlands authored the environmentally controversial Newlands Reclamation Act of 1902.

According to a City of Reno historical assessment, Newlands formed the Newlands Company in 1903, a real estate development firm based in Reno. At first, Newlands and partners subdivided and developed the land adjacent to Newlands’ home in Rio Vista Heights, Riverside Heights and then the Marker Tract.

map: the City of Reno

According to the City of Reno’s historical assessment, Newlands intended to emulate the City Beautiful movement, an aesthetic he also used to guide the design of Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Well before zoning laws and building codes in Reno, Newlands Corporation rules created Reno’s most diverse mix of architectural styles, more than 600 unique houses on 171 acres. The covenants ensured parkway spaces, large deciduous trees, and sidewalks in Reno’s first suburb, a planned community officially devoid of non-Whites.

The Newlands Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in January 2017. Explore the district with the interactive map below.

Newlands served as US Senator from Nevada form March 4, 1903 to his death on December 24, 1917. By the time Jesse and Neva Smith purchased their lot from the Newlands Company fiscal agent in 1921, Francis Newlands was dead, but his racist legacy continued in the business practices of the company he left behind.

In keeping with City Beautiful ideals, the covenants Jesse and Neva Smith signed mandated that the owner of the property build a residence.

No retail, liquor, saloon, or place for the manufacture of malt, vinous spirituous liquor, any foundry, blacksmith shop, bakery, undertaking establishments, crematory, hospital, clinic, dispensary, sanitarium, asylum or institution of like or kindred nature, any beer garden, any cattle yard, dog kennels, slaughter house, hog pen, any stable of any kind, any public garage or repair shop, any carpet-beating plant, dying or cleaning works, tannery or public laundry, nor any noxious thing, or noxious trade, or noxious business, nor shall any cattle, horses, mules, hogs, goats or similar livestock be kept, permitted or maintained on the property.

The covenants included a provision to maintain a limited number of dogs, poultry or rabbits, or guinea pigs, provided they are not kept for commercial purposes.

Property Value Minimums

No dwelling shall be erected or maintained upon any lot fronting on California Avenue the cost of which shall be less than the sum of $4,000.00.

No dwelling shall be erected or maintained upon any lot fronting on any other streets in Newlands Terrace the cost of which will be less than $8,000.00.

Any garages or out houses erected or maintained upon any lot in Newlands Terrace must not be erected or maintained at a sum less than $500.00.

According to the covenants, any building plan had to be approved by the fiscal agent for the Newlands Corporation, Jesse Smith.

Overt Racism

Twenty-five words in the covenants prohibited non-Whites from owning or occupying land in the Newlands Terrace neighborhood.

That no person of African, Japanese, Chinese, or any Mongolian descent shall be allowed to purchase or lease any real property in said Newlands Terrace.

In the covenants, the racial criteria for ownership or leasing was followed by threats for non-compliance.

If any of these covenants are violated or broken, the estate and property hereby conveyed shall instantly and thereby revert to the said granter, its successors or assigns, and all right, title, or estate of said grantee, his heirs or assigns, shall thereupon fully terminate.

Exactly when the racist covenants were dropped from Newlands area property transactions is unclear. Municipal building codes and zoning laws gradually superseded the demands of the Newlands Company. The federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits discrimination concerning the sale, rental and financing of housing based on race, religion, national origin or sex. The Fair Housing Act was enacted a week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Calls to Erase the Public Memory of Francis G. Newlands

Today in Newlands Park on California Avenue there is a memorial to Francis G. Newlands. Over the weekend, a protest dance party was held in the park around the monument. Protesters left 2 dozen burnt white roses behind and informally called on elected leaders to  change the name of the park and adjacent street and to remove the monument that reads:

In Memoriam
Francis Griffith Newlands
In The Wilderness Shall
Waters Break Out And
Streams In The Desert.
The Desert Shall Rejoice
And Blossoms As The Rose.
Mountains And Hills Shall
Break Forth Before You
Into Singing And A Highway
Shall Be There And A Way
For Wayfaring Men. The
People Shall Dwell In
Quiet And Assurance
Forever.

Brian Bahouth edits the Sierra Nevada Ally and has lived in Reno’s Old Southwest since 1999. Support his work.