The early history of the creation of the business that ultimately lead to the well known casino landmark of the El Capitan, as it is known today, has been quite adventurous and eventful.
Staring back in the year 1928, a large framed building was moved from the Lucky Boy area to Hawthorne where it became the home of the Mineral Bar.
Through circumstances, this venture was short lived. Later in 1933, this building became the first home for the Mineral County Independent newspaper.
A Hawthorne gentleman by the name of Mike Gallo, was the operator of the Hawthorne Club, located on the west side of E Street, acquired the Mineral Bar in 1935.
To expand his business, Gallo enlarged the building so gaming and dancing could be offered in addition to the restaurant and bar. The new establishment became known as Gallo’s Inn.
During this era, Gallo had a hotel constructed across the alley from the Inn, with the front facing F Street. All the hard work and dreams of Gallo went up in smoke on May 9, 1942, when the bar, hotel and an adjacent building, the Masini Store, caught fire and were completely destroyed.
As reported by the Independent-News, the fire started about 3:10 Saturday morning. It was the third time fire had struck Hawthorne in less than 24 hours, and was the largest and most damaging since the great fire on July 2, 1926, when almost the entire business and some of the residential district was leveled.
The fire apparently started by a lighted cigarette or match being thrown into a receptacle for waste paper in the restroom at Gallo’s Bar; the flames enveloped all of that part of the rest of the bar building before being discovered. While an alarm was being sounded, employees of the restaurant and bar threw buckets of water in an attempt to check the spread of flames.
Despite the early hour, the town volunteer fire department soon was in action and for a time appeared to have the fire checked and confined to the bar room. But when the flames reached the large stocks of liquor they spread quickly, enveloping the north half of the Gallo building and aided by a light wind, ate their way into the Masini building adjacent on the south.
The fire did not stop Gallo however, and he had a new building constructed facing F Street and a grand opening was held on June 20, 1942.
About five months later, Gallo sold his holding to a Reno investment firm. They in turn, leased the property to two San Francisco men who had opened a bar in the city known as the El Capitan. This is where the El Capitan got its name.
During the next 20 months, at the peak of the World War period, many operators tried to operate the bar, dinning and gaming facilities, some of them local Hawthorne men.
In 1944, Barney O’Malia of Hawthorne, along with the Smith Brothers (Gordon and Lindsey) from Gabbs, took over and bought the property as well as the ‘going business’.
To offer more services to their customers, Barney instituted hourly drawings for $5 from noon until midnight, dancing, four tables for craps and 21, with bets up to $50.
Café hours were instituted from 6 a.m. to 3 a.m. daily. You could get Midnight Mulligan for 50 cents until 2 a.m. In addition, the Café could handle parties from two to one hundred people and ‘lunches to go’ were offered.
At the end of World War II, the El Capitan began opening their doors 24 hours a day 7 days a week. To relate this message “WE NEVER CLOSE” was posted.
With the wide range of sports minded enthusiast, several sporting activities were initiated:
• Free Nylons with Jackpots and wire service for sportsman betting on football games.
• In 1947 Bingo Blackout games were offered.
• A Country Store was added.
• The El Capitan urged residents to join the roping club and the outboard motor club.
• In 1949 the Walker Lake Cutthroat and Bass Derby was started. This program expanded into the Super Cutthroat Derby in 1954.
In 1950, Barney built the Shamrock Room, which took up the greater portion of the basement. This included a cocktail lounge, banquet room and a show room. The room featured a fireplace made of native Nevada stone. Four years later the Shamrock Room gave way to the demand for a large entertainment room and resulted in a lounge on the south side of the building at the main floor level.
Expansion continued, adding a new lounge, restaurant, bar, keno center. More room was also allotted for slot machines and table games.
With interest in providing services to everyone, Barney built an arcade on property facing E Street. A barbershop, clothing store, jewelry store and other stores were located in the arcade. In later years, the arcade gave way to an expanded parking lot for the El Capitan customers.
With dreams of providing rooms for travelers and frequent visitors of Hawthorne, in 1955 a motel with twenty rooms at ground level was built. In 1959, a second story was added twenty-six more rooms.
Looking into the future and more expansion to the El Capitan, in 1967 Barney and business partner Woody Loftin bought out the Smith brother’s interest in the El Capitan and a year later a third unit of 12 rooms were added at the ground level on the south side. In 1973, a two-story addition to the motel with 40 more rooms was completed bringing a total of 100 rooms for the motel.
The El Capitan is still, today, a favorite hangout for locals and visitors, alike. Happy Birthday El Capitan. The Independent-News wishes you many more to come!