Teri Vance: Wungnema House featured as Carson City ornament

Jason Gardner competes in the newspaper toss during the End of Bike Week Party on Friday evening in McFadden Plaza.

Jason Gardner competes in the newspaper toss during the End of Bike Week Party on Friday evening in McFadden Plaza.

The trademark stone masonry seen around the capital city will be immortalized in this year’s Carson City ornament.

The Wungnema House, managed by The Foundation for Carson City Parks and Recreation, will be featured on the annual ornament. The tradition began in 2002 by The Downtown Redevelopment Citizens Committee as a way to highlight historic and unique buildings.

“It was designed as a tool to get people downtown and to get them into businesses,” said Stan Jones, who owns the Purple Avocado — where the ornament is sold — with his wife, Sue.

The Wungnema House is situated in Mills Park and opened on occasion to visitors.

According to the city’s website, the Wungnemas, a family of Hopi stonemasons, built the 1,000-square-foot house shortly after World War II.

Burton Wungnema and his father Earnest, who came to Carson City to teach masonry at the Stewart Indian School, and Burton’s wife Pearl (Talas), built the house on what was then the eastern edge of Carson City.

Burton and his wife met as students at the Stewart Indian School.

Although Burton died shortly after his 29th birthday in May 1956, Pearl and her eight children continued to live in their home until the 1970s when they moved to a larger house. Pearl passed away in 2001 at the age of 75. After nearly two decades of neglect, the house was acquired by Carson City, restored, and opened for a variety of public uses in December 2000.

Reporter Susie Vasquez wrote about the opening for the Nevada Appeal.

She spoke to some of the many family members who were in attendance.

“It was a second home, not just for us but for the whole family,” niece Pam Thompson, said, noting Aunt Pearl always kept everyone well fed and comfortable, no matter how many showed up. “Everyone would come here to play, and it was always a good place to be.”

Son Vern remembered how he loved the solitude of the place.

“There was a lot of peace and quiet. No one was out here,” he said, noting the house was the site of many family gatherings, and the children spent hours playing outside and in nearby Tillie Creek.

According to the city’s website, “The Wungnema House is representative of the striking masonry work seen in churches, homes and other structures built by Burton, his father, and his brother around Carson City, Washoe Valley, Reno and Lake Tahoe from 1925 to 1955.”

The stone used by the family was quarried from multiple locations along the Carson River. The exact sites are unknown.

The fireplace inside the home contains a cut-stone representation of clouds, lightning, and rain, which together form the symbol of the Hopi Water Clan.

The hearth was crafted from Kanab Wonderstone.

Past years’ ornaments have been the Foreman-Roberts House, Central School, Laxalt Building, Nevada State Mint, St. Peter’s Church, Bliss Mansion, Capitol, St. Teresa of Avila Church, Governor’s Mansion, St. Charles Hotel, V&T Depot, First Presbyterian Church, First United Methodist Church and the Civic Auditorium, the Children’s Museum of Northern Nevada, the Nevada State Prison and the Brougher-Bath Mansion.

Ornaments can also be purchased at the Purple Avocado, 904 N. Curry St.; Carson City Chamber Artisan Shop, 1900 S. Carson St.; Nevada Legislature Gift Shop, 401 N Carson St.; and the Nevada State Museum, 600 N. Carson St.

Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at terivance@rocketmail.com.


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