Abraham Zetooney was a near penniless immigrant in 1912. En route to Los Angeles he stopped in Reno and never left. He saved enough money to build the fashionable El Cortez Hotel and died a millionaire.
Born in Damascus, Syria in 1893, Abe Zetooney immigrated to New York at the age of 19 with a few dollars in his pocket. He peddled, sold oriental rugs, waited tables, learned English, and wended his way West, briefly residing in New Jersey and Wyoming, with a stop in Reno in 1919 that became permanent. He designed and manufactured elegant women's clothing at his Silk and Linen Shop on West First Street before moving his business to the Vogue, in the Zetooney Building on Second Street between Center and Virginia Streets.
He married London-born Rae Abrams in 1925. Zetooney's business thrived, allowing him to secure a substantial loan to build the seven-story Art Deco-style El Cortez Hotel in 1931. In that year the state legislature legalized gambling and reduced the residency requirement for divorcees to six weeks. The modern El Cortez was ready to receive the influx of visitors. Zetooney immediately leased the property to three local Bulasky brothers, who added a casino and the Trocadero nightclub.
Zetooney parlayed his hotel and casino lease receipts into real estate investments, which proved lucrative. He was an active member of the local B'nai B'rith lodge and several civic and fraternal organizations. Both he and his wife were generous supporters of Reno's Temple Emanu-El. He died unexpectedly after a brief illness in 1949. Zetooney left an estate in excess of $1 million to his widow, two children and other relatives in Reno, Syria, Israel, and Argentina. His lasting legacy, the El Cortez Hotel, earned a listing on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.