Designed by the local architect George Ferris in 1909, the McKinley Park School was the first to be constructed of the so-called "Spanish Quartet," four single-story Mission Revival style schools built in Reno in the early 20th century. The schools represented a growth spurt in the city of Reno and were highly praised at the time of their construction for their modern convenience and technology, as well as their potential to serve as community focal points.
The use of Mission Revival style has been attributed to the preference of the school superintendent at the time, B. D. Billinghurst, who was enamored of Spanish architecture. However, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction reported to the legislature in 1915 that mission architecture was chosen as it "is especially adapted to one-story buildings," and he added "there is nothing better for school purposes than one-story buildings. The one-story plan eliminates the stair climbing so destructive to the nervous strength of pupils and teachers, and also renders danger from fire impossible."
The school derived its name from the park that predated it on the same site. The City of Reno established McKinley Park on the north side of the Truckee River, bordering Riverside Drive, in 1902. It was named for U.S. President William McKinley, who was assassinated in September of 1901. Two hundred shade and ornamental trees were planted on the grounds in 1903, and today many of those trees remain standing, retaining the original park-like feel.
The stucco-surfaced school is U-shaped with a central open court and an arcade sheltering the main entry. A two-story central tower stands at the base of the U, with a one-story wing extending behind it. The school has undergone rehabilitation and now serves as the City of Reno's Arts and Culture Center, which is open to the public. The rehabilitation effort was supported through grant funds from the National Park Service's Historic Preservation Fund.