The Southside School Annex was built in 1936 through a grant provided by the Public Works Administration (PWA), one of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs initiated during the Great Depression. The Southside School had been built in 1903 to accommodate a growing student population. A small fire station located on the property was converted into additional school space in 1918 as the town continued to grow. By 1935, the Reno School District recognized the need for more space and applied to the PWA for construction funding. Once funding was approved, construction began in 1936.
The auxiliary building, as it was originally called, was designed by the architect Lawrence Gulling, the grandfather of noted interior designer Bruce Goff, in the Art Deco architectural style. The red-brick school’s most striking feature is the two-story stepped and recessed terra cotta frontispiece surrounding the entrance, which is angled to face the corner of Liberty and Sinclair streets. Other decorative elements are in owl and floral motifs rendered in terra cotta.
The building was designed to house the kindergarten program on the first floor and an auditorium upstairs. The quality of construction was high throughout the building and interior design elements include a stunning fireplace in the kindergarten room surrounded with tiles depicting the Old King Cole fairy tale. The tiles were made by the prominent Arts and Crafts tile maker, Ernest Batchelder of Los Angeles.
By the late 1950s, Reno was expanding and the demography of the downtown area was changing. In response the school district traded the land under the Southside School for a large parcel in the suburban area. Several plans for the property were considered, but in 1959, the Reno City Council voted to place a new city hall on the site. In 1960, the old Southside School building was demolished and new city hall opened in 1965. The Annex, as it had come to be known, was converted into city offices and then leased to outside organizations.