After the demolition of the Carnegie Free Public Library, the Reno branch of the Washoe County Library was housed in the Nevada State Building, which by the mid-1960s, was slated for demolition to make room for the Pioneer Theater and Auditorium. The newly established Fleischmann Foundation offered the library $1.2 million for the construction of a new building, and after a lengthy struggle, and the near loss of the donation, the city signed a 99-year lease on several parcels on South Center Street in December 1963. In June 1964, the Nevada State Journal reported that the county had approved the plans for the new library, and had issued requests for construction bids. The architect Hewitt C. Wells, of the firm DeLongchamps, O'Brien and Wells, submitted the winning design, which offered many unique interior features.
Wells designed the 43,000 square-foot building around an enclosed and covered garden court. Reading areas and the multi-tiered book stacks look out on the interior garden, which includes large trees and a pool. Access to the main circulation desk is by a bridge that crosses the landscaped area. Reading and staff areas, lecture rooms, cataloging, and the loading areas for the county's two bookmobiles were included in the original design, which offered a capacity of 186,000 volumes. The front façade of the library is a large copper and glass screen that reflects the curvilinear plan of the interior court. Through the brick work and the use of copper, Wells maintained unity with the Reno City Hall, located diagonally across Center Street, which he had recently designed. Wells’s city hall building now houses the Terry Lee Wells Nevada Discovery Museum.
The library opened to the public on May 13, 1966. The dedication ceremony and an open house were held on May 22 with more than 700 people coming to view the exquisite and daring design. It was not long before Hewitt Wells was honored for his artistry. He received the Industrial Landscape Award from the American Association of Nurserymen for his interior use of hundreds of plants, shrubs, and trees gracefully arranged in huge iron planters along walkways of stones and mica schist. America’s First Lady, Mrs. Lyndon B. Johnson, presented the award as part of her Beautify America campaign.
The Downtown Branch Library is in use today and was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2013.