In a town traditionally known for “sinful” institutions, it should not go unnoticed that between 1870 and 1950, downtown Reno had a total of 24 churches. The First Church of Christ, Scientist, which began with a congregation of just four members, was one of those churches.
In the late 1930s, as membership of the First Church of Christ, Scientist grew, the congregation sought an architect to build them a new church. Luella Garvey, a wealthy widow from Southern California, donated funds for a new building and recommended legendary African American architect Paul Revere Williams for the project. Williams, also known as "the architect to the stars," first achieved fame in Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood. While Mrs. Garvey may have initiated the process, it was Anna Frandsen Loomis, a wealthy and ambitious member of Reno's Christian Science community, who actually underwrote the majority of the costs for the new building.
Located near the banks of the Truckee River, at the corner of Ralston Street and Riverside Drive, the First Church of Christ building was designed in the Neoclassical Revival architectural style and constructed with great attention to detail. Some of the architectural details include columns and pilasters, a double-curved portico, and side-window pediments. The main auditorium could hold up to 600 individuals and was designed to function as a community center. There were also separate rooms for readings, singing, and even a caretaker’s apartment. The entire construction including furnishings cost $140,000.
The building was used to hold church services from its completion on October 22, 1939, until the congregation built a new church and moved its services to that location in 1998. For fear of losing such a valuable piece of history, Moya Lear, widow of aviation developer Bill Lear, purchased the building and donated it to the nonprofit Reno-Sparks Theater Coalition in 1998. She hoped that the coalition would preserve the history and integrity of the building while promoting arts and education within the community. In Lear's honor, the building was renamed the Lear Theater. It closed in 2002. In 2011, Lear Theater Inc., the non-profit corporation that owned the building, gave the Lear Theater and two other nearby properties to Artown, a non-profit organization that hosts Reno’s month-long arts and events celebration each July.