First Church of Christ, Scientist

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.

Images

Circa 1945

Circa 1945

The church in its prime. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Paul Revere Williams

Paul Revere Williams

A portrait of the architect, Paul Revere Williams. Image courtesy of Lear Theater, Inc. View File Details Page

Flood of 1950

Flood of 1950

Periodic floods are a drawback to being located on the banks of the Truckee River. The flood of 1950 flooded the basement, and the church lost many historical documents, and damage was sustained to the nursery and basement levels. Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Circa 1965

Circa 1965

First Church of Christ Scientist, circa 1965. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

The back of the church

The back of the church

West elevation, facing northeast, 1999. Photo by Mella Harmon. Courtesy of National Register of Historic Places View File Details Page

Bill and Moya Lear

Bill and Moya Lear

The Lears and their Lear Jet. Widow to the inventor of the Lear jet and often referred to as “Queen Lear,” Moya Lear is responsible for purchasing and therefore saving the building when the church was forced to move because of plumbing and electricity failures. Moya was a dedicated member and Sunday school teacher for 30 years and could not stand to see the building go to waste. She then purchased and donated the building to the arts. Image courtesy of Lear Theater, Inc View File Details Page

Beautiful building, 2003

Beautiful building, 2003

A building worth saving. Photo by Max Chapman View File Details Page

Future promise

Future promise

An exterior photo of the Lear Theater in 2003. Photo by Max Chapman View File Details Page

New stage, 2003

New stage, 2003

Building the stage structure for the theater, view from the auditorium. Photo courtesy of Lear Theater, Inc. View File Details Page

Remodeling, 2003

Remodeling, 2003

Construction to increase the stage and back-stage area. Image courtesy of Lear Theater, Inc. View File Details Page

Entrance, 2008

Entrance, 2008

The Lear Theater entrance, closed for remodeling. Photo by Max Chapman View File Details Page

Entry stair rail

Entry stair rail

First Church of Christ, Scientist/Lear Theater, entry stair rail with empty urn, 2010 Photo by Sam Brackstone. Image courtesy of Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis View File Details Page

Remodeling, 2010

Remodeling, 2010

The lobby of the Lear Theater during remodeling. The carpet has been removed to show the original tile floor. Image courtesy of Reno Gazette Journal View File Details Page

Street Address:

501 Riverside Drive, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Stephani Voshall and Mella Harmon, “First Church of Christ, Scientist,” Reno Historical, accessed March 27, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/63.

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