Pioneer Theater-Auditorium

When the Pioneer Theater-Auditorium was completed in December 1967, it was going to be named the Apollo Theater. Instead, the golden-domed building came to be called the Pioneer Theater-Auditorium after the statue of a pioneer family that stands in the front plaza. The statue, entitled HUMANITY, was created by the sculptor Byron S. Johnson in 1939 and had been at the old State Building, which was demolished in 1966 to make way for the theater.

In the 1960s, Reno and other cities across the country were actively building facilities for the performing arts, and halls to accommodate and attract the growing convention industry. The Pioneer Theater-Auditorium was intended to serve both purposes; however, a political dispute arose over the location--downtown or to the south of town. The problem was resolved by building two separate facilities: the Centennial Coliseum (the current Reno-Sparks Convention Center) south of Reno and the Pioneer Theater-Auditorium downtown at 100 S. Virginia Street.

The Pioneer Theater-Auditorium was designed by the Oklahoma City architectural firm of Bozalis, Dickinson, and Roloff, which had designed other domed buildings. The Pioneer features a gold-anodized aluminum geodesic dome comprised of 500 panels. The roof is a dome within a dome—an exterior aluminum dome and a steel frame dome on the interior. The steel frame dome supports the catwalks, sprinkler system, and the lobby ceiling. The dome was erected by Temcor, a Torrance, California, company that later built the dome at the Silver Legacy Hotel Casino.

The selection of a geodesic dome, the brain child of the architect, designer, inventor, and futurist Richard Buckminster Fuller, shows the confidence with which Reno undertook the process of cultural development. In the mid-1960s, local government officials looked forward to Reno's future with unbounded optimism and they were willing to make a radical choice for the new theater. William Gravelle, the chairman of the Washoe County Fair and Recreation Board, brought the idea for an aluminum dome convention hall before the board in 1964, calling it "revolutionary and beautiful in appearance."

When it was completed, the Pioneer Theater-Auditorium received an enthusiastic response from Nevada public officials, for both its architectural style and the role that it promised to play as a focal point for the community. To the community, the theater, now called the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, has become an important performing arts venue featuring Broadway shows and other performances. As far as an appreciation for its architectural style goes, it is commonly, albeit lovingly, referred to as “the Golden Turtle.”

Images

Artist's concept

Artist's concept

The geodesic dome was conceived by Richard Buckminster Fuller as an efficient and economical means to enclose a large space, based on Buckminster Fuller's observation that the triangle is the strongest shape in nature. View File Details Page

Groundbreaking, 1966

Groundbreaking, 1966

Groundbreaking ceremony for the Pioneer Theater, June 28, 1966, prior to the demolition of the State Building it supplanted. Members of the Washoe County Fair and Recreation Board are manning the shovels. Right to left: J.C. "Specs" McKenzie, representing Washoe County, Clarence Thornton, representing the City of Reno, Howard F. McKissick, Sr., representing Washoe County and John Chism, representing the City of Reno. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Cornerstone Ceremony, 1967

Cornerstone Ceremony, 1967

The "Cornerstone Ceremony" for the Theater Auditorium was held on November 12, 1967. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Pioneer Theater, ca. 1975

Pioneer Theater, ca. 1975

In the 1970s, the Pioneer Theater Auditorium presented everything from community theatrical productions to the Miss Nevada pageant. Image courtesy of Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Fraternity photo op, 1985

Fraternity photo op, 1985

The dressed-up men of Tau Kappa Epsilon strike a pose in front of the Pioneer Theater in 1985. Photo by Mitch Kagan for the Artemisia yearbook. Image courtesy of University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries View File Details Page

Golden Turtle, 2000

Golden Turtle, 2000

The geodesic-dome Pioneer Theater-Auditorium is known locally as "the Golden Turtle." The pioneer statue lends the building its formal name. Photo by Max Chapman View File Details Page

Geodesic dome, 2014

Geodesic dome, 2014

The geodesic dome is the Pioneer's distinctive architectural feature. Photo by Alicia Barber View File Details Page

Pioneer Center and Post Office, 2014

Pioneer Center and Post Office, 2014

Standing alongside the historic downtown Post Office building (to the left) the Pioneer Center helps to anchor one of Reno's most impressive architectural districts. Photo by Alicia Barber View File Details Page

Street Address:

100 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

“Pioneer Theater-Auditorium,” Reno Historical, accessed June 26, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/70.
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