El Reno Apartments (original site)

In 1936, the architect Paul Revere Williams, who had completed at least two commissions in Reno by that time, designed two houses for the illustrious California House and Garden Exhibition. One was a French cottage, and the other was a three-room “Steel House.” The steel house employed modern materials in such a way as to look traditional. From a distance, the steel walls looked like wood, and the interior wall treatment suggested painted wood paneling.

The use of steel in home construction had been experimented with since 1890. It had proven to be too expensive for the average home buyer, however, until the Los Angeles company, W.C. Lea, Inc., invented and patented new processes for manufacturing pre-fabricated steel components that could be shipped to any location and constructed on-site. The company employed the eminent Paul R. Williams as their consulting architect. In a July 1936 L.A. Times advertisement, Paul Williams declared, “If you can buy a home of any kind, you can buy a Lea Steel Home!”

With Reno’s housing market continuing to boom, Roland Giroux, known as “Joe,” developed a complex of small detached apartments at 1307 South Virginia Street, between Arroyo and Pueblo streets, on what was then the edge of town. Giroux’s intent was to attract Reno’s transient work force, tourists, and the ubiquitous divorce-seekers. Named the El Reno Apartments, the complex consisted of 15 Lea Steel homes. Each unit was furnished and fitted out with the latest of Westinghouse kitchen appliances, metal kitchen cabinets, comfortable and efficient floor plans, decorative exteriors, and all the benefits of steel buildings: permanence, as well as resistance to fire, termites, dry rot, and earthquakes.

Construction was quickly completed by local workers, who poured concrete foundations and assembled the pre-fabricated sections that had come from the factory. All that was needed was finishing work, anchoring the components to the foundation, and building the roofs. Outside and in, the units looked like traditional construction, but closer examination revealed everything was steel.

The El Reno Apartments were popular through World War II, after which a raise in the rent forced tenants to find other lodgings. Within a few years, the complex was no longer sustainable and the units were sold off individually; most were moved to other locations around town. The little houses have retained their distinctive bay windows, spurring a local activity of trying to identify El Reno units. As many as 13 of the original 15 have been found so far.

Images

Typical El Reno apartment

Typical El Reno apartment

The El Reno Apartments consisted of fifteen units such as this one. The majority of them have been relocated and reused. View File Details Page

An early photo

An early photo

This photograph was taken by a traveling salesman from Oregon who found the El Reno Apartments sign an interesting subject for his camera. Image courtesy of Mella Harmon View File Details Page

A cluster of El Reno units

A cluster of El Reno units

At the corner of Lander and Mt. Rose streets. This photograph clearly shows the charming elements the architect Paul Revere Williams included in the design. Photo by Sam Brackstone, 2010. Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis View File Details Page

Attention to detail

Attention to detail

Every bit of the El Reno units was pre-fabricated and essentially modular. The decorative metal porch trim was characteristic of Paul Revere Williams's designs. Photo by Sam Brackstone, 2010. Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis View File Details Page

New lives for the apartments

New lives for the apartments

When it was moved, this El Reno unit was placed over a basement. From a distance the siding looks like wood, but in fact it is sheet metal treated to look like wood. Photo by Sam Brackstone, 2010. Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis View File Details Page

Modularity

Modularity

With each piece prefabricated, it was easy for a builder to snap everything together and have a finished unit in short order. Photo by Sam Brackstone, 2010. Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis View File Details Page

Video

Architecture for the masses

Excerpt from a video on the architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed the El Reno Apartments, the Lear Theater (originally the Church of Christ Scientists), the Loomis Manor apartments and Garvey residence in Reno, along with homes for movie stars and other well-known buildings. | Source: Exploring Nevada: Paul Revere Williams | Creator: Exploring Nevada television series, produced by the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs View File Details Page

El Reno Apartments - Exterior features

Excerpt from a video on the architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed the El Reno Apartments, the Lear Theater (originally the Church of Christ Scientists), the Loomis Manor apartments and Garvey residence in Reno, along with homes for movie stars and other well-known buildings. | Source: Exploring Nevada: Paul Revere Williams | Creator: Exploring Nevada television series, produced by the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs
View File Details Page

El Reno Apartments - Interior features

Excerpt from a video on the architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed the El Reno Apartments, the Lear Theater (originally the Church of Christ Scientists), the Loomis Manor apartments and Garvey residence in Reno, along with homes for movie stars and other well-known buildings.
| Source: Exploring Nevada: Paul Revere Williams | Creator: Exploring Nevada television series, produced by the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs
View File Details Page

Kitchens in the El Reno Apartments

Excerpt from a video on the architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed the El Reno Apartments, the Lear Theater (originally the Church of Christ Scientists), the Loomis Manor apartments and Garvey residence in Reno, along with homes for movie stars and other well-known buildings.
| Source: Exploring Nevada: Paul Revere Williams | Creator: Exploring Nevada television series, produced by the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs
View File Details Page

Street Address:

1307 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Mella Harmon, “El Reno Apartments (original site),” Reno Historical, accessed May 30, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/8.

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