Filed Under Architecture

Luella Garvey House

The first Nevada building designed by Paul Revere Williams was for a wealthy Pasadena divorcee.

This site is part of the Architecture of Paul Revere Williams tour. Visit the Tours page for the tour introduction and a complete list of sites.

In 1934, Luella Rhodes Garvey commissioned the African American architect Paul Revere Williams to design the most expensive house ever built in Reno up to that time, on a parcel in its most fashionable neighborhood. Williams had already earned the sobriquet “architect to the stars” for his work in Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills near Los Angeles, and Garvey's house was his first Nevada project.

Garvey had undoubtedly learned of Williams while a resident of Pasadena, where she had lived for decades with her husband, manufacturing magnate Clayton H. Garvey, until his death in 1925. In the years to follow, she had a short-lived marriage to a man named William Schupp, who she divorced in Reno in 1927. She appears to have lived in both Reno and Los Angeles for several years after that, finally deciding to make a permanent home in Reno in 1934.

With a price tag of $40,000, Paul R. Williams designed her a white, two-story Classical Revival-style duplex with French Regency accents and landscaping that cost a quarter of the cost of the entire project. Williams drew on his signature California architectural features in both halves of the duplex, which included open balconies with ornamental iron railings, an elaborate entry staircase with iron work and carved wooden details, window seats, and French doors. The master suite had a small, vine-covered porch with views of the extensive landscaping. Further tying the interior luxury to the luxuriant garden was brick-paved interior courtyard and patio.

Following Mrs. Garvey’s death in 1942, Mr. and Mrs. Nathan “Nick” Abelman bought the house. Abelman was a Nevada gaming pioneer who went to Goldfield in 1906, during the height of the mining boom there. In Goldfield, Nick Abelman operated clubs and casinos, moving to Tonopah in 1913 where he became associated with Bill Graham, James McKay, and George Wingfield. In 1927, George Wingfield, who had become Reno’s most powerful businessman, urged Abelman to come to Reno. Over the next two and a half decades, Nick Abelman operated a number of prominent Reno gambling establishments.

Nick Abelman died in 1951, and his widow, June, stayed in the house on California Avenue until December 1978, when it was purchased and converted into a single home. Although the building has been updated and renovated it remains true to Williams’s original design. With the exception of the conversion of a patio into a parking space and the loss of some of the surrounding wall, the house looks much today as it did when Mrs. Garvey first entered the front door.

Credited as the first Paul R. Williams residence in Reno, the Garvey House is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and the Nevada State Register of Historic Places.

Images

Luella Garvey House, 2021
Luella Garvey House, 2021 The Luella Garvey House in 2021 when the commercial tenant was a pediatric wellness center. Source: Google Maps Date: 2021
Under construction
Under construction The Garvey house was under construction by June 1934. According to the caption, the house would cost about $40,000 and the landscaping another $10,000. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: June 23, 1934
National Register
National Register The west elevation of the Luella Garvey House, listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2004, shows the connection between the house's two sections. The house and grounds fill three city lots. Source: National Register of Historic Places nomination form Creator: Mella Rothwell Harmon Date: 2003
Luella Garvey House
Luella Garvey House A view of the house in March of 2022 shows the ironwork painted a powder blue. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2022
An elaborate balcony
An elaborate balcony The wrought iron detailing on the Garvey House has been identified as representing the Regency style. This elaborate balcony, however, has a certain French flavor. Source: Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis Creator: Sam Brackstone
The porch
The porch The Garvey House is in general a Colonial Revival style house, but delicate foliated wrought-iron porch supports replace the classical columns typical of the style. Source: Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis Creator: Sam Brackstone
Wrought iron detail
Wrought iron detail Despite problems being accepted by the local construction community, Williams established a relationship with Andrew Ginocchio of Reno Iron Works for the elaborate wrought iron detailing on the Garvey House. Source: Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis Creator: Sam Brackstone
A graceful gate
A graceful gate This graceful wrought iron gate ties together the Regency style elements and the landscape design of the Garvey House. Source: Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis Creator: Sam Brackstone
An integrated landscape
An integrated landscape Following his first year of a three-year course of study at the Los Angeles atelier of the Beaux-Arts Institute of Design, Paul R. Williams took a job with the landscape architect Wilbur D. Cook. Under Cooks' tutelage, Williams learned the importance of integrating landscape with architectural design. Source: Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis Creator: Sam Brackstone
Paul Revere Williams
Paul Revere Williams A portrait of the architect, Paul Revere Williams. Source: Lear Theater, Inc.
View of entire front facade
View of entire front facade A view from across California of the entire length of the Luella Garvey House. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2022

Location

599 California Avenue, Reno, NV

Metadata

Mella Rothwell Harmon, “Luella Garvey House,” Reno Historical, accessed April 12, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/114.