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.