Filed Under Education

McKinley Park School

The first of Reno's four Mission-style elementary schools opened in an existing park in 1909.

Designed by the local architect George Ferris in 1909, the McKinley Park School was the first to be constructed of the so-called "Spanish Quartet," four single-story Mission Revival style schools built in Reno in the early 20th century. The schools represented a growth spurt in the city of Reno and were highly praised at the time of their construction for their modern convenience and technology, as well as their potential to serve as community focal points.

The use of Mission Revival style has been attributed to the preference of the school superintendent at the time, B. D. Billinghurst, who was enamored of Spanish architecture. However, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction reported to the legislature in 1915 that mission architecture was chosen as it "is especially adapted to one-story buildings," and he added "there is nothing better for school purposes than one-story buildings. The one-story plan eliminates the stair climbing so destructive to the nervous strength of pupils and teachers, and also renders danger from fire impossible."

The school derived its name from the park that predated it on the same site. The City of Reno established McKinley Park on the north side of the Truckee River, bordering Riverside Drive, in 1902. It was named for U.S. President William McKinley, who was assassinated in September of 1901. Two hundred shade and ornamental trees were planted on the grounds in 1903, and today many of those trees remain standing, retaining the original park-like feel.

The stucco-surfaced school is U-shaped with a central open court and an arcade sheltering the main entry. A two-story central tower stands at the base of the U, with a one-story wing extending behind it. The school has undergone rehabilitation and now serves as the City of Reno's Arts and Culture Center, which is open to the public. The rehabilitation effort was supported through grant funds from the National Park Service's Historic Preservation Fund. The building is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was listed in the Reno Register of Historic Places in 2000.


Beautiful school on the river A detail from an early panoramic view of Riverside Drive shows the new McKinley Park School with its new landscaping and fresh pavement. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: T.H. Wohlbruck
A pastoral scene The rural setting of the school in its early years is confirmed by this view of a horse grazing near school grounds. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries
Seventh Graders, 1913 McKinley Park School seventh graders pose in front of its stucco arches in 1913. On the far right in the top row is William Caughlin of the local Caughlin ranching family. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: T. C. Wohlbruck Date: 1913
Unfinished landscaping, ca. 1915 Stylish adults stroll in front of the McKinley Park School, ca. 1915. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: ca. 1915
A Reno showpiece With its lovely architecture and peaceful riverfront setting, the McKinley Park School was clearly a source of great civic pride. Source: Dick Dreiling
Aerial view, 1920s A view of McKinley Park School in the 1920s shows the bank of the river in the foreground and the surrounding homes of the tree-lined Powning Addition. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1920s
Winter Scene, 1920s A hand-tinted postcard of McKinley Park School from the 1920s depicts a frosty winter day. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1920s
First graders, 1945 A first grade class poses on the side steps of the McKinley Park School in 1945. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1945
McKinley Arts and Culture Center Renovated in 1999, the former McKinley Park School has been renamed the McKinley Arts and Culture Center to befit its new civic use, but retains its original sign. Source: City of Reno, Historical Resources Commission
Post-renovation, 2004 Encompassing the city block bounded by Riverside Drive, Vine Street, Jones Street, and Keystone Avenue, the former school, depicted here in 2004, still boasts its historic charm and verdant setting. Creator: Max Chapman Date: 2004


925 Riverside Drive, Reno, NV


Mella Rothwell Harmon, “McKinley Park School,” Reno Historical, accessed September 30, 2023,