First Church of Christ, Scientist

Lear Theater

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 a town traditionally known for “sinful” institutions, it should not go unnoticed that between 1870 and 1950, downtown Reno had a total of 24 churches. The First Church of Christ, Scientist, which began with a congregation of just four members, was one of them.

In the late 1930s, as its congregation continued to grow, the First Church of Christ, Scientist sought to construct a new building. Luella Garvey, a wealthy widow from Southern California who had moved to Reno a few years earlier, donated funds to help them purchase a new site on the north bank of the Truckee River, at the corner of Ralston Street and tree-lined Riverside Drive.

The building committee, chaired by Anna Frandsen Loomis, interviewed several architects, and selected African American architect Paul Revere Williams for the project. Also known as "the architect to the stars," Williams had first achieved fame in Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood, and had designed Garvey's Reno residence on California Avenue in 1934.

The church was designed in the Neoclassical Revival architectural style and constructed with great attention to detail. Some of the architectural details include columns and pilasters, a double-curved portico, and side-window pediments. The main auditorium could hold up to 600 individuals. Side rooms included a nursery and a caretaker’s apartment. The entire construction including furnishings cost $140,000.

The building was used to hold church services from its completion on October 22, 1939, until the congregation built a new church and moved its services to that location in 1998. For fear of losing such a valuable piece of history, Moya Lear, a devout member of the church and widow of aviation developer Bill Lear, purchased the building and donated it to the nonprofit Reno-Sparks Theater Coalition in 1998. She hoped that the coalition would preserve the history and integrity of the building while promoting arts and education within the community. In Lear's honor, the building was renamed the Lear Theater, and in 2005 the coalition that owned it was renamed Lear Theater, Inc.

The cause received numerous major grants and donations, but still failed to achieve its goal of renovating and opening the theater. In 2011, the non-profit corporation gave the Lear Theater and two other nearby properties to Artown, a non-profit organization that hosts Reno’s month-long arts and events celebration each July. In September 2021, the Reno City Council approved the City of Reno's purchase of the building and adjacent parking lot from Artown for a total of $875,000, to be paid in installments over seven years. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the Nevada State Register of Historic Places, and the Reno Register of Historic Places, the building remains vacant, its future yet undetermined.

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501 Riverside Drive, Reno, NV