Filed Under Entertainment

Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts

Originally called the Pioneer Theater-Auditorium in 1967, the performing arts center is topped by a spectacular geodesic dome.

When the Pioneer Theater-Auditorium was completed in December 1967, it was going to be named the Apollo Theater. Instead, the golden-domed building came to be called the Pioneer Theater-Auditorium after the statue of a pioneer family that stands in the front plaza. The statue, entitled HUMANITY, was created by the sculptor Byron S. Johnson in 1939 and had been at the old State Building, which was demolished in 1966 to make way for the theater.

In the 1960s, Reno and other cities across the country were actively building facilities for the performing arts, and halls to accommodate and attract the growing convention industry. The Pioneer Theater-Auditorium was intended to serve both purposes; however, a political dispute arose over the location--downtown or to the south of town. The problem was resolved by building two separate facilities: the Centennial Coliseum (the current Reno-Sparks Convention Center) south of Reno and the Pioneer Theater-Auditorium downtown at 100 S. Virginia Street.

The Pioneer Theater-Auditorium was designed by the Oklahoma City architectural firm of Bozalis, Dickinson, and Roloff, which had designed other domed buildings. The Pioneer features a gold-anodized aluminum geodesic dome comprised of 500 panels. The roof is a dome within a dome—an exterior aluminum dome and a steel frame dome on the interior. The steel frame dome supports the catwalks, sprinkler system, and the lobby ceiling. The dome was erected by Temcor, a Torrance, California, company that later built the dome at the Silver Legacy Hotel Casino.

The selection of a geodesic dome, the brain child of the architect, designer, inventor, and futurist Richard Buckminster Fuller, shows the confidence with which Reno undertook the process of cultural development. In the mid-1960s, local government officials looked forward to Reno's future with unbounded optimism and they were willing to make a radical choice for the new theater. William Gravelle, the chairman of the Washoe County Fair and Recreation Board, brought the idea for an aluminum dome convention hall before the board in 1964, calling it "revolutionary and beautiful in appearance."

When it was completed, the Pioneer Theater-Auditorium received an enthusiastic response from Nevada public officials, for both its architectural style and the role that it promised to play as a focal point for the community. To the community, the theater, now called the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, has become an important performing arts venue featuring Broadway shows and other performances. As far as an appreciation for its architectural style goes, it is commonly, albeit lovingly, referred to as “the Golden Turtle.” It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Nevada State Register of Historic Places, and Reno Register of Historic Places.


A community venue
A community venue In the 1970s, the Pioneer Theater Auditorium presented everything from community theatrical productions to the Miss Nevada pageant. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: ca. 1975
Architectural rendering
Architectural rendering The geodesic dome was popularized by Richard Buckminster Fuller, who described it as an efficient and economical means to enclose a large space, based on his observation that the triangle is the strongest shape in nature. An architectural rendering was created in 1966 to show the community what the completed building would look like. Creator: Bozalis, Dickinson, and Roloff Date: 1966
Groundbreaking, 1966
Groundbreaking, 1966 Groundbreaking ceremony for the Pioneer Theater, June 28, 1966, prior to the demolition of the State Building it supplanted. Members of the Washoe County Fair and Recreation Board are manning the shovels. Right to left: J.C. "Specs" McKenzie, representing Washoe County, Clarence Thornton, representing the City of Reno, Howard F. McKissick, Sr., representing Washoe County and John Chism, representing the City of Reno. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1966
Cornerstone Ceremony
Cornerstone Ceremony The "Cornerstone Ceremony" for the Theater Auditorium was held on November 12, 1967. Source: Special Collections, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Date: 1967
Fraternity photo op
Fraternity photo op In a photo published in UNR's Artemisia yearbook, the dressed-up men of Tau Kappa Epsilon strike a pose in front of the Pioneer Theater in 1985. Source: University Archives, University of Nevada, Reno Libraries Creator: Mitch Kagan Date: 1985
Golden Turtle
Golden Turtle The geodesic-dome Pioneer Theater-Auditorium is known locally as "the Golden Turtle." The pioneer statue lends the building its official name. Creator: Max Chapman Date: 2000
Geodesic dome
Geodesic dome The geodesic dome is the Pioneer's distinctive architectural feature. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2014
Pioneer Center and Post Office
Pioneer Center and Post Office Standing alongside the historic downtown Post Office building (to the left) the Pioneer Center helps to anchor one of Reno's most impressive architectural districts. Creator: Alicia Barber Date: 2014


100 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV


Mella Rothwell Harmon, “Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts,” Reno Historical, accessed June 20, 2024,