Filed Under Residences

El Reno Apartments (original site)

The grouping of 15 prefabricated steel homes designed by Paul Revere Williams opened in 1937.

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 1936, the architect Paul Revere Williams, who had completed at least two commissions in Reno by that time, designed two houses for the illustrious California House and Garden Exhibition. One was a French cottage, and the other was a three-room “Steel House.” The steel house employed modern materials in such a way as to look traditional. From a distance, the steel walls looked like wood, and the interior wall treatment suggested painted wood paneling.

The use of steel in home construction had been experimented with since 1890. It had proven to be too expensive for the average home buyer, however, until the Los Angeles company, W.C. Lea, Inc., invented and patented new processes for manufacturing pre-fabricated steel components that could be shipped to any location and constructed on-site. The company employed the eminent Paul R. Williams as their consulting architect. In a July 1936 L.A. Times advertisement, Paul Williams declared, “If you can buy a home of any kind, you can buy a Lea Steel Home!”

With Reno’s housing market continuing to boom, Roland Giroux, known as “Joe,” developed a complex of small detached apartments at 1307 South Virginia Street, between Arroyo and Pueblo streets, on what was then the edge of town. Giroux’s intent was to attract Reno’s transient work force, tourists, and the ubiquitous divorce-seekers. Named the El Reno Apartments, the complex consisted of 15 Lea Steel homes. Each unit was furnished and fitted out with the latest of Westinghouse kitchen appliances, metal kitchen cabinets, comfortable and efficient floor plans, decorative exteriors, and all the benefits of steel buildings: permanence, as well as resistance to fire, termites, dry rot, and earthquakes.

Construction was quickly completed by local workers, who poured concrete foundations and assembled the pre-fabricated sections that had come from the factory. All that was needed was finishing work, anchoring the components to the foundation, and building the roofs. Outside and in, the units looked like traditional construction, but closer examination revealed everything was steel.

The El Reno Apartments were popular through World War II, after which a raise in the rent forced tenants to find other lodgings. Within a few years, the complex was no longer sustainable and the units were sold off individually; most were moved to other locations around town. The little houses have retained their distinctive bay windows, spurring a local activity of trying to identify El Reno units. Thirteen of the original 15 have been found so far, and one of them, now located at 711 Mount Rose Street, is listed on the City of Reno's Register of Historic Places.

Video

Architecture for the masses Excerpt from a video on the architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed the El Reno Apartments, the Lear Theater (originally the Church of Christ Scientists), the Loomis Manor apartments and Garvey residence in Reno, along with homes for movie stars and other well-known buildings. Source: Exploring Nevada: Paul Revere Williams Creator: Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs
El Reno Apartments - Exterior features Excerpt from a video on the architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed the El Reno Apartments, the Lear Theater (originally the Church of Christ Scientists), the Loomis Manor apartments and Garvey residence in Reno, along with homes for movie stars and other well-known buildings. Source: Exploring Nevada: Paul Revere Williams Creator: Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs
El Reno Apartments - Interior features Excerpt from a video on the architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed the El Reno Apartments, the Lear Theater (originally the Church of Christ Scientists), the Loomis Manor apartments and Garvey residence in Reno, along with homes for movie stars and other well-known buildings. Source: Exploring Nevada: Paul Revere Williams Creator: Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs
Kitchens in the El Reno Apartments Excerpt from a video on the architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed the El Reno Apartments, the Lear Theater (originally the Church of Christ Scientists), the Loomis Manor apartments and Garvey residence in Reno, along with homes for movie stars and other well-known buildings. Source: Exploring Nevada: Paul Revere Williams Creator: Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs

Images

An early photo
An early photo This photograph was taken by a traveling salesman from Oregon who found the El Reno Apartments sign an interesting subject for his camera. Source: Mella Rothwell Harmon
Typical El Reno apartment
Typical El Reno apartment The El Reno Apartments consisted of fifteen units such as this one. The majority of them have been relocated and reused. Creator: Mella Rothwell Harmon Date: 2006
Open for inspection, 1937
Open for inspection, 1937 An advertisement published in the Reno Evening Gazette on August 21, 1937 invites the public to inspect the new El Reno Apartments, and depicts their original arrangement as viewed from South Virginia Street. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: 1937
A cluster of El Reno units
A cluster of El Reno units At the corner of Lander and Mt. Rose streets. This photograph clearly shows the charming elements the architect Paul Revere Williams included in the design. Source: Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis Creator: Sam Brackstone Date: 2010
Attention to detail
Attention to detail Every bit of the El Reno units was pre-fabricated and essentially modular. The decorative metal porch trim was characteristic of Paul Revere Williams's designs. Source: Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis Creator: Sam Brackstone Date: 2010
New lives for the apartments
New lives for the apartments When it was moved, this El Reno unit was placed over a basement. From a distance the siding looks like wood, but in fact it is sheet metal treated to look like wood. Source: Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis Creator: Sam Brackstone Date: 2010
Modularity
Modularity With each piece prefabricated, it was easy for a builder to snap everything together and have a finished unit in short order. These two relocated El Reno Apartment homes are now located on Lander Street. Source: Paul Revere Williams Project, University of Memphis Creator: Sam Brackstone Date: 2010

Location

1307 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV

Metadata

Mella Rothwell Harmon, “El Reno Apartments (original site),” Reno Historical, accessed May 19, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/8.