Searching for Paul Revere Williams in Reno, Nevada

On one of my recent visits to Reno, Nevada, I put aside a morning to visit all the Paul Revere Williams buildings I could find. Williams (1894-1980) is best known for his work in Los Angeles, where he designed hundreds of private and commercial buildings and became an architect for Hollywood, including celebrities like Frank Sinatra. He didn’t just help shape the architecture of LA, he was a pioneer in the profession: Williams was the first African-American member of the American Institute of Architects (in 1923). Earlier this year, Williams was posthumously awarded the AIA’s gold medal, the highest award with in the AIA.

Williams’ reach extended far beyond Hollywood, and included multiple buildings in Reno, Nevada. I searched out four that are still standing: the Loomis Manor Apartments, the El Reno Apartments, the Lear Theater (pictured, top) and the Luella Garvey Residence. Here is what I found:

 

The Loomis Manor Apartments

The Loomis Apartments (1939) are a beautiful example of the Art Moderne style. The decor is streamlined and simplified, including continuous horizontal lines and ribbon windows that are attractive both stylistically and climatically. The apartments were commissioned by Anna Loomis, who also funded the First Church of Christ Scientist (now the Lear Theater). Anna Loomis was a landlord and resident at the Loomis Apartments until her death in 1966.

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The El Reno Apartments

The El Reno Apartments were part of the effort to harness new technology and build less expensive houses. They originally consisted of 15 2-bedroom units made of pre-fabricated steel sections and poured concrete foundations. Several years after construction, the units were sold individually. A majority of them were then moved to other locations. This little enclave of them is on Mount Rose Street, and several appeared to be for sale when I stopped by–a huge preservation opportunity, especially in this age of the tiny house!

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The Lear Theater

The Lear Theater is perhaps the most recognizable of Williams’ Reno buildings. The theater, originally the First Church of Christ, Scientist, is located on the Truckee River just south of Wingfield Park and downtown Reno. The Lear Theater is located on the same street as the Loomis Apartments and the McKinley Park School.

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The Luella Garvey Residence

Like the Loomis Manor Apartments, the Luella Garvey Residence (1934) appears to have stepped straight from Southern California to Reno. Perhaps due to its location on a busy street, the house is somewhat turned in on itself and hidden behind large trees. The residence, originally a duplex, has French Regency touches and was done in the flavor of the Hollywood houses of the period. The long porches and multiple sets of tall, shaded windows that can be opened wide are ideal for sunny Reno summers. The duplex was combined into a single house in the 1970s.

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Sources and Further Reading:

NPR wrote an article in 2012 that includes some photos of LA works: A Trailblazing Architect Who Helped Shape LA.

More information and images of Williams’ works in LA can be found in this article from Curbed.

Society of Architectural Historians on the Lear Theater.

The Paul Revere Williams Project also has text and photographs (including historic ones) for each of these locations: the Loomis Manor, El Reno Apartments, Lear Theater, and Luella Garvey Residence.

Reno Historical also has information on Paul Revere Williams and his Reno buildings.

The Nevada SHPO announcement about Williams’ AIA gold medal award in 2017.

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3 thoughts on “Searching for Paul Revere Williams in Reno, Nevada

  1. I grew up in Pasadena across the street from what looks like a replica of the Garvey house, but given that we also had a cinder block Frank Lloyd Wright and the Green brothers’ Gamble House within walking distance I never paid it much mind. Now it’s going to drive me crazy! I’d love to know who the architect was. Thanks for introducing me to someone who so clearly shaped the LA landscape.

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