It would be difficult to identify a building in Reno with greater architectural, historical, and cultural significance than what we know today as the Lear Theater. Completed in 1939 as the First Church of Christ, Scientist, the elegant structure has graced the north bank of the Truckee River at 501 Riverside Drive for more than 80 years. And yet its story has become one of repeatedly dashed hopes for its renovation and revitalization.
The building is back in the public eye today after years of inactivity with the announcement that the building's owner, the nonprofit organization Artown, is considering a new proposal to restore it. This therefore seems an opportune moment to help the community understand what makes this building so significant, what protections are in place to preserve that significance, and what any new plan for it should keep in mind.
The history of the building and its architect, the brilliant Paul Revere Williams, have been documented extensively. This feature is dedicated to explaining the various issues related to historic preservation of this important historic and architectural landmark. Related documents are available on this website.
The current proposal that Ken Krater has brought to Artown makes the renovation of the theater dependent upon several other permanent alterations to the surrounding landscape that would directly impact the public. The plan would require permanently banning vehicles from the segments of Ralston Street and Riverside Drive that curve around the front and side of the Lear Theater, all the way from the intersection of Ralston and West 1st Street to the intersection of Bell Street and Riverside Drive. This would allow for his team to construct a new multi-story luxury apartment building on the section of riverfront where Ralston Street now runs, between the Lear Theater property and Bicentennial Park.
At this time, the specific plans for the historic building itself have not been made public. While we wait for the specifics of the plan, we are making available the elements that should go into the decision and any plan.
Our main goal is not to rehash the basic history of the Lear and the story of Paul Revere Williams. Rather, we want to educate people about what's needed to responsibly preserve the building.