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. Paul Revere Williams, widely recognized as the most important African American architect of the 20th century, designed it. And yet, the building's story has become one of repeatedly dashed hopes for its renovation and revitalization. As ownership of the building transfers from Artown to the City of Reno, this seems an opportune moment to increase community awareness of what makes this building so significant, what protections are in place to preserve it, and what any new plans for it should keep in mind.
Dr. Alicia Barber is a writer, historian, and educator who specializes in the cultural history and landscapes of Nevada and the American West and collaborates statewide on public history projects through her consulting firm, Stories in Place. She is the author of Reno's Big Gamble: Image and Reputation in the Biggest Little City and an e-newsletter about Reno city development called The Barber Brief.