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Lear Theater

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First Church of Christ, Scientist
1938, Paul Revere Williams. 501 Riverside Dr.
  • Lear Theater (First Church of Christ, Scientist) (Bret Morgan)
  • Lear Theater (First Church of Christ, Scientist) (Julie Nicoletta)

Paul Revere Williams, the best-known African American architect in Los Angeles, designed this church during the height of the Colonial Revival in the 1930s. The church has a dramatic, rather theatrical entrance under a two-story portico, approached by twin curving stairs with flanking urns. The portico shelters three entrance doors, the central one marked by a pediment. Adamesque as well as Colonial Revival influences can be seen in the extremely attenuated Doric columns and the decorative detailing of the pediment.

Williams's Los Angeles commissions include the Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (designed with Pereira and Luckman and Welton Becket and Associates) and numerous mansions for movie stars and businessmen. He also designed a residence (589–599 California Avenue) in Reno's Newlands neighborhood and the Loomis Manor Apartments, as well as the La Concha Motel in Las Vegas, whose curvilinear lobby has been preserved as part of the Neon Museum.


When the First Church of Christ, Scientist moved to another location, local arts patron and congregant Loya Lear launched a campaign in 1997 to repurpose the building as a medium-sized theater. She had acquired her love of the theater from her father, a Broadway vaudeville performer. Lear donated $1 million, which was matched by the local Theater Coalition. Varous theater groups used the Lear for about a year, while the renovation began. But in 1999 the theater closed, since work was progressing slowly. 


The delicate balance between maintaining historical integrity and providing for the functional needs of a modern theater has proved difficult, and the organization considered four different design proposals between 1999 and 2009. An expanded lobby and rehearsal spaces, part of the original plan, were not feasible due to the historic structure of the building. Moreover, plans for two basement performance spaces were cancelled due to sound leakage and also because the building's location near the Truckee River caused flooding. Another design challenge was converting the church interior with a raised pulpit into a theater space with a lower stage. However, some work has been completed, including a new roof, lead paint removal, and window repairs. 


In 2011, Artown, the nonprofit responsible for staging Reno's month-long summer arts festival, assumed ownership of the Lear Theater. The group initially planned to turn the building into an arts center, but in 2013 realized that the organization could not afford to carry out such a plan. Artown sponsored a competition to essentially donate the theater to a local performing arts organization, provided that it would be properly restored. The Sierra School for the Performing Arts won the competition, but the deal did not go through due to the estimated $5 to $7 million still needed for the restoration. As of early 2020, the theater remains dark, its future still uncertain. 



"About the Lear." Lear Theater. Accessed January 21, 2020.

Hart, Joe. "Ask Joe: Is anyone planning to renovate the Lear Theater?" News 4 On Your Side, November 26 2019. Accessed January 20, 2020.

Kane, Jenny. "Artown is Giving Away the Lear - with a $5M Catch." Reno Gazette Journal, February 7, 2018.

Kane, Jenny. "It's a Deal! Reno's Historic Lear Theater Goes to Performing Arts School." Reno Gazette Journal, May 9, 2018.

"Lear Theatre." Online Nevada Encyclopedia. Accessed January 21, 2020.

Writing Credits

Julie Nicoletta
Updated By: 
Ann Gilkerson (2020)



  • 1938

  • 1997

    Repurposed as theater

What's Nearby


Julie Nicoletta, "Lear Theater", [Reno, Nevada], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—,

Print Source

Buildings of Nevada, Julie Nicoletta. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000, 75-76.

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