You are here

Northwestern Region

-A A +A

Although northwestern Nevada covers a relatively small part of the state, centered in the Reno-Sparks–Carson City–Lake Tahoe metropolitan area, it has the greatest range of architectural styles and types. The Truckee and Carson rivers and the Comstock Lode in the valleys and mountain ranges directly east of the Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe attracted settlers, initially to farming and later to mining and government-funded projects. The northwestern region has the state's earliest Euro-American and Chinese communities—Genoa and Dayton.

Although the depression of the 1880s and 1890s severely hurt the region, the communities of Reno and Carson City gradually gained population. Carson City's designation as the center of state government and Reno's acquisition of the University of Nevada in 1885 ensured the survival of these towns. Tourism, attracted by gambling and the availability of quick divorces, boosted the economy in the early twentieth century. During the 1890s Reno became Nevada's largest city but lost its lead to Goldfield for a brief period in the first decade of the twentieth century. By 1910 Reno was again the largest city, with a population of 10,687. The prominent role of state and federal government in the area supported the construction of large public buildings that represented, and often still represent, the best examples of Nevada's architecture.

The region's wealth supported much private construction of dwellings, churches, and commercial buildings. The concentration of building in this part of the state provided work for many of Nevada's professional architects in the early twentieth century. More fine buildings covering a range of architectural styles and periods can be found in this region than in any other part of the state. The greatest concentration is in Reno.

The tradition of vernacular building remained strong until recently. For over a century the region's low population and remoteness required builders to use their ingenuity when employing materials and styles for their structures. With the latest economic boom, however, people looking for inexpensive but functional buildings have turned frequently to prefabricatedbuildings for commercial and residential use. Despite the urban nature of Reno and the surrounding area, northwestern Nevada has many farming and ranching communities dating back to the nineteenth century. Agriculture, concentrated in Carson, Mason, and Smith valleys, has given rise to a variety of vernacular buildings, including barns, bunkhouses, and stables that embody Nevada's rural way of life.

In the second half of the twentieth century northwestern Nevada's preeminence was eclipsed by Las Vegas and southern Nevada, which have become dominant economically, politically, and culturally. As more public and private money is spent in southern Nevada, this shift is reflected in the contemporary architecture of the two regions. With many more architecture firms and more visible commissions, Las Vegas attracts nationally known architects to participate in projects there more often than is the case in northern Nevada. This activity does not always ensure high quality, but it has encouraged a progressive attitude toward architecture and a willingness to experiment not seen in northwestern Nevada. With few exceptions, northern Nevada has become a region of unadventurous conservatism, neither preserving the past nor taking any risks designing for the future.

Writing Credits

Julie Nicoletta

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.