The City of Reno’s recent purchase of the Lear Theater did not prevent the building from appearing on Preserve Nevada’s top 11 endangered historic buildings for the second year in a row.
Michael Green, associate professor of history at University of Nevada, Las Vegas and Preserve Nevada’s executive director, said the Lear is the number one building of concern in northern Nevada.
“The Lear concerns us because for so long it sat with nothing much happening,” Green told This Is Reno this week. “We fully appreciate that Artown took it on, and that there are limits to resources. But we had felt that given its history, first as a church designed by a legendary architect, Paul Revere Williams, then as a meeting place connected to the Lear family as well, it’s an important community treasure to preserve.”
Green said the group’s putting the Lear at the top of its list of endangered Nevada structures is not meant to be a criticism of those who have owned the property.
“Having it just stand there as kind of a ghost structure…is not for the best for the community or the building itself.”
“Our position has not changed, and that is not meant to question or be critical of the city government,” Green added. “For comparison, a prominent developer has bought The Huntridge Theater in Las Vegas and is making plans for it–and we are ecstatic. But that doesn’t mean the building itself still isn’t in danger, and that’s true of any historic building.”
Preserve Nevada in January issued a letter by former-U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan expressing concern by then-plans to attach luxury apartments to Lear. Those plans were shelved upon the city’s purchase agreement with Artown in August. The city purchased the Lear from Artown using money it grants annually to the organization.
“We hope the city will be especially careful with the Lear and its surroundings to make sure that the building survives and thrives, but also that the area around it doesn’t put the Lear at further risk,” Green explained. “Having it just stand there as kind of a ghost structure, both inside and outside is not going to work and is not for the best for the community or the building itself.”
People have been advocating for the building to better honor Wiliams’ contribution as the building’s architect, a point Green echoed. Reno historian Alicia Barber said preservation of the building should better honor Wiliams’ contribution as the building’s architect.
“As this conversation continues, it’s important to recognize, too, that architecture is not just about exterior appearances, and that respect for Williams’ design also necessitates an appreciation of and respect for the building’s gorgeous interior,” she wrote in the Barber Brief.
City Manager Doug Thornley said the city will conduct a public outreach process for how the the facility will be used.
“There’s a number of groups who have reached out to us and expressed interest to operate the space,” he said. “Some art and theater component [should be a part of it].”
City staff pitched the building’s purchase by saying there is a potential for rental revenue and the Lear “will be a community resource for art and performances.”
UPDATE: Thornley’s comments were added after initial publication.
Bob Conrad is publisher, editor and co-founder of This Is Reno. He has served in communications positions for various state agencies and earned a doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011. In addition to managing This Is Reno, he holds a part-time appointment for the Mineral County University of Nevada Extension office.