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Knowing Nevada: Saving the Lear Theater

A birds-eye view of the Lear Theater today. Shot by our Skyvision Drone Team.
A birds-eye view of the Lear Theater today. Shot by our Skyvision Drone Team.
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An eye-sore, to some, and a gated piece of history to others. The fence-line that surrounds the property on 528 W 1st st. has both visitors and community members of Reno begging to know, why?

Here at News Four, we have had several viewers send in Ask Joe questions specifically about the fate of the Lear Theater.

The Lear Theater has not been in full operation for almost a decade. The previous owners with Lear Theater Inc. sold the building for, supposedly, ten dollars to the Artown organization back in 2011. Since then, there have been few performances performed on both the interior stage and/or the outdoor steps.

Ownership and regular revenue have caused a tight riff in keeping the theater open year-round. Originally, it wasn't always a foundation for Reno's arts culture.

The History of the Lear Theater

The building was designed by world famous African American architect Paul Revere Williams. It was originally the home of the First Church of Christ, Scientist when construction finished in 1939 for the price of $140,000.

It held up to six hundred members of the church's congregation and was designed to be a functioning community center.

The design features a neoclassical revival architectural style with booming acoustics, wide-set ceilings, a grand foyer, plenty of seating with hat stows, and a sweeping staircase to greet those who enter.

After almost sixty years here, the congregation built a new church south of downtown and moved in 1998.

Edda Morrison, a member of the church, put together the Reno-Sparks Theater Community Coalition in 1993, and proposed using the building as a 'good home for theater in particular.' While few plays were performed, Moya Lear, a member of the congregation and widow of aviator Bill Lear, took the reigns. She made a pledge of more than one million dollars to build and transform the theater altogether. The community held several fundraisers and matched her donations to purchase the building.

The coalition then became Lear Theater Inc. and held shows between 2001 - 2002. There were few renovations but none were fully complete.

There had been three architects who tackled the renovations: Dolven & Associates, whose design elevated the western portion of the building; JCJ Architecture, whose plans extended the theater; and Merceds de La Garza, which gave a new design but was only less than fifty percent completed.

The theater sat empty and under construction for years until 2011.

Former Mayor Bob Cashell was able to work with both Lear Theater Inc. and Artown to make a deal. Lear Theater Inc. sold the property for, apparently, ten dollars to takeover as the sole owners and stewards of Lear Theater.

The Future of the Lear Theater

Announced on June 8, 2020, Artown, in association with Krater Consulting Group, announced that apartments could soon be coming to the Lear Theater property. Krater says there will be roughly 50 apartments with plans to be built on the eastern side of the theater along W. 1st street in Downtown Reno.

There are still some hurdles the companies must go through before this is set in stone. New flood plans must be set in place since the theater sits near the Truckee River, according to City of Reno staffers.

With the building being listed on both the City Historic Register and the National Historic Register, there ongoing concern with tax credits. This is in conjunction with the Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentive program administered by the National Park Service. Krater has mentioned the possibility of of using new market tax credits which would benefit community facilities like the Lear Theater.

The plans have not been approved by city staff at this time. Both Krater and members of the committee that oversees the theater say they are hopeful for the chance to re-open and renovate this area of town.

Knowing Nevada is a historical heritage series that highlights some of the interesting, unknown, and known, tales about the state of Nevada. This series is researched and put together by our own native Nevadan, Miles Buergin. If you have any suggestions for our next Knowing Nevada, please e-mail him at:

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