RENO, Nev. (AP) - The Lear Theater has been donated to the nonprofit group that runs Reno's annual summer arts festival in
hopes of jump-starting longtime plans to renovate the historic building.
The 300-seat theater along the Truckee River was deeded to Artown in December at no cost along with two adjacent properties by Lear Theater Inc., the nonprofit corporation that owned the three parcels, said Artown chairman David Aiazzi.
Originally built in 1938 for the First Church of Christ Scientist, the neoclassical structure with a columned facade was designed by renowned architect Paul Revere Williams, the first black person admitted to the American Institute of Architects and designer to Hollywood stars.
His work included the Beverly Hills Hotel, the arched "theme building" at the Los Angeles International Airport and the United Nations building in Paris.
Moya Olsen Lear, a local philanthropist and widow of aviation pioneer William Lear, contributed more than $1 million and the Theater Coalition raised another $1.3 million in contributions to purchase the building in April 1998.
Renovation began and performances were held there in 2001-02, but the nonprofit group couldn't keep up with maintenance of the aging building and closed it in 2002.
Aiazzi, who also is a Reno city councilman, said the property title and rights were transferred to Artown so Lear Theater Inc. could remove it from its books.
The future of the theater is under discussion and no firm plans have been made at this point, he said. He said one option is to turn the theater into a venue for small performing arts groups, but that would depend on the cost of bringing it up to code.
"I give credit to the Lear Theater's current board of directors for trying to keep the theater alive and deciding that Artown would be the best entity to do something to try to open that building," Aiazzi told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The month-long festival running June 30 to July 31 features more than 400 performances and other daily events - more than half of
them free. Last year's attendance totaled more than 300,000.
The acquisition of the new property is the first of several steps planned over the next few months to strengthen the organization, Aiazzi said.
"Artown is excited with the possibilities presented by the property," he said. "It's Artown's mission to strengthen Reno's arts industry and to create a climate for the cultural and economic rebirth of our region. These next steps will fulfill that mission."
Aiazzi praised the Lear theater board, saying it has shown "a true commitment in recognizing a new vision for a project that the community wants to see succeed."
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