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Historic places in Northern Nevada could be in danger

Published: Dec. 1, 2021 at 11:46 PM PST
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - Preserve Nevada has come out with its annual list of the 11 most endangered places in the state.

Once again, the Lear Theater is at the top.

First built as a church in 1939 by Paul River Williams, considered the most important African American architects of the 20th century, this significant building has gone through a journey.

“It was closed as a church in the 1990s and of course, there were efforts to convert it into a theater,” said historian Alicia Barber. “There was a nonprofit formed to that, but there were some difficulties that happen with that so about 10 years ago the coalition donated the building to Artown. The idea was still with the purpose to revitalize it, refurbish it and open it.”

However, funding has been an issue.

The building has now been unoccupied for about 20 years, which according to Preserve Nevada is an ongoing threat to the site.

“It has sat for a long time now and in the last couple of years, there have been talks about developing the area around it,” said Michael Green, history professor at UNLV. “Preservationists are not anti-development at all, but whenever there is that kind of talk, the concern is automatically, ‘What happens to the historic sites around it?”

The historically and culturally important building is currently in the process of being purchased by the City of Reno, which Barber says could be good news.

“There can be a very inclusive discussion, with the community, about what they want to see happen here,” said Barber. “The city can take advantage of the expertise of the community and the interest in this building so that they can make something wonderful happen with it.”

Preserve Nevada says there are concerns with this option.

“The risk is that someone comes marching in and says, ‘I have a billion dollars, I want to do this, you have the Lear, get rid of it’,” said Green. “That can be tempting. Reno has a history of both preserving its past and of occasionally, plowing under its past.”

Along with the Lear, Stewart Indian School, which opened in 1890 is also included on the list.

The site was a Native American boarding school.

“The purpose was to forcefully assimilate Native Americans into mainstream culture,” said Stacey Montooth, executive director of the Nevada Indian Commission.

Although it houses a difficult history, historians say its preservation is important to understand how it changed the course of generations.

“I don’t think the Stewart Indian School itself, as a complex is in imminent danger,” said Green. “What is in danger is that it does not have the funding and the resources, some of the buildings are in danger.”

Unlike other sites on the list, there was a plan in place for the school. Part of it was to retrofit the theater and make it handicap accessible.

They were also working on what they call, the baking building.

“Our plan is to retrofit it so that it can be a repository, not just for the cultural center items, but for all of our tribal nations... their heirlooms,” said Montooth.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such plans are on pause.

Montooth invites the community to visit the site and tour it. The Nevada Indian Commission had a not-for-profit arm, which is always taking donations. For more information, click here.

If you would like to also support the Lear Theater, Barber recommends calling your city council members and letting them know you care about the building and would like to see a very transparent, inclusive, and community-oriented process to try and discuss the future of this building will be.

Preserve Nevada says there’s a need for local ordinances and state laws protecting these structures because, without them, Nevada’s history is incomplete.

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