An unadorned metalwork sign on the front lawn of a two-tone Art Moderne apartment building (1045 Riverside Drive) carries the name Loomis Manor. Within walking distance of the First Church of Christ, Scientist that Anna Loomis financed, this Paul R. Williams' designed apartment would be Anna's home from 1939 until her death in 1966. While her taste in religious architecture was traditional Neo-classical, the apartment's design placed her in the middle of the Art Moderne craze sweeping the country. This style was representative of American architecture during the Depression. Streamlined and simplified with a “wind-tunnel look,” the Art Moderne style symbolized the American dream for a better future dominated by speed and modern machinery. Unlike many architectural trends that were predominately urban, Art Moderne struck a cord with all Americans and moved across the country including small towns. This style influenced popular taste— everything from teapots to roadside diners. Unlike the expensive materials of Art Deco, Art Moderne embraced synthetics and common materials: plastic, multicolored ceramic tile, plywood, Formica, glass blocks and chrome, all of which can be seen in the Loomis Manor.
The Paul R. Williams' design for Loomis Manor included elements typical of Art Moderne. Originally painted stark white, the three level, smooth-finished stucco building contrasted with the surrounding traditional red brick and wood-frame houses. The flat-roofed, U-shaped building with decorative stucco courses, horizontal bands of windows and glass block stairwell windows was unique for Reno, but similar to others built in Southern California. Williams included two of his signature California elements in Loomis Manor Apartments. A front courtyard with a rectangular reflecting pool extends the outdoor/indoor living space. A small stucco canopy (images 6, 7) over each exterior entry echoes Williams' grander residential projects in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles.
Christine Palmer in her Nevada Historical Quarterly article lists the many Paul R. Williams' design features contributing to the building's Art Moderne aesthetic: “Streamlined interior hallways and stairwell details ... with curvilinear aluminum railings and door handles. Each of the four hallways contains built-in insulated receptacles for milk, cream, and butter delivery … The apartments feature original ceramic tiles in the kitchens and bathrooms, as well as built-in wooden cabinetry.”
Though the number of rooms in each unit at Loomis is limited (originally advertised as singles, doubles and Hotel Rooms), Williams' open design efficiently uses the entire space. A large multi-use front area originally converted to a bedroom by lowering a Murphy bed from the room's built in closet. (Image 9 shows the original space for the Murphy bed. Traces of the bed runners can still be seen on the left side top.) The two windows, abundant cabinetry, and bright tiles in the kitchens transform a small space into a bright work area.
As the resident landlord and a smart business woman, Anna Loomis insisted on a well designed and solidly built investment. From a 1939 classified ad, the new units came with garages, linens, silverware, maid service, steam heat and were "thoroughly insulated against heat and cold." After more than 70 years the building remains an inviting place to live and is still a valuable property.
Today Loomis Manor is one of the last surviving examples of Art Moderne in Reno.
(Special thanks to Chip Evans, owner Loomis Manor, for his insights and a tour of the property.)