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Russell Mills

Russell Mills, Architect [1892-1959]

Russell Mills [†] was born in Chicago in 1892. At some point during Mills' childhood, the family settled in Oakland, California, south of Berkeley. Mills attended the Oakland public school system and was enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley from 1913 to 1915. University records do not indicate whether or not he graduated, or what academic program he was following, but since he went on to become a registered (and respected) architect in Nevada, it seems likely that he at least attended architecture classes. (The architects of the First Bay Tradition would still have been practicing and teaching in the Berkeley area at the time Mills was a student.) He must have also been exposed to some engineering courses, since from 1916 to 1926, Mills worked in the engineering department of Pacific Gas and Electric Company in San Francisco.

It is not known what brought Mills to Reno, Nevada, but he appears in the city directories as early as 1927, where he is listed as the treasurer of Shearer and Wagner, Inc., electrical contractors. From 1927 to about 1935, Mills was the chief draftsman for Frederic DeLongchamps' architectural firm. DeLongchamps is considered to be Nevada's pre-eminent architect. Apparently, DeLongchamps held Mills in high esteem, since in 1932-1933, Mills served as vice-president of the firm. Mills opened his own architecture and engineering firm in Reno in 1936, which he operated until his death in 1959.

Mills was also active as an architect in public service. In addition to his own practice, he served as supervising architect for the Home Owners Loan Corporation (HOLC) from 1934 through 1939. The HOLC was one of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs, established to refinance loans for homeowners distressed by the depression. During World War II, Mills served with the Bureau of Yards and Docks, and as regional architect for the National Housing Authority. Mills also served on a number of local boards and commissions, including the Reno City Council. He was a member of the American Institute of Architects, and was president of the Nevada chapter in 1953. When the Nevada State Board of Architects was established in 1949, Mills was issued registration no. 3.

Any design contributions Russell Mills might have made while employed by DeLongchamps are undocumented, but it seems that the Job's Peak Ranch project was one of his earliest commissions as an independent architect. Soon after, Mills received the commission for the Sparks City Hall and Fire House. These buildings no longer stand, but Mills designed them in 1940 in the Art Moderne style a far cry from his recent Swiss Chalet. Mills seemed to be particularly at home with the Art Deco/Moderne style, for he designed several outstanding buildings in this general style during the 1940s. In 1941, Mills designed the Vocational Agricultural Building in Lovelock, Nevada (listed in the National Register in 1991), built by student labor under the auspices of the National Youth Administration (NYA), a New Deal program. In 1949, Mills designed the Veterans Memorial School in Reno in the Art Moderne style (listed in the National Register in 1995).

A comprehensive list of Mills' commissions has not been found, but some of his other known works include the Brown elementary school in Reno, a high school and gymnasium for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno, a high school in Lovelock, a 62-unit apartment house, and many residences. Russell Mills passed away in July 1959, at the age of 67.

† Nicholl Johnson, Joseph Tucker and Mella Rothwell Harmon, Nevada State Historic Preservation Office, Job's Peak Ranch, Genoa, Douglas County, Nevada, nomination document, 2000, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.