Thursday, June 21, 2007

Repositories of History...

There is a common misconception that Las Vegas destroys its history. Yes in many instances this is the case but by no means the norm. We have this misconception due to the fanfare created when a building is imploded. When the world has witnessed almost a dozen spectacular implosions coming from Las Vegas it is easy to see why people believe this.

In actuality what Las Vegas has destroyed are many parts of its architectural past. But architecture is not the only aspect that makes history. History is about stories, experiences and the people that lived in the past. It is about the things that they left behind such as a coffee cup from the El Rancho Vegas, a dinner plate from the Desert Inn, or the millions of photographs taken. Many of the cities museums and repositories have these rare artifacts and share them with the public through innovative exhibits and presentations.

Curators and archivists work hard to help preserve these treasures and interpret them like an archaeologist interprets a bone fragment. In Las Vegas several museums and repositories hold the treasured history of this community. For instance the Las Vegas News Bureau has over 1.5 Million images of Las Vegas history from the late 1940’s to the present time. It is the quintessential repository of Las Vegas photographs in the world. Rare photos of the Rat Pack, Elvis, Liberace, President Kennedy and Beatles arriving are just but a few images that they have.

UNLV Special Collections holds the very bill of sale for the City of Las Vegas. The certificate was signed by Helen Stewart owner of the Las Vegas Ranch to Montana Senator William Andrews Clark, who bought the sprawling piece of land in 1903 for $55.000.00. When I was studying at UNLV I was one of the first people to touch these documents in almost 100 years!

The Clark County Museum in Henderson has a collection of historic homes from Downtown Las Vegas. Rather than the homes being razed many were moved to the museum and a Heritage Street was created. The old Boulder City railroad depot was moved to the museum as were several trains and a wedding chapel from the strip.

While I was curator of The Neon Museum we proudly saved the famous La Concha Motel Lobby, the Stardust Sign and not to mention hundreds of historic neon signs. A dozen of these signs can be seen fully restored on Fremont Street and 3rd Street Downtown.

The New Springs Preserve saved two of the 1908 Railroad Cottages from Downtown.

The Atomic Testing Museum is saving much of our local atomic heritage.

If we look deep enough you will find history in this community and lots of it. Many people are working hard to preserve what is left and leave a legacy for our future.

Here is a list of places you can visit and see the quintessential history of our community.

The Atomic Testing Museum -
The Liberace Museum –
The Neon Museum –
The Clark County Museum -
The Springs Preserve -
UNLV Special Collections -


Rebecca Balint said...

This is kind of off-topic, but there is a large old house on either Eastern or Maryland, south of Flamingo, but north of Tropicana, righthand side if you are heading north. It is all gated off and has a sign that says it is called "Park House". Do you know anything about the history of this property? It's really beautiful, reminds me of something from back East.

Just curious!

Brian Paco Alvarez said...

Hi Rebecca,
Ah yes the large Tudor Style Mansion on Eastern just North of Tropicana. When I was growing up many rumors abounded regarding that house. From what I remember the house was occupied for a few years by a couple whos name I have totally forgotten. Eventually the house was sold and turned into offices. The house was expanded to accomodate a larger office.

I know this is all vague. One Rumor had it that Steve Wynn owned the house but I have not confirmed this.

Lets me see what else I can come with...

Thanks - Paco

Anonymous said...

Paco, I own Mayme Stocker's house.
She had the #l gaming license. I have a lazer copy. The original is at UNLV from whom we bought the house. They told me that this home is really a piece of history. The Railroad Cottages lost their true historical significance when they were moved. My home has a basement
and is original. I won't ever be moving it or tearing it down. MJ

Brian Paco Alvarez said...

Hi Mj,
That’s wonderful Mayme Stocker was a pioneer in Las Vegas. She was number one.

In actuality when a structure is moved it does not lose its historical significance. As long as the provenance is intact with detailed information as to its original location. When all other alternatives have been tried and have proven unsuccessful, moving a historic structure may well be the only means of saving it from destruction. Although it is a delicate and complicated process, people have been moving entire buildings since the 18th century. At that time, buildings were moved primarily because it was often cheaper than constructing an entirely new building. Today, individuals are more likely to move a house in an effort to save it from destruction. In fact, when it comes to houses and or buildings that have historical significance, preservationists agree that moving them should be considered only as a last resort alternative to demolition.

A prime example of this are the houses located at the Clark County Museum, Springs Preserve and of course the La Concha Motel Lobby at the Neon Museum.

In Las Vegas any preservation efforts should be viewed in a positive way and totally supported.