Las Vegas: Where Vintage Is Modern

Tami & Steve's future 'Forever Home'Photo by Tami Cowden
Mid-century Modern style: post &
beam construction and slump
stone pillars

One of the best kept secrets in Las Vegas is that the city has several vintage neighborhoods containing a treasure trove of “Modern”-style houses. Most houses built between about 1940 and 1980 fit into this category, whether they are called ranches, ramblers, Desert Modern, Palm Springs Modern or simply Mid-Century Modern. Together these houses define a style of architecture that emphasized open floor plans and ample windows, with the goal of opening up interior spaces and bringing the outdoors inside.

These houses from the ’50s and ’60s evoke the era when Frank, Dean, and Sammy ruled this town. There has been a revival of love for Mid-Century Modern design, with enthusiasts for all things retro seeking out homes from the Atomic Age. In the current housing crisis, a lot of these houses have come on the market at bargain prices. A few are in pristine condition, but most require a bit of effort to restore them to their former glory.

In Vegas, nobody knows more about what’s available in the Mid-Century Modern market than real estate agent Jack LeVine. Jack blogs about Mid-Century homes at VeryVingtageVegas.com, a site filled with information and photos of Mid-Century homes and design in Vegas. As my husband and I have been searching for our own “forever home,” Jack has taught me where to find the best examples of Vegas’ vintage modern houses. Don’t bother looking in those master-planned communities on the outer rim of the Vegas Valley, such as Summerlin, Green Valley or Mountain’s Edge. No, if you want to find the cool modern houses with the retro style, you have to go to vintage Vegas – the neighborhoods around Downtown and the Strip.

Paradise Palms homePhoto by Tami Cowden
Many Paradise Palms homes have
unique rooflines

One neighborhood filled with Mid-Century Modern homes is Paradise Palms. This neighborhood, which is bounded by Karen Avenue to the north, Viking to the south, Maryland Parkway to the west, and Eastern to the east, surrounds what was once the Stardust Golf Course, today known as National Golf Course. The neighborhood was developed in the 1960s by Irwin Molasky’s Paradise Development, which had just built Las Vegas’ first indoor mall, the Boulevard Mall, on the western edge of Paradise Palms.

The homes in the neighborhood were designed by the architectural firm of Palmer and Krisel, the same firm that made Mid-Century Modern architecture accessible to the middle class by designing custom-looking tract homes in Palm Springs. Although the floor plans of the houses are basically the same, the houses have different rooflines and are placed at different angles on the lots. The result is a custom look to each home, and all have the basics of Mid-Century style: post-and-beam construction on slab foundations, stucco finishing, open floor plans, high windows and decorative block screens.

Custom homePhoto by Tami Cowden
Custom look with high windows and
stucco finishing

Paradise Palms became the home of many famous entertainers, including Sammy Davis Jr., Johnny Carson, Shirley MacLaine, Diana Ross and Mac Davis. Today, Paradise Palms is one of the best preserved of the classic Las Vegas neighborhoods.

Another neighborhood graced with some vintage beauties is the Scotch 80s, an area bounded by Charleston to the north, Interstate 15 to the east, Oakey to the south and Rancho to the west. The homes here really were custom built, on fairly large lots, so there are a variety of architectural styles, including many excellent examples of Desert Modern styles. The name “Scotch 80s” comes from the fact that in 1911 Las Vegas’ first mayor, Peter Buol, bought the 80 acres of land here, using funds from Scottish investors. While development didn’t occur until the ’50s and ’60s, the area retains its attraction for mayors, as this is where Mayor Oscar Goodman now lives.

You can find more Mid-Century Modern homes in the clusters of neighborhoods surrounding Downtown, including the John S. Park Historic District, Marycrest and McNeil Estates neighborhoods, among others. [If you click “View Larger Map” on the map to the left, we have identified the location of five of the vintage neighborhoods in this area.]

Despite the tendency to implode history here, there are efforts to preserve these vintage neighborhoods. Among those fighting for Las Vegas history are the Friends of Classic Las Vegas. This volunteer organization promotes various preservation events, hosts regular meetings with speakers on topics of historical interest, and is engaged in gathering oral histories of longtime Vegas residents.

The Junior League of Las Vegas has done its part, too, lovingly preserving the Morelli House, a wonderful example of Mid-Century Modern style that was owned by Antonio Morelli, the orchestra leader at the Sands Hotel. The custom-built house was originally constructed at the exclusive Desert Inn Country Club, but it was moved to its current location at Ninth and Bridger in 2001 to preserve it. Furnished in designer styles from the ’50s and ’60s, the home is available for viewing by appointment. Or come out to the Junior League’s “Morelli and His Music” event on April 2, 2009; a tour of the home is part of the program.

Today’s Vegas may glorify clubs with bottle service and celebutantes behaving badly, but for me the real Las Vegas is found in its vintage style.

If a master-plannned community is of more interest to you, click here to read Tami’s take on Summerlin, the 22,500-acre property being developed on the west side of town.

Comments

7 responses on “Las Vegas: Where Vintage Is Modern

  1. This is the first installment of a new series on Living-Las-Vegas that will examine some of the nearly fifty distinct neighborhoods and communities found the the Las Vegas valley. If you have a suggestion for a neighborhood that you think Tami should profile in this series, please post a comment below with your tips and ideas.

    Thanks,

    –LLV Publisher

  2. Thanks for the comment on my blog! I vote Charleston Heights. Its ghetto, but the houses are really charismatic, even if they are fixer-uppers! Plus most of them are built from the 50s-70s. Could definitely use some more people moving there to renovate! :]

  3. Downtown…..

    It has character. The Mid-Century Modern style crack houses out that way are to die for. No seriously they are.

    It’s sad that they could have restored most of those for a fraction of what it cost to build the hundreds of miles of empty Mc Mansions near the hills. I wonder what those are going to look like in 50 years… ughhhh. It scares me to even think about it. I’m thinking somewhere between road warrior & the hills have eyes “post apocalyptic themed”.

  4. Um maybe….. Personally, the older homes in Las Vegas have zero appeal to me, because they lack those views…. And they also lack any of the 21st century wiring and electronic field interference construction techniques employed by many of present-day builders.

    Rather than focusing on when a property was built, my #1 preference is always going to be about the quality of the construction and by and large, I think construction standards of the 2008 and beyond exceed the acceptable standards of the 50 and 60’s.

    Mark

  5. Views are in the eye of the beholder. My vintage Vegas homes has a lovely view of the Sheep Mountains. The golf course across the street (alas, just past the empty lot), offers a nice view of green space. If we step out onto the rooftop patio, there’s even a decent glimpse of the Strip as well.

    As for the constructions standards, while it is true that building codes are stricter now, compliance with them rarely is. I’ve spent too many years on both sides of construction defect claims to have faith in any builder.

    Despite that experience, I bought a home I know has a few issues that will need to be addressed. I do wonder why the original owner – himself a prominant builder in Vegas – never got around to fixing the problems. Or why he didn’t take better care in building his own home.

    I bought the house because I fell in love with its vintage style, but even this one feels a bit “new” to me. I grew up in a house built in the 19th century. I doubt a home built in this millennium would ever feel like home to me.

    Shiny new homes are fun to visit, but I don’t want to live in them.

  6. These two viewpoints ought to serve as viable “bookends” to the notion of why we need architects and good architectural planning for the forseeable future. In my view, good design trumps age — modern or vintage — in any building project. My preference for a living abode would be to incorporate as much 21st century engineering and design as humanly possible — provided that the structure meets the needs and preferences of the living occupants. Good design and architectural oversight transcends what’s hip of any generation.

    The house I now live in has had it’s fair share of construction defect issues — but in my view, the efficacy of the design trumps the day-to-day inefficiencies of the implementation of the construction elements. There are certainly good design examples to be found in “vintage” homes, but I like the notion of supporting architects & builders who are designing homes to be reflective of the interests and day-to-day functionality of residents in the next decade as opposed to those building for earlier generations.

    For me, vintage homes are fun to visit and admire, but I’d never choose to live in one….

    Mark

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