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A pulse-checking effort aims to save Reed Whipple Cultural Center

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An exterior view of the Reed Whipple Cultural Center, 821 N Las Vegas Blvd. North, Sunday, Dec. 6, 2015.
Photo: Steve Marcus

Last summer the Nevada Preservation Foundation mounted an impressive exhibit by the World Monuments Fund, highlighting modern buildings in peril and efforts to save them by contemporary designers and community advocates. The almost how-to for preserving endangered architecture came with large-scale photographs and case-study narratives on ways designers successfully approached projects using current technology and materials on buildings no longer up to code.

So when the Reed Whipple Cultural Center, located in the Cultural Corridor on Las Vegas Boulevard (and long unused, despite recent efforts), came under threat with the proposal of a light-rail project that would cut through its south wing and possibly lead to the building being razed, advocates popped up. The Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission reportedly offered a vote of no confidence, and Nevada Preservation Foundation launched an online petition to save the center—addressed to the Las Vegas City Council and Mayor Carolyn Goodman and designed to garner support for a December 9 Historic Preservation Commission meeting.

Though some say its cultural and historical significance is debatable, Reed Whipple could easily be among the WMF’s other case studies. Designed and built in the International Style in the early 1960s as a Mormon Stake center, it was sold to the city for $1 million in 1970 and eventually used as a cultural center with a gallery, classrooms, offices, an art studio and a theater hosting the Rainbow Company Youth Theatre—a place entrenched in the community that elicits memories from respondents to the online petition about everything from moving plays to first dance classes.

Heidi Swank, executive director of the Nevada Preservation Foundation, sees Reed Whipple as a potential site for an artist co-op, and suggests that the south wing be used as a light-rail station feeding into the building and surrounding area. The foundation, which began two years ago under the Metro Arts Council, is working with the council on a plan. Rehabilitation of older structures, Swank says, tends to be cheaper than new construction, and costs, including labor, are kept in the community. There are also options for Federal Historic Tax Credits, she says. “So often our sense of place is tied to its past. That’s something people struggle with here. Boston, Chicago, LA didn’t get to look the way they do because they tore down buildings.”

Eric Strain, principal of assemblageSTUDIO, recently toured the building and says rehabilitation is possible, but that Reed Whipple’s future depends on what happens in the Cultural Corridor.

“This discussion needs to be larger than just saving one building,” he says. “The discussion around Reed Whipple must include how you connect this area with the Natural History Museum, the Neon Museum and Mormon Fort. The area needs a focused master plan of development, a plan that addresses landscape, pedestrian circulation and connection to neighborhoods.”

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