Motels and motor courts: Saving Las Vegas’ mid-century gems

Photo: Adam Shane

During the mid-20th century, an organic uniqueness evolved in Downtown Las Vegas, a gift of sorts for the future, for that day when the quaint and personal motor courts with stunning signage would somehow outlast the more elegant destinations of yesteryear, providing historical depth in an ever-changing city. That gift, however, would play out in poached signs, painted-over Googie-designs and crumbling structures rich in economic and cultural potential, in a Palm Springs character-driven way.

Knowing these gems have no protection, the Historic Preservation Commission recently decided to re-survey the areas and consider possible educational measures (and potential future incentives). Part of that begins with an upcoming panel discussion, “Motor Court Magic: Mid-Century Architecture and the Roadside Motel.” Along with all the intrigue in the historical, cultural and design elements is the message that the time to preserve hasn’t passed and panelists will discuss ways to approach preserving the motels located mostly along Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard. "Their preservation and activation is vital to downtown's revitalization," says Robert Stoldal, chairman, Historic Preservation Commission.

City of Las Vegas’ Historic Preservation Officer Courtney Mooney moderates the panel, a collaboration between the Neon Museum, the Historic Preservation Commission, the Nevada Preservation Foundation and the City of Las Vegas. Panelists are Demion Clinco, president of the Tucson Historic Preservation Foundation Board; Jerry Stefani, roadside historian and creator of “Then and Now - Las Vegas Motels Driving Tours;” Susanna Newbury, UNLV assistant professor of art history; and Craig Palacios and Tina Wichmann of BUNNYFiSH studio.

"The idea is to create more awareness behind the buildings and these structures," says Dave Cornoyer, a planner with the city of Las Vegas and advocate for preservation. "They played such a significant role in the development of our community. It’s a matter of what’s next and what can we use them for."

Motor Court Magic May 23, 6-8 p.m., free (tickets required). Neon Museum, 702-387-6366.

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Kristen Peterson

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