Looking at the role of mid-century modern in Las Vegas

Tract House to Bauhaus The Modern House in Mid-Century Las Vegas” exhibit featuring materials from UNLV Special Collections at Lied Library on September 4, 2015.
Photo: Mikayla Whitmore

In From Bauhaus to Our House, Tom Wolfe’s 1981 caustic attack on modern architecture, the author takes shots at Walter Gropius’ think tank of anti-bourgeois designers while lamenting the worker-housing phenomenon that led to the unsavory “compounds” of 19th-century architecture.

But his social critique, no matter how hilarious, drowns out the undeniable coolness and elegance defining some of the postwar structures, particularly those in Las Vegas, where mid-century neighborhoods counter the predictable stucco blanketing the rest of the Valley.

In the exhibit From Tract House to Bauhaus: The Modern House in Mid-Century Las Vegas, UNLV Special Collections curator Peter Michel offers a glimpse into Las Vegas mid-mod housing, including those neighborhoods sought after by Downtowners, hipsters, academics and design nerds devoted to the swank homes of Las Vegas past. 

Michel illustrates the era through original advertisements, housing brochures and architecture designs from UNLV collections (including Elmo Bruner, James McDaniel and Dale Scheideman) while highlighting the influence of California architects William Krisel and Dan Palmer, who were hired by Irwin Molasky to design the Paradise Palms homes in the 1960s—the first “planned community” on the outskirts of town surrounding the Stardust golf course. The free-flowing spaces of the ranch homes were designed with indoor/outdoor living in mind and, with a Vegas twist, ample room for entertaining à la ’60s-era cocktail parties.

Intermingled are brochures from the Farnsworth collection, color photos of mid-century homes from the Mancuso Casino Collection (Maggie Mancuso was location manager for the film Casino), the role the government played in affordable housing and James McDaniel’s designs for UNLV buildings. Though a small exhibit showcased in the cabinets of Special Collections, Tract House to Bauhaus highlights history and design in a city often denied that recognition.

From Tract House to Bauhaus: The Modern House In Mid-Century Las Vegas Through December 31; Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-7 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Special Collections inside UNLV’S Lied Library, 702-895-2234.

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