Valerie Hecht loves mid-century modern architecture. “Right now, I’m enchanted with buildings on Industrial Road—all of these auto part stores, gentlemen’s clubs,” the Neon Museum volunteer says at a recent info meeting for Uncommon Las Vegas, a crowdsourced photo survey sponsored by the Nevada Preservation Foundation (NPF). “I already stop to photograph buildings that catch my eye. I thought if I could put that to good use with the preservation project, why not?”
The project’s goal is nothing if not ambitious: find and document all of Las Vegas’ forgotten modern commercial buildings. The Foundation seeks out those everyday gems built between the late 1940s and early 1970s—old car dealerships with sweeping lines, shopping centers with sharp angles and all of those dusty buildings that still emit an aura of Old Vegas optimism.
Everyone’s invited to participate. NPF Executive Director Heidi Swank wants locals to get out and experience older architecture. “People always think we blow everything up here, but we actually don’t,” she says. “About 70 percent of our old buildings are still with us, if you don’t look at the Strip.”
For the project’s next phase, photographer Kirsten Clarke will take photos of the 100 most interesting buildings. A selection of images (both professional and crowd-sourced) will be displayed in an exhibit and compiled in a book, pending funding. Finally, a few vacant buildings from the collection of photos will be featured as case studies in a February workshop about renovation.
Swank says she “stole” the concept for Uncommon Las Vegas from one in Texas called Houston: Uncommon Modern, which took place from 2015 to 2016. (For their part, the Houston preservationists had been inspired by a similar project in Philadelphia.)
At the info meeting, Swank passed around a copy of the Houston project catalog. The 400 or so images of mid-century car dealerships, churches, donut shops, office parks and gas stations took on an unexpected resonance as the city faced catastrophic flooding.
Swank, who toured Houston last year, is grateful that the book exists. “If some of those buildings don’t make it, if they can’t be salvaged after the hurricane, then we have the photo documentation of them, which is sometimes all you end up with.”
The photo survey will be open through the end of October. Casual documentarians can simply take a photo of a cool building, upload it to Instagram and include the hashtag #UncommonVegas along with the address of the property. Participants who would like to be more involved should contact Nevada Preservation Foundation (855-968-3973, nevadapreservation.org) to get assigned an area of focus.