As We See It

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Las Vegas’ mid-mod homes don’t just look cool — they were built for the desert

One of the homes seen during the Architectural & Decorative Arts Society’s mid-mod tour.
Photo: Leila Navidi

Mid-century Modern Tour of Vegas

Few people know it, but if you look hard, you can find glittering bits of treasure buried in the junk pile of Las Vegas architecture.

I’m speaking of the mid-century modern gems found in neighborhoods in and around Downtown that I saw on a recent tour sponsored by the Architectural & Decorative Arts Society.

As more people want to enjoy the fruits of Downtown’s rejuvenation, we’ll inevitably see a housing shortage. “Not everyone wants to live in a high-rise,” said our tour guide Jack LeVine, whose realty business specializes in Downtown and mid-mod.

The restoration of some of these classic homes and neighborhoods should be a priority. Paradise Palms, Francisco Park, Marycrest, McNeil and the Scotch 80s provide lots of living options for singles and new families for not much money.

The great thing about these homes, beyond the enduring appeal of their design — note the popularity of Mad Men — is that they are well-suited to the desert. The Buddy Hackett house on Spencer Street, which is on the market, is a great example.

The kitchen space of one of the mid-mod homes seen during the tour.

Unlike many houses in the Valley, which can seem like Easy Bake Ovens with powerful air conditioning, the mid-century modern homes use proper construction materials, an intuitive understanding of heat and light and a merging of indoor and outdoor spaces to create a smarter desert habitat.

Another home seen during the Architectural & Decorative Arts Society's tour of mid-mod homes.

We started off in Paradise Palms at the home of Mario Lopez (not that Mario Lopez), who bought his 1963 house a year ago for — wait for it — $97,000. Given his impressive collection of mid-mod furniture, he’s created an interesting living space on his salary as a waiter at CityCenter.

William Krisel, who designed many of our best mid-century modern works, including the Lopez home, said in an interview with Dwell magazine, “Budgets and costs aren’t criteria for doing good design. Design is design, and it has nothing to do with dollars and cents.”

At the risk of summarizing, the architecture of the era, of which we saw countless great examples on the tour, tends to feature natural light at the backs of the houses, a flat or folded plate roof, decorative concrete and stone work, eye-popping colors, open living spaces and more modest bedrooms.

A scene of one of the home's backyard areas.

“People are astounded that these neighborhoods exist in Las Vegas,” LeVine says.

Part of the reason we’re astounded is that even though there are hundreds of these homes across the Valley, many have been “abominated,” as LeVine says. They’re still here, but they were mucked up with additions and terrible siding and paint jobs and “renovations” that were a corruption of their original elegance.

We can restore them to their original beauty, and we should.

J. Patrick Coolican is a columnist for the Las Vegas Sun. Follow him on Twitter at @jpcoolican or email him at [email protected] His Neon Eden radio show airs Wednesdays at 7 a.m. on 91.5 FM.
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