A Cinderella Story: the Bel Air

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. When the Los Angeles builder, Curtis Summers, developed nine blocks of tract homes on and near Oakey Boulevard between Spencer and Eastern, he called it the Bel Air. Not only did he evoke the name of one of the most prestigious neighborhoods of his hometown, he built the homes with the midcentury appointments of southern California. He enlisted LA architect, William M. Bray, to design the homes. Bray had himself built many homes in the Bel Air in Los Angeles. Although he is not known as the originator of any style of mid-century design, he was a great imitator. In fact, his deft appropriation of design ran him afoul of Cliff May once, when he was successfully sued by that famous midcentury architect for copyright infringement. It was a perfect match. 

The Bel Air was announced in 1952 and records show that the first homes were occupied in the late 1950s, on the 1900 block of Wengert Avenue. The above image on the left shows the original advertisement published in the Las Vegas Review Journal on November 20, 1952. The tract, with construction finished in 1960, can also be found on the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Bracken and Griffith and on Oakey Boulevard between Sweeney and Eastern.  The homes were built in the style known as “Cinderella Ranch,” a design with origins from the mid-1950s out of California, following the release of the movie of the same name and the opening of Disneyland.  The homes’ exteriors originally evoked the gingerbread style of a Swiss Chalet, with steep pitched shake wood roofs, windows with diamond shaped mullions and some homes incorporating dovecotes into the gable.  The angular eaves on the homes show that they were also decidedly of the midcentury style. Colloquially, this neighborhood was known as the “Storybook Homes” for obvious reasons, though a later development in the McNeil area was created under that name.

Within walking distance of Temple Beth Sholom, many Jewish Las Vegans resided in the neighborhood before the temple relocated.  According to local architect and historian, Dr. Robert Fielden, the development in the 1960s and 70s was the home of the lawyers, doctors and midlevel casino management of Las Vegas, just down the hill on Oakey Boulevard where the very wealthy Las Vegans lived near 15th Street.

Yes, these are tract homes. It must be noted, however, that they predate many midcentury homes of similar style in Las Vegas, particularly those west of the 95 in the McNeil area. They are an earlier, if not the earliest, example of the “Cinderella Ranch” style in the valley. Despite being built as a tract, the Bel Air homes made good on the promise of midcentury style and luxury. With scroll-worked kitchen cabinetry, picture windows looking onto the backyard and step-down “Mason’s” baths in the master bedroom, the homes had the trappings of high living. Expenses were not spared. The bathrooms were tiled by the well-regarded Gladding McBean Company—famous for Franciscan Pottery—in their Hermosa tile line. The Bel Air was so successful that Curtis Summers continued to build in Las Vegas evoking the splendor of that famous Los Angeles neighborhood. The development he built on Rancho in the later 60s he named the Rancho Bel Air.

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