Over the past several years, the city of Las Vegas has conducted several residential surveys, inventorying its stock of Post-World War II (WWII) neighborhoods that might be eligible for historic designation. These surveys focus on the quality and integrity of the homes found in different neighborhoods as well as dive into the history of the area and the potential importance these neighborhoods have in Las Vegas history. One such neighborhood with not only the original integrity of homes largely intact but significant historical value is Paradise Village.
Paradise Village is a current client of NPF and is working hard towards historic designation. Part of the larger neighborhood of Beverly Green, Paradise Village is bordered to the north and south by East St. Louis Avenue and Sahara Avenue, and to the east and west by Santa Ynez Avenue and Santa Clara Avenue, respectively. Though not a well-known neighborhood even among the most knowledgeable of mid-century enthusiasts, Paradise Village is quite the diamond in the rough in terms of historical importance and early mid-century design.
Post-War Vegas Trends
In the years following WWII, Las Vegas experienced one of its largest growth spurts in a relatively short period of time. The end of the war not only saw the end of rationing and an increase in construction materials, but Nellis Air Force Base was opened as a permanent base in 1950. In addition, there was dramatic growth in consumer development, as the casino industry grew along what is now known as Las Vegas Boulevard. The population of the city nearly tripled from 1940 to 1950, going from just over 8,000 to just under 25,000 in only ten years time.
As the population grew, demand for housing increased as well. Programs and initiatives put in place by the FHA and the GI Bill made homeownership a tangible reality for many working class Americans. Between nuclear testing at Nellis and the neon of the emerging Strip, jobs were plentiful in Las Vegas and residential subdivisions began to pop up across the Las Vegas Valley. Early post-war development primarily spread along the arterial routes of the major business locations, with heavy development in what’s known as the greater Huntridge or downtown area of Las Vegas today.
Mid-Century Architecture Takes Shape
One of the early post-war residential developments was Paradise Village. Situated just east and south of Las Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street, the residential sub-division was central to the hustle and bustle of Vegas’s casino industry. Unlike most residential design and construction prior, Paradise Village was developed as one of the early examples or true modernist, residential architecture.
Development in this area began as early as 1947, however most residences within the historic district boundaries were built between 1950 and 1953. General architectural trends of this time period are known as Minimal Traditional, one of the first styles of modern, mid-century architecture evident in Las Vegas. Modern influences characterize this style as one-story homes with rectangular floor plans, medium-pitched roofs, modest overhangs and limited detailing. As the Bauhaus movement in Germany gained momentum in the U.S. however, contemporary styles of modernism became more mainstream and residential architecture took on features such as flat or low pitched roofs, asymmetrical rooflines, and open floor plans with large expanses of glass or picture windows.
Zick and Sharp, Modern Contemporaries
Perhaps two of the most prolific architects of the Las Vegas landscape, Walter Zick and Harris Sharp designed some of the most memorable mid-century buildings under their firm named Zick and Sharp. Best known for their casinos the Mint Hotel and the Moulin Rouge, it was discovered that Zick and Sharp actually designed what is thought to be a significant portion of the homes located in Paradise Village.
As advertised in the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 1950, Paradise Realty Company, Inc., announced their intended development of residential homes to be designed by Zick and Sharp. The advertisement went on to claim that three basic designs would be available and built from cement brick and cinder block. Several elevation options would prevent a repetitive appearance and allow for a personal choice of selection for the buyer. The plans include features of the Minimal Traditional, Ranch and Contemporary modern styles, and homes in the area can still be found with many of these features intact.
Most notable of the Zick and Sharp residential designs is the use of asymmetrical roof lines, more commonly known as the shed roof. While this style of roof is a popular feature of mid-century architecture, it is primarily credited to the modern architectural styles of the 1960s and ’70s. As cited from the City of Las Vegas Historic Survey Report however, “the residential designs of the noted modernist architectural firm Zick and Sharp … suggest that incorporation of shed rooflines into modern residential architecture pre-dates this time frame” (pg 22).
Although only a few building permits were found with Zick and Sharp listed as the architects, several homes in the area resemble the features of the confirmed, built examples by Zick and Sharp. In addition, Las Vegas city directories show that one Zick and Sharp home was in fact the primary residence of Harris Sharp throughout the 1950s.
Residential Architects Tie Community to History
Other significant buildings by Zick and Sharp include the 1957 Maude Frazier Hall at UNLV, the 1958 Clark County Courthouse, the locally known “Charles Building” and the Hyde Park Junior High School, which was the first air-conditioned school in the nation.
Other architects of note who contributed designs to the development of Paradise Village are John Replogle who designed the Dunes Hotel and terminals at McCarren Airport, Richard Bledsoe for the city of Las Vegas Recreational Building, Ira Marshak Twin Lakes Shopping Center on Tonopah Highway, and Elmo Bruner First National Bank of Las Vegas.
While Paradise Village may seem a little rough around edges at first glance, an understanding of the neighborhood’s history and influence of mid-century architecture shows the importance of getting this neighborhood designated as historic. This neighborhood gem is just off the beaten path, and waiting to be discovered once again.