Reed Whipple and Light Rail: A Preservation Solution

On December 9, 2015 the Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission at their regular meeting discussed yet again the fate of the Reed Whipple Cultural Center. But before we get to that conversation, for those of you who may have not have been following what’s been happening with Reed Whipple we’ll give you a quick catch-up.

Bringing Light Rail to Vegas

We’ve all been hearing the discussions about light rail coming to Las Vegas. We all know we need better public transportation. Yet, in a city without any significant density, it’s often hard to make it work. Be that as it may, it’s been all over the news about running light rail up Maryland Parkway.

At the October meeting of the Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission, a representative from the Las Vegas Planning Department presented a proposal to demolish the south wing of the Reed Whipple building in order to run light rail within 5 feet of the remainder of the structure. In addition, running the light rail south of Reed Whipple would eliminate most of the building’s parking. As Commission Chair Bob Stoldal stated, such a partial demolition and wiping out of parking would really just open the door for the rest of the building to be torn down.

Of course, this is not to mention that for a building whose aesthetics really are based on symmetry, the elimination of one of the two wings would leave the Reed Whipple unbalanced and awkward.

Collaboratively Advocating for Preservation and Adaptive Reuse

The Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission vehemently opposed any demolition partially or in whole of the Reed Whipple Cultural Center. They asked staff to draw up a resolution to this effect. This resolution was approved at the December 9 meeting.

However, between the October and December meetings there was a flurry of activity. Not only was NPF’s executive director, Heidi Swank interviewed for a piece in the Las Vegas Weekly, but Swank was also interviewed on KNPR.

Read the Las Vegas Weekly Piece 

Listen to Heidi on KNPR 

We collected almost 120 signatures in opposition to the Reed Whipple proposed demolition and presented this to the Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission. They were happy to see the community support for their efforts.

Add Your Name to Save Reed Whipple 

In collaboration with Bunnyfish Studio, we had some promising conversations with the Las Vegas Planning Department to discuss alternative plans for Reed Whipple and light rail. In these plans, we suggested that the South wing could be used as a light rail station instead of demolishing it. And lastly, NPF launched a collaboration with the Metro Arts Council to establish an artists’ co-op that could make use of this excellent example of International Style architecture. At the Historic Preservation Commission meeting in December, we learned that the Commission is hoping to submit a National Register nomination for Reed Whipple.

The efforts of NPF and our partners seems to have gotten the attention of the city.

Working Toward a Solution

With all of this work, things are looking a little bit better for Reed Whipple. While we are not ready to say it is “saved,” it does seem that the city is looking for alternatives to the partial demolition. At the meeting in December, city manager Betsy Fretwell spoke to the Historic Preservation Commission about the larger plans for downtown and public transit.

After she spoke, Mike Janssen from Public Works presented two plans for implementing light rail near Reed Whipple. Plan 1 would avoid the south wing altogether but may have a few challenges re-aligning with the proposed path on the east side of Las Vegas Boulevard. Commissioner Jack LeVine suggested a solution to this problem that would allow for easy realignment and would merely eliminate a bit of decorative landscaping on some city property across the street. NPF and the HPC prefer this plan.

Plan 2 involves demolishing a smaller portion of the south wing than was originally proposed. We were a bit dismayed with this plan. It seemed that Public Works does not understand that any partial demolition leaves the remainder of the building disproportionately less useful and will most definitely lead to a full demolition. It does not seem that there is a full understanding of the aims of historic preservation in the city Public Works department. There is some flexibility with portions of the building that are not visible from the street. However, demolition of street view portions of the building is not an acceptable solution. The HPC agreed with our concerns regarding Plan 2.

Ms. Fretwell did point out that this project is years in the making. However, the Nevada Preservation Foundation will not be waiting around. We will continue to work with the Metro Arts Council and Bunnyfish Studio to both locate nonprofits and artists to occupy the building and to work with the city to find a good adaptive reuse that incorporates light rail for Reed Whipple.

We could very much use your help in this effort.
Please contact us at to get involved in saving the Reed Whipple Cultural Center.

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