The Nevada State Board of Museums and History considered two nominations: one to the Nevada State Register of Historic Places and the other an amendment to an existing National Register entry. The first was the State Register application submitted for the La Concha Motel Lobby, while the amendment was to the existing entry for the Westside Grammar School.
La Concha Motel Lobby Added to State Register
Jim Bertolini, the historian for the State Historic Preservation Office, presented the La Concha application to the Board. He briefly explained that the La Concha lobby was designed by Paul Revere Williams and constructed in 1961. It’s designed in the Googie style – denoted by the sweeping curvilinear lines – with a thin shell construction. In 2004, most of the motel was destroyed, but the lobby was saved and moved from its location on the Las Vegas Strip to its current location at the Neon Museum where it has been repurposed into their visitors center.
It was judged eligible for the State Register under what is called Criterion C. Criterion C refers to the design or construction of a structure. The La Concha lobby is characteristic of the Googie optimism of the 1960s and possesses through its sweeping lines the distinctive characteristics of this type of architecture.
There was some discussion of the La Concha application by the Board. There was a question of the impact of the lobby having been moved from its original location. Jim Bertolini brought up that State Register has allowed the inclusion of properties that were moved, such as the Morelli House. He also stated that the La Concha lobby would most likely not be approved for inclusion on the National Register because the integrity of location was undermined by its having been relocated. However, this did not preclude the La Concha lobby from being included on the State Register.
Another board member asked if there would be an impact on the historic integrity of the lobby because it was no longer used as the entryway to a motel. Board member Alicia Barber stated that function of historic properties often change and that historic preservation “encourages adaptive reuse.” She also offered that because the La Concha lobby remains a “welcoming space” there is much continuity between its earlier use and its current use.
Public Support for the La Concha
There were several members of the public who came to speak in support of the application. Councilman Ricki Barlow provided his support. Robert Chattel, president of Chattel, Inc. a historic preservation consulting group out of California, worked on the application and stated that “the movement and restoration will take on historic significance as time goes on.” And Danielle Kelly, executive director of the Neon Museum, provided moving testimony on behalf of the La Concha. We’ve included a portion here:
“This year the La Concha will welcome more than 80,000 visitors from around the world to the Neon Museum, roughly 20% of whom are from Nevada – visitors who invariably swoon at the intimate, sweet and joyful floating seashell. Visitors will learn about Las Vegas’ singular cultural and social history, and they will marvel at the rich visual experience of Las Vegas. And they will leave with a deeper affection for and understanding of the incomparable pioneering spirit of Las Vegas and Nevada. The historic La Concha Motel Lobby is the gateway to this experience; it remains an architectural marvel and icon for a city and a state whose exuberance embodies the daring of the Wild West.”
With that, the Board took a vote and the La Concha Lobby was admitted unanimously to the Nevada State Register of Historic Places. There was applause all around!
Historic Westside Grammar School Get Much Needed Amendments
The next application up for discussion was for the Historic Westside Grammar School located on the corner of Washington and D Streets in Las Vegas. The Westside School was added to the National Register of Historic Places on April 2, 1979. It was one of the first properties added to the Register. At that time, applications were very brief and this particular application had some inaccuracies that were in need of correction.
Robert Chattel was hired to update the application. He included a significant amount of information on the surrounding community with the hope that this amendment will become an interpretive resource for members of the Westside neighborhood. Board member Alicia Barber asked how amendments to the National Register work. Jim Bertolini replied that there are two ways in which amendments are added. First, they can become part of the existing document. Alternately, they can be a standalone document to coexist with the original. It was indicated that this amendment would be of the second type. It would coexist with the original document. This method was chosen in light of the significant inaccuracies that were noted in the original application.
Councilman Ricki Barlow lent his support to the acceptance of the amendment and stressed the “need to make sure that accurate, historical facts are in the public record.” He went on to say that the Westside School project has been a catalyst for urban redevelopment of the neighborhood.
Chair Bob Stoldal asked for a motion to accept the amendment. The motion was made and seconded. It passed unanimously. Now the amendment goes on to the Secretary of Interior for final approval and addition to this entry on the National Register of Historic Places.
Thanks to the Board of Museums
It was very encouraging not only to see these two important structures get the recognition that they deserve, but also to see the thoughtful engagement that the Board of Museums and History put into examining the applications. There are a lot of good individuals who work very hard behind the scenes to make sure that Nevada is a place where history is recognized and valued.