Old J.C. Penney's Building gets Rehabbed!

When I was a kid, J.C. Penney's was located at Sixth and Fremont.  Fremont Street back in the early 1960s was filled not only with casinos like the Golden Nugget, the Mint and the Horseshoe but also retail businesses like Penney's, Sears, Ronzoni's and Chic Hecht's.  But that all started to change a few years later when the Boulevard Mall opened.  Sears anchored one corner of the mall and Penney's and Ronzoni's anchored the middle of the Mall with the Broadway on the south-end.  Residents responded by making the Boulevard Mall a rousing success.  Everthing from high-end clothing to Woolworth's to candle shops, head shops and restaurants could be found at the Mall.  We no longer needed to go downtown to do our shopping.  The retail businesses began pulling out of Fremont Street.

The J.C. Penney's became the Fremont Medical Building.  The handicapped entrance was where the old catalog department once was.  But over time as Fremont Street continued to change, the Fremont Medical Building went empty.

Well, it is getting a new lease on life, it seems as an Arts Collective.

From our friend Kristen Peterson now at the Las Vegas Weekly:

David Curtis stands in the doorway of the Fremont Medical Center, soliciting signatures to put him on the ballot for the gubernatorial race. His bicycle is parked outside. His satchel hangs from his shoulder, and his jacket is tagged with a Green Party button.

Artists stream in and out. They're here for the open house for Emergency Arts, a creative collective that will move into the old medical building at Sixth and Fremont, across from the El Cortez and Beauty Bar. They listen to Curtis' brief pitch and sign the paper with their free hand. In the other: a copy of the building's layout, a price list and the mission statement for Emergency Arts. The artists survey tiny exam rooms, nursing stations and X-ray areas, still showing medical residue — signs, surgical lubricant, hospital-room curtains. If everything goes according to plan, these rooms will soon be studios, boutiques and offices.

Creative types plan to take over the space in March, working amid the medical-center theme. That includes Curtis, who intends to run his campaign from the building, and artist Simone Turner, who plans to have a teaching studio.

"It's an exciting building. It has history to it," Turner says.

She knows its history firsthand, having been stitched up there after splitting her lip at a punk show at Calamity Jayne's back in the '80s. The building's condition — water stains on ceilings, busted walls, stained toilets — makes it hard to imagine getting an exam there, but there are plans to have it cleaned up by March.

Turner isn't bothered by the lack of windows in the rooms off the back corridors: "I can put in the lighting I want."

Michael Cornthwaite, owner of the Downtown Cocktail Room, and Jennifer Harrington, owner of the just-closed Henri & Odette Gallery, are leasing the center and managing the multiuse space as a way to rejuvenate the struggling arts scene and add more diversity to the Downtown entertainment district. That it's not in the neighboring arts district has generated chatter, but not enough to curb interest in the project. Its January 14 open house created a lot of traffic. Eleven of the several-dozen people who turned out signed letters of intent to lease, Harrington says. Others still are considering.

Rents range from $200 to $1,500 per month, plus common-area fees. The informational packet informs "ideal tenants" that they need to be able to "see the vision of this project, and the collective benefits from being involved. If we have to convince you, this project is not for you."

Harrington wants a café in the entry area that serves catered food, and a coffee counter. She and Cornthwaite are reaching out to filmmakers and start-up nonprofits.

"It's great," says artist and Downtown resident Justin Favela, who wants to lease a studio space this summer. "It's so funny. It's like a hospital for art — trying to keep the art alive in Las Vegas. And you can work in here and drink across the street."