Preservation Spotlight: Alan Hess & Mid-Century Modern Las Vegas

In our Lost Vegas article yesterday on The Mint, we quoted mid-century modern author, preservationist and historian, Alan Hess. Alan has a long list of books on architecture that we recommend you check out!

He has long been interested in the mid-century modern history of Las Vegas. One of his earliest books (which should be in your library if you love Las Vegas history and/or the mid-century modern era), is Viva Las Vegas: After Hours Architecture. It has become one of my useful books when writing for this blog.

Must read book that should be in your library.

Must read book that should be in your library.

Alan has also been a long-time supporter of ours at Classic Las Vegas. In 2009, When we did the wildly successful Mid-Century Modern event which included panels and a bus tour of Zick and Sharp buildings around town, Alan was the tour guide. He also headed up the next year's panel discussions on a variety of mid-century modern topics.

We were fortunate enough to be able to talk to him about history, preservation and Las Vegas earlier this month:

CLV: How did you become interested in Las Vegas history?

Hess: Learning From Las Vegas, by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, had been published a few years before I started architecture school at UCLA. It proved to be the Rosetta Stone that explained so much that I saw around me in Los Angeles that no one else explained. Signs, car-oriented architecture, scale, diversities of taste -- they all began to make sense. So then I was curious to find out how these seminal buildings in Las Vegas came to be: who designed them? When? That began my digging into Las Vegas history.

CLV: What is the most interesting historical fact you have found about the city and why?

Hess:  Frank Lloyd Wright and his entourage would stop in Las Vegas on their regular caravan journeys between their summer base in Wisconsin and their winter base in Scottsdale. He stayed at the Hotel Apache on Fremont St.

CLV: Can you talk a bit about your book, Viva Las Vegas: After Hours Architecture and what inspired you to write it.

Hess:  Though I was fascinated by the city's history, I never found a book explaining who designed the hotels, casinos or signs, which ones came first, where their designers got their ideas. A few articles by Tom Wolfe and Reyner Banham hinted at the answers, but when I couldn't find a book that answered my questions, I decided I'd have to write it myself.

CLV: Why is the mid-century modern architecture of Las Vegas important?

Hess:  Mid-century Modern architecture is Las Vegas. Those were they years when it was largely built. What Victorians are to San Francisco, skyscrapers are to New York, and brownstones are to Boston, Mid-Century Modern is to Las Vegas.

CLV:  What's the biggest obstacle to overcome in preserving history and why.

Hess:  Sooner or later, every prosperous, growing city has to realize the importance of its heritage. It made the city what it is. It shaped its identity. Every maturing city eventually comes to understand how essential intelligent preservation of its past is to its future development. But it takes a while for a city to arrive at this realization. 

CLV:  Why is history and preservation work important to Las Vegas residents. 

Hess:  We're already seeing a lot of grass-roots enthusiasm and efforts to preserve Las Vegas' past, from individual neighborhoods like Huntridge and Paradise Palms, to the signs at the Neon Museum. That kind of citizen involvement (which is growing quite naturally in Las Vegas) is important to the way people feel about their city, what kind of effort they put into keeping it on track, and ultimately to the livability of a city.

Be sure to check out Alan's website: