Brian "Paco" Alvarez is one of those guys that everyone seems to know. Mention his name to a group of people, and the chances are pretty good that someone in the group knows Paco. Paco is a native son, born and raised. He has lived Downtown for many years and has been extolling the advantages of Downtown life and the history of Downtown for twice as long. He has worked at the the Liberace Foundation, the City of Las Vegas Office of Cultural Affairs, the Neon Museum, the Las Vegas News Bureau and now is working at Zappos .
He has curated various exhibits on the history of Las Vegas, can be found at gallery openings, museum galas and all around town where ever history and preservation are being discussed.
Despite his busy schedule, he carved out some time to talk about two of his favorite subjects- history and preservation in Las Vegas.
CLV Blog: How did you become interested in Las Vegas history?
Alvarez: I have always loved history and have been fascinated for what came before. Though I will be honest I never thought that I would follow a career in the field. My degree is in Anthropology with an emphasis in Museum Studies so it was natural for me to go into the museum field and work more on the technical side of the field. But it was in the museum world that solidified my penchant for history, in particular Las Vegas history. My studies at UNLV put me in direct contact with the Union Pacific Collection at Special Collections and studying those early documents from Las Vegas’ earliest days showed me that our community was so much more than the razzmatazz of the Las Vegas Strip.
CLV Blog: What is the most interesting historical fact/image/object you have found about the city and why?
Alvarez: Oh my there are so many but if I had to pick one object, a photo in particular that is really profound, it would have to be the image of Montana Senator William Andrews Clark arriving in his private train car known as the “Clark Special.” Clark may have been a shrewd copper baron who was the epitome of the classic rags-to-riches American story; but no matter which way you may want to see it he was and will always be the “Father of Las Vegas” the real Mr. Las Vegas.
CLV Blog: Can you talk a bit the history of Las Vegas and what people should know that they probably don't.
Alvarez: Las Vegas has a complicated past, a bit schizophrenic if I may use such a crude word to describe it. The one thing that people need to understand is that gambling, or the more politically correct term used today, Gaming was not what created Las Vegas. Yes today gaming is the economic driving engine of the community and of course the state but it was transportation that made the community viable. The railroads opened the West and helped spearhead the development of what would eventually be called “The Entertainment Capital of the World”. Without transportation and Las Vegas ample water supply at the time the community would still be a dusty outpost in the middle of the desert.
CLV Blog: Why is the mid-century modern architecture of Las Vegas important?
Alvarez: The city was founded in 1905 during the post Victorian Age known as the Edwardian era. A time of the architectural style known as the Beaux Arts. Though very few buildings in Las Vegas were made as grandiose as this architectural style demanded there were elements of this era in a few buildings of the time. The one that comes to mind was the first Clark County Courthouse (1914) that was designed by architect Frederick DeLongchamps. Though the courthouse would be greatly altered and “modernized” in 1952 and eventually torn down in the early 1960’s there is little doubt that the community would have no problem sacrificing its past for Modernity.
Las Vegas dabbled with Moderne architecture in the 1930’s and 40’s but it wasn’t until the 1950’s that the community would have a love affair with design and of course that design would be Mid-Century Modern. Many of the hotels on the Las Vegas Strip would be designed in this architectural style, as would public buildings, bank buildings, businesses, malls and of course entire neighborhoods. Heck even the old saw dust joints on Fremont Street would add “Modern” facades on their building to bring the area into the new era. There is little doubt Las Vegas came of age with Mid-Century Modern design.
Sadly many of the great historic commercial Mid-Mod buildings would be torn down but luckily the community would be left with tens of thousands of Mid-Century modern homes. Many of which are being rediscovered and brought back to life.
CLV Blog: What's the biggest obstacle to overcome in preserving history and why.
Alvarez: Demonstrating to the unknowing public the economic value of an historic property with pedigree. Knowing who built, owned and resided in a property can greatly increase its value. The word historic should never be seen as a four letter word. But for this to happen it is important that we educate so we can protect and preserve.
CLV Blog: Why is history and preservation work important to Las Vegas residents?
Alvarez: I was once accused of being “communistic” by a well known person in Las Vegas for even suggesting city codes that would protect historic properties. Goodness forbid that we tell property owners what they can and cannot do with their property. I was just basing my argument on what places like New York City, Savannah and more mature city’s have done to protect their historic properties.
If Las Vegas is going to continue to grow, mature and create a sense of place for its residents we need to sacrifice just a little to preserve the last vestiges of our city’s soul. In this case it’s most vulnerable properties the very homes in which we live in.
Many thanks to Paco for taking time out of his busy schedule to lend a hand- Paco has long been a supporter of Classic Las Vegas!
Remember- History is what binds us to our community!
You can follow Paco on his blog: http://lvartsandculture.blogspot.com/ and be sure to follow him on Twitter!