Today we shine our Preservation Spotlight on Joel Rosales. While you may not know Joel's name, chances are you are familiar with his photographs. For over ten years now, Joel has been documenting the changing landscape of Las Vegas and the surrounding Valley. From hotel demolitions to neon signage to historic neighborhoods, Joel has been photographing it.
Another native son, Joel has a keen interest in our history and our past. Through his original website, LeavingLV.net and now LostandFoundVegas.com, Joel has been sharing his photographs, memorabilia and photo collections with the world.
I met Joel back around 2005-2006 when I began hosting panel discussions at the Nevada State Museum and have been a big fan of his work ever since. His dedication to documenting our history often means he is up before dawn heading to yet another location that will become a place that isn't there anymore but will live on in his photographs.
Joel was more than happy to answer a few questions and share his thoughts on the City, its history and his passion for preserving it.
CLV Blog: How did you become interested in Las Vegas history?
Rosales: Having been born and raised here I never really understood what Las Vegas really was to the world. As I watched movies and read books that are much older than I am, I began to realize what a unique and storied history we have right here in my very own home town and began seeking out the places I'd seen and read about. When the realization came that most of these places are long gone, I began delve much deeper into their stories and made myself a mission to document what's left through my photographs and personal interaction with them.
CLV Blog: What is the most interesting historical fact/image/object you have found about the city and why?
Rosales: I think that the fact that we have SUCH a sordid array of historic events, places, and people crammed into just over one century is the most interesting fact! More specifically, I love learning about our pioneer days and studying photos of Fremont Street when it was just a dusty row of buildings, and love that some pieces of those places still exist if you peel back the layers downtown, or look elsewhere in the valley as different things have moved around and in and out of collections. My favorite personal objects are the gaming tokens and chips I've found purposefully encased in the pulverized cement foundations of a few different demolitions I've documented. That's a very interesting practice as well that I only learned about after stumbling upon these treasures!
CLV Blog: Can you talk a bit the photographing the city, why you do it and why it's important.
Rosales: I'm certainly not a professional photographer. I do it for posterity, and once in a while I get some really amazing shots. I wanted to document our architectural history for and get candid shots of life here in the valley as we know it during this last decade of major demolition and construction. I think it's important to provide that resource for future generations to learn about and appreciate these stories and places when they're no longer there, and remember that a lot more has happened in this valley than what's happened in the short lifespan of the establishments that are here now. Finding amazing candid and rare shots of the city and the buildings that are gone is almost like an addiction for me, and I hope that one day someone's as excited to find my photos and see a not-so-photographed place decades from now when it's long gone.
CLV Blog: Why is the mid-century modern architecture of Las Vegas important?
Rosales: We really defined ourselves as a city during the mid part of the last century. With the Rat Pack's now legendary performances, to the towers at the Sands and the Dunes, mid-century architecture surrounds and is a part of almost every aspect of what we think of as "old classic Vegas". It also helps us connect with other desert cities that were just coming into their own at the same time as us, like Palm Springs. I want to say it "humanizes" us to but that's not quite right. The mid-century architecture that replaced the gilded architecture of our beginnings is now being replaced. Since this style really does evoke our swinging, swanky past, I think it's important to take note of it and save it! Not to mention it's just the cleanest, aesthetically pleasing architecture in history (in my humble opinion)!
CLV Blog: What's the biggest obstacle to overcome in preserving history and why.
Rosales: Honestly, I've found two big obstacles since I started my mission: Money and nearsighted thinking combined. With the influx of outside money from foreign entities who do not know about/care about our history, we're left helpless to fight or reason with unnecessary progress. They don't see the value in our cultural and architectural history and have chosen not to capitalize on the unique history we offer. They ignore the fact that when people around the world think "Las Vegas" they picture the neon and the mid-century buildings and the kitschy architecture and signs. Now when you go into one casino, you've seen them all: a party pit, a center bar, and the same decor in a different color. Why would anyone want to come back to explore our city some more when every resort and casino is the exact same experience? I'm not a chain-myself-to-a-building kind of person, but it does make me sick to think about the opportunities that have been missed with every major renovation and demolition of a historic property for a cookie cutter resort, strip mall, or even parking lots!
CLV Blog: Why is history and preservation work important to Las Vegas residents.
Rosales: It's important to residents because we have a unique opportunity unlike any other city. We still have our tangible history. We can still touch and experience our beginning and see where we came from. Being such a young city has afforded us that opportunity here and now. Yes, other young cities can say the same thing, but none of their history could ever compare to ours! From real old west town with lawless cowboys and renegade Indians, to the construction of Hoover Dam, the legalization of gambling, our ties to organized crime, the world famous performances and stars that have come and gone, we as residents have a lot of rich history to be proud of and share with the world.
It's a bit embarrassing for the rest of the world to know these stories and have them be synonymous with our city, and then to have people come here and see that we've not embraced it at all, for the most part. It's finally become trendy to talk about historic preservation and to "know your facts" about Vegas history. With efforts to "save" and restore the Huntridge Theater, or designate historic districts downtown, we're almost in the right frame of mind. I just fear the day it's not trendy anymore and residents are once again disjointed and don't care again!
Remember, "History is what binds us to our community!"
To learn more about Joel and his work, visit his website LostandFoundVegas.com