I first met Heidi about eight years ago when we were both involved in the early days of the Atomic Age Alliance, an organization dedicated to Mid-Century Modern Las Vegas. She and her husband were both passionate about Mid-Century Modern architecture and wanted to learn more about Las Vegas' role in that history.
She and her husband, Scott, have a MCM home in the historic Beverly Green neighborhood that they have lovingly restored. They live in a 1956 Cinderella ranch designed by Hugh Taylor for Rose and Louis Molasky the parents of Irwin Molasky. They co-founded the popular Flamingo Club- a roving, invitation-only neighborhood mixer whose motto is “Building community one cocktail party at a time."
She is dedicated to the worthy idea that our classic homes are worth saving. While Las Vegas experienced tremendous growth in the final decades of the 20th century and early 21st century, its original neighborhoods offer a look back at not only how the city grew but through its architecture offers insight to those years before the explosion boom and what was important to the residents who owned those homes.
In addition to be elected to the Nevada State Assembly for District 16, she is also the Exective Director of the Nevada Preservation Foundation.
The NPF is a "non-profit that provides historic designation and grant support to neighborhoods, homeowners, and business owners who reside in a historic area or own a historic building. The Foundation supplies much needed support to navigate the extensive process of obtaining local, state, or federal historic designations. Once designated the Foundation also provides grant-writing support and functions as a clearinghouse for grants benefiting historic districts/homes. As more of our state’s architectural past ages into eligibility for historic designation, it is important for the stability of our communities that we work to maintain our history."
Despite her very busy schedule, we were able to interview her for this series.
CLV Blog: How did you become interested in preserving Southern Nevada history?
Swank: As an anthropologist by training, I have long been interested in the ways in which our past makes us who we are today. In particular, I'm interested in how our built environment and the ways in which space is used in these homes reflects and impacts how we see them, how we use them, and how we understand ourselves.
One of the more interesting things about Southern Nevada history is that there isn't a lot of time depth. Many people discount the area because of this saying we don't have any history. However, because our history is relatively new it is in many ways more interesting.
We don't have hundreds of years of tradition impacting how Southern Nevada was developed. Instead, this community is in many ways a product of just a little over 50 years of a past. Having spent much of my career as an anthropologist studying communities with millennia of history, I find this very interesting indeed.
CLV Blog: Why are our neighborhoods and MCM architecture important to preserve?
Swank: I am of the mind that all history is important to preserve in some way. But our neighborhoods in Southern Nevada that have historic homes have many aspects that make them important to be physically preserved. We have some of the earliest implementations of the asymmetrical roof (early 1950s in Paradise Village), a collection of Palmer and Krisel homes (Paradise Palms), modest homes that were custom built (Beverly Green) (back before custom homes had to be 4000 sq ft.), and housing developments that preserve our working and middle class past (Berkley Square, Paradise Village, Westleigh etc.). These and other Southern Nevada neighborhoods are important for our future communities to be able to better understand their past and how this past made their present.
CLV Blog: Can you talk a bit about the Foundation's dedication to preserving Southern Nevada history.
Swank: The Nevada Preservation Foundation was founded back in October 2013. Our main mission is to provide historic designation support to neighborhoods, homeowners, and business owners. We anticipate that about 80% of our clients will be neighborhoods. For neighborhoods, the process of getting historic designation in the local jurisdiction is a lengthy process. The Foundation guides neighborhoods through this process and coordinates efforts across neighborhoods. We're hoping that members from different neighborhoods and also from non-historic neighborhoods will help out with historic designation bids.
Apart from our core mission, we also bring historic preservation educational programming. During May, we have our MCM Inside/Out speaker series. This series brings a different speaker every week to talk about some aspect of mid century architecture and design. We also have quarterly programming. Our first quarterly program is this month on May 20. It is hosted by the Neon Museum. It will be a panel discussion entitled Midcentury Home and Designs for Living.
It is our aim to make historic preservation commonplace in Southern Nevada.
CLV Blog: What's the future of preservation of this history in Las Vegas?
Swank: In my opinion, now that many midcentury homes are aging into historical significance, that is 50 years old or older, more and more people will start to get the idea of historic preservation. The homes that we work to preserve will increasingly be seen as important parts of our history. No longer are they just old houses, but they are cool historic homes.
CLV Blog: What's the biggest obstacle to overcome in preserving Las Vegas history and why.
Swank: The biggest obstacle to preservation in Las Vegas is the misunderstanding of the protections that historic designation provides you. In a city where we have seen home values plummet, historic preservation-across the country-has been shown to not only helps stabilize home values but also to make them rise more quickly than in neighborhoods without such protections.
I am looking forward to the day when I never have to answer the question: if we get historic designation, does that mean I can't paint my house? We will get there. And yes you can paint your house, you can always put an accessibility ramp to your front door, backdoor, whichever door, and historic designation is only concerned with your home's street view.
CLV Blog: Why is history and preservation work important to Las Vegas residents.
Swank: As a city that was among the hardest hit in the country during the Great Recession, preservation of our historic resources will provide not only higher home values but also employs more local craftsmen, keeps this money local, and creates more jobs than the same amount of new construction. Historic preservation is an important component to our economic recovery.
Remember, History is what binds us to our community.
Las Vegas has a number of historic neighborhoods from the Downtown urban core to out on West Charleston with Hyde Park, Charleston Heights and Charleston Rainbow to the Huntridge and Marycrest neighborhoods to Twin Lakes to Francisco Park and more.
Get out and explore these architecturally diverse neighborhoods and see for yourself that you don't have to live in a faux-Tuscan/Mediterranean box home to get that indoor/outdoor life with lots of space. You have choices!
Thanks to Heidi for being part of this series.
Still to come:
Karan Feder- Costume/Clothing preservationist (with some amazing images of showgirl costumes!)
Clay Heximer- local historian of Paradise Palms.
Stay tuned, Preservation Month and Preservation Spotlight still has some gems to come!
Be sure to tell us what you think of this Month's series of interviews in the Comments section!