Smith Center for the Performing Arts coming to Union Park

On the 61 acres of land that once was home to the rail yards and shops of the Southern Pacific Railroad, Union Park will be built.  Mixed use, retail, condos, the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts all promise to change the face of Downtown forever.

  Smith Center for Performing Arts

Smith Center for Performing Arts

From our good friend Kristen Petersen at the Las Vegas Sun:

Arts Center to mix it up
'Eclectic Architect's Test: Make An Impression In Vegas
By Kristen Peterson, Las Vegas Sun
 

Architect David Schwarz knew that designing a performing arts center in Las Vegas would challenge his "neo-eclectic" style, given that we've already created architectural nods to Paris, Venice and other European cities.

So what's a guy with a taste for the classical to do ?

Drive to Hoover Dam, look around, consider its relevance to the area's history and make a few sketches.

More than a year after winning the commission for the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Schwarz and his Washington, D.C., team presented a scale model at the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center Foundation offices on Monday.

The five-acre site in downtown Union Park has architectural elements inspired by noted European concert halls. There's Art Deco in the metal reliefs, outdoor light fixtures and a bell tower - much of it inspired by Hoover Dam structures built in the 1930s.

Known for incorporating classical architecture in contemporary designs, Schwarz was determined to continue with his trademark style but attempted to make the building stand on its own in a city known for pillaging historic architecture.

"It made life more difficult for us than it's been," Schwarz said by telephone from Prague , the Czech Republic. "We try to make our buildings suit their context - context of what is the building, the context of neighborhood, and for us, the context of music.

"What stumped us (in Las Vegas) is that there are two versions of the Paris Opera House" - the outside at Paris Las Vegas and the inside at the "Phantom" theater in the Venetian.

The three-building Smith campus includes a large hall, a small hall and an education complex. The carillon bell tower juts from the northeast corner of the main building and could provide concerts for people in what is, at least tentatively, called Symphony Park. A pedestrian alley leads into outdoor public space, a courtyard between the three structures. The ground floor of the main building has a grand lobby. Above that is an upper lobby that could seat 300 for dinner or serve as reception space. A spacious veranda overlooks Symphony Park.

The design team is testing stone found near Jean. Myron Martin, president of the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center Foundation, says the stone, called Nevada metaquartzite , costs more than limestone but is indigenous and wouldn't need to be transported across county. That could help the building earn a LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, Martin said.

The $250 million main building, with a 2,050-seat performance hall with four-tiered balcony and wood floors , is expected to break ground in 13 months and be completed in mid-2011. The foundation needs to raise $65 million before this can happen.

Part of that money will be raised through naming rights for various parts of the center, including $30 million for the right to name the main concert hall. Naming rights for the 21 exclusive boxes would go for $2 million to $5 million.

Next in line for construction is the $50 million two-story education complex, which includes a 300-seat cabaret theater with windows behind the stage that overlook Symphony Park. The building also includes a smaller theater and rehearsal space. The third structure to be built is a $75 million facility, which houses a 650-seat theater.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, founded by the former Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher, kicked off the fundraising with a donation of $50 million, including $5 million for architectural design. Don Snyder, a former banker and ex-president of Boyd Gaming , is the chairman of the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center Foundation and is in charge of raising funds. He started the Founders Club with $1 million of his own money. The city provided the land and infrastructure and car rental tax money will be used to pay off bonds.

As was anticipated, the building is fancy in a traditional sense. There are two entrances inspired by Theatre des Champs-Elysees.

Its style? Ecclectic.

"We wanted something timeless, elegant, unique but with contemporary elements," Martin said. "It's the perfect blending of old and new Las Vegas."

Because the large hall will take 30 months to build, Martin said, enough money could be raised before the completion for the education center and it's possible they could open at the same time.

The group will be interviewing bell makers in the next few weeks, including foundries in Amsterdam, London and Cincinnati, Martin said.

Electronic marquee at the old Las Vegas High! Yeah or nay?

It's more bad news from the Downtown Neighborhood (that is on the National Historical Register).  Seems the Las Vegas Academy (the former Las Vegas High School that was built in 1931 and for almost thirty years was the only High School in town), wants to put one of those electronic marquees on the front lawn of the school at the corner of Bridger.

The magnet school, which allows students to major in performance arts, want to have an electronic marquee to advertise their upcoming productions and shows.

The Historic Preservation Commission does not believe that the front lawn and the corner of 7th and Bridger is the best place for the sign.  They believe the sign will interfere with the exterior look of the campus.  (See photo below to see if you agree or disagree).

  Las Vegas High School Sign

Las Vegas High School Sign

 Thanks to the Las Vegas Review Journal for allowing us to use this photo.

The sign was reviewed by City Planning staff.  The preliminary design called for a 12-foot-high electronic marquee.  It was proposed by the school at an August 13th meeting.  The City Planning Staff recommended its denial to the Preservation Commission.

The Commission after reviewing the situation tabled the issue at a subsequent meeting, encouraging school staff and Nevada Sign to alter the design to better suit the character of the neighborhood.

This is the neighborhood where the homes date back to the 1920s and the 1930s.  Many of the pioneering families who helped build Las Vegas from a tent city to a small, thriving community lived in these homes.   Though the Neighborhood is on the National Registry, it is not protected by local preservation laws and in the past two years, many of the homes have been torn down for McOffices and McMansions. 

The initial request was recommended for denial because the sign was deemed to be incompatible with the historic architecture of the school.

Planners said its size would have a negative impact on the school's facade and the contemporary technology was not appropriate within the context of the Las Vegas High School Neighborhood Historic District.

School principal Stephen Clark said whether commissioners like the sign is irrelevant. "The code says 'compatibility' and the sign we proposed we feel is quite compatible," he said.

The code to which Clark refers is the Las Vegas Municipal Code, which states that applications for alteration of historic sites can be denied if the proposed work is not compatible with the distinctive character of the overall property.

Compatibility is defined as "a pleasing visual relationship between elements of a property, building or structure."

Nevada Sign, the company commissioned by the school for the project, redesigned the template after planners said it needed to blend with the neighborhood more. Features were added to simulate the building's front entrance. A plaque was also added informing onlookers of the building's historic significance.

The school plans to take the issue to the Las Vegas City Council if the commission rejects the proposal at its next meeting. Despite commission requests to do so, Clark doesn't plan to alter the design again or change the sign's intended location.

The school wants to put the sign where White said is the best view of the Las Vegas High School Historic District's Spanish Art Deco facade.

Constructed in 1931, the building represents the growth and development of Las Vegas during the Hoover Dam construction. Before it was Las Vegas Academy, it was Las Vegas High School. The building was given historic designation in 2002.

What do you think?  Let us know!!  Post your comments below!

A Brief History of Fremont Street (cont.)

North Side of the Street

Fourth to Fifth (Las Vegas Blvd South), the El Cortez and Honorable Mentions

Where Neonopolis is today used to be a thriving business community.  On the corner across from Trader Bill's was one of the favorite hang-outs of teenagers in the 1950s. Corey's Restaurant. Locally owned, Corey's served up hamburgers, fries and milk shakes as well as the usual steak dinners.  Next door was everyone's favorite department store, Ronzoni's.

  Corey's Restaurant with Helldorado horses

Corey's Restaurant with Helldorado horses

Ronzoni's

Ronzoni's had originally been located up on Second Street (now Casino Center) and Fremont but with the expanding saloons and gaming joints, moved further east and expanded their store.  Owned and operated by the Ronzoni family, they had come down from Tonopah where the matriarch of the family had supplied the miners in Tonopah with clothes and supplies.  When business in Tonopah began to wane, she packed up the family and believing that Las Vegas was the next boom town, headed south.  Ronzoni's had everything.  When I was a kid, that's where you went to get back to school clothes, they would x-ray your feet to see how much they had grown and fit you for a new pair of shoes.  Above all else, they prided themselves on customer service.

Woolworth's

On the corner of Fifth and Fremont was Woolworth's.  With it's shiny wraparound Streamline Moderne front proclaiming 5, 10 and 25 cents and its name in the terrazo sidewalk at the ront door, it was a beauty to behold as it anchored the corner.  It had a soda fountain and grill inside where many a youngster could be found twirling on the bar seats enjoying a frosty root beer float.  It opened in 1948 and stood proudly on that corner for almost fifty years.  In 1968, with the changing face of Fremont Street giving way to more gambling and less family oriented business, Woolworth's opened a store in the Boulevard Mall.  That store finally closed in 1997 when the chain closed the remaining Woolworth's around the country. 

El Cortez

On the corner of Sixth and Fremont sits the El Cortez.  It's brick facade dates back to 1941 when J. Kell Houssels,Sr built the small casino with 59 rooms.  When Bugsy Siegel finally made that long drive up the highway in the early 1940s, it was not to have a fever dream about building a carpet joint on the Strip but to muscle his way into the race wire at the El Cortez.  But the Hollywood story sounds better no doubt.   Siegel finally got his hands on the El Cortez when Houssels sold the property to him in 1946. Renowned Southern California architect, Wayne McAllister did the remodel on the El Cortez in 1946.  In 1963, young Jackie Gaughan, who had come to Las Vegas in 1943 when he was stationed at the old Air Base (that would become Nellis).  He moved his wife Roberta and two sons, Michael and Jackie, jr to Las Vegas in 1951.  He bought a small 3% of the Boulder Club and 3% of the Flamingo with partner Eddie Barrick.  Jackie had a knack for sports books and handicapping.  In 1961, he and partner Mel Exber bought the Las Vegas Club and in 1963, they bought the El Cortez.  Gaughan hired Wayne McAllister to oversee the design and construction of a new room tower.

Jackie invented the Fun Book, filled with coupons for free drinks, free slot pulls and two for one dinners.  Like Benny Binion, he had a knack for understanding and treating his customers like kings.

Today, the El Cortez still stands and is still owned by Jackie Gaughan and his family.  Gaughan lives on the 15th floor.  He still goes into the offic everyday and can often be seen talking with guests and can usually be found at one of the poker tables betting with his customers.

The El Cortez is one of the favorite spots of the CheapoVegas/Big Empire crowd and they are holding their annual Soiree at the El Cortez this June.

Buy Chris Nichol's new book on Architect Wayne McAllister

  McAllister Book

McAllister Book

  El Cortez in the 1940s

El Cortez in the 1940s

  El Cortez in the 1950s

El Cortez in the 1950s

  El Cortez roof sign

El Cortez roof sign

  El Cortez today at night

El Cortez today at night

  Jackie Gaughan as airman in the Air Force

Jackie Gaughan as airman in the Air Force

  Jackie's Funbook

Jackie's Funbook

Honorable Mentions

Rancho Market

The Rancho Market on Fifth Street (Las Vegas Blvd) which was an operating market from the late 1940s until it was torn down for Neonopolis. 

  Rancho Market

Rancho Market

World's Largest Watch Display

Not for what it is today but because of the pole.  On that pole used to revolve a three-sided sign for the Horseshoe, the Fremont and the Golden Nugget. 

Fremont Medical Center

This was the second location of JC Penney's.  The Catalogue Pick Up and Elevator entrance was on 6th Street across the street from the El Cortez.  It had all glass windows that fronted on Fremont Street.   A couple of the windows broke during one of the above ground Atomic Tests in the 1950s.

  The Former JC Penney's - today the Fremont Medical Center

The Former JC Penney's - today the Fremont Medical Center

  The former entrance to Catalogue Pick-Up and the elevator entrance

The former entrance to Catalogue Pick-Up and the elevator entrance

Special thanks to Allen Sandquist, Cheapo Vegas, Chris Nichols and LA Time Machines. 

A Brief History of Fremont Street (cont.)

North side of the street

Third to Fourth

People forget that Fremont Street was, in many ways, our Main Street.  Perhaps the most unique Main Street in the country.  As we have talked about the first four blocks on the south side of the street were filled with saloons and gambling halls.  The north side of the street had its fair share of saloons and gambling as well.

Fifth Street shopping

But as you got closer to Fifth Street (now Las Vegas Blvd), there were houses and non-gaming businesses.  Stores of all kinds that are necessary in a community where people lived and needed a place to shop.  And Las Vegas, in that regard, was no different from any other city.  Shopping in the shadow of all that neon and gambling hardly warranted a raised eye-brow most of the time.  It was just an accepted way of life for those of us who lived there.  Until the Boulevard Mall was built in the mid-1960s, there was no other place to shop for the necessities, except on Fremont Street.

On the corner of Third and Fremont across from the Melody Lane Restaurant was Bond's Jewelry Store.  Next door was Rex Bell's Western Wear. Bell was known to have one of the best selections of Western Wear in Las Vegas. Quite often, Rex's father-in-law, King Bow would be hanging out in the store swapping stories with the customers.  Bell opened the store in the mid-1940s when he and his sons moved into town from their ranch out near Searchlight.  Bell was getting interested in politics and would be elected Lt. Governor.  He died in 1962 while running for Governor.  Upstairs, were professional offices.  The corner office overlooking Fremont Street belonged to Mike Hines, attorney and he had his name written on windows that faced out on Third and on Fremont.  Today, the building is Fabulous LV Jewelry and Gifts.

Cragin and Pike Insurance Agency (call Paul McDermit and Frank Kerestesi) was next door to Bell's Western Wear.  Ernie Cragin, the senior partner, had originally been in the building across the street that housed the Majestic Theater (and he may have owned that building, but I'm not sure).  In the mid-1920s, Cragin built the El Portal Theater next door to his Insurance Company. 

The El Portal Theatre

The El Portal was the first air-conditioned theater in Las Vegas. Built by Charles Alexander MacNelledge, the hacienda style building was an immediate hit. There was no front signage, just the marquee. The sign that is still there today was not part of the original theater. The only signage originally was the roof-top sign. All that remains of the original theater are the interior beams and the exterior facade. The theater had a balcony and a strict segregation policy. Unlike Lloyd Katz, Cragin did not believe that blacks and whites should sit together in a movie theater.  In the early days there was a mighty Wurlitzer organ, luxury box seats and chandeliers. The El Portal also pioneered late, late screenings to accommodate the men and women who worked swing shift and could not see the movies during regular business hours. Frank Sinatra's film "The Joker is Wild" premiered at the El Portal in 1957. Ernie Cragin was the mayor of Las Vegas during the 1940s

Today, the Cragin and Pike Insurance Building is the El Portal Luggage Shop.  The El Portal Theater is no longer a movie theater but a souvenir and western gifts shop.   Cragin and Pike is still in business located on West Charleston and run by Frank Kerestesi's son, Tom.

  El Portal Wurlitzer and curtain - 1928

El Portal Wurlitzer and curtain - 1928

  El Portal Refrigeration - advertising cool-air and the original marquee

El Portal Refrigeration - advertising cool-air and the original marquee

  El Portal chandelier and interior beams - 1928

El Portal chandelier and interior beams - 1928

  El Portal Theatre - "The Gateway"

El Portal Theatre - "The Gateway"

  El Portal before the Fremont Street Canopy

El Portal before the Fremont Street Canopy

  El Portal 1991

El Portal 1991

The businesses next door to El Portal

Next door to the El Portal Theater was Christensen's Mens Wear. This was a high end store that catered to men's fashions. The Christensen family is one of the oldest families in Las Vegas. It is now Coyote Accessories and Gifts. Next to Christensen's was Sam's Cafe, a small local restaurant.  It is now the western side of Picadilly Circus and Pizza. 

The eastern section of that building was at one time, one of the last remaining houses on Fremont Street. When neon designer, Brian Leming, was in high school he remembers cruising Fremont Street and seeing an elderly woman outside watering her lawn as the teenagers drove by and waved to her.  The house was finally torn down in the mid-1960s and became Gallenkamp Shoes. My mother would take me in there every year to buy me saddle shoes for school. 

On the corner was Trader Bill's, one of the best Leather and Western Gift Shops on Fremont Store. I used to love to go into that store just because it always smelled like leather.  It had a large, flicker bulb arrow pointing down towards the door.  he outside was made to look like a movie set Trading Post.  Inside, it was leather heaven but they also carried lots of Indian rugs and jewelry. Originally, it had a wooden sidewalk before paved sidewalks were installed in the 1950s. It is now a Harley Davidson store. Kudos to Harley Davidson for keeping the sign and the facade.

  Trader Bill's circa 1960

Trader Bill's circa 1960

  Trader Bill's today

Trader Bill's today

Special thanks to Allen Sandquist and UNLV