A sense of history can get lost in a city constantly reinventing itself, but luckily some of Vegas’ oldest and most iconic neighborhoods are still providing a link to the past.
The Nevada Preservation Foundation, which has been working to protect and highlight the city’s historical places and structures since its founding in 2013, will host tours of these historic communities during its annual Home + History Las Vegas fundraiser the weekend of April 29-May 1.
The event will include guided walking tours through neighborhoods such as McNeil Estates, Paradise Palms and the downtown Las Vegas High School Neighborhood Historic District. There’s also a Vintage Vegas Home Tour that offers a peek inside some of the valley’s most carefully restored and renovated classic homes.
This is the first time in two years Home + History has not been either canceled or scaled back because of COVID-19 restrictions. There are, in fact, new additions to the schedule this year, including a self-driving tour that winds through a cross-section of older communities between Charleston and Oakey boulevards, according to Amy Raymer, Nevada Preservation Foundation board member and programming committee chair.
Also new this year is the Fake-itecture Walk + Talk along the Strip. The guided tour will visit hotels such as The Venetian and Paris Las Vegas and provide fun details about the architecture and designs that have been used in creating some of the Strip’s most distinctive landmarks, Raymer said.
But it wouldn’t be a trip through vintage Las Vegas without an emphasis on the city’s midcentury modern architecture of the 1950s and ’60s, what Raymer termed the “future-forward design” of its day.
The nostalgic, old Vegas vibe that comes with those low-slung single stories, large windows, clean lines and decorative concrete facades is always popular with both locals and visitors who take the tours, Raymer said. The Nevada Preservation Foundation website, in fact, touts this year’s three-day fundraiser as a “celebration of Vegas cool.”
“When people think about kind of the golden age of Las Vegas, they think about Sinatra and they think about Sammy Davis Jr. … and they think about the style of the casinos then,” she said.
Paradise Palms, which was recently designated a historic overlay district, is brimming with custom 1960s-era homes created by architects Dan Palmer and William Krisel, pioneers of the midcentury modern designs that helped define the iconic look of communities such as Palm Springs, California.
The palm tree-dotted neighborhood, Las Vegas’ first master-planned community, sits 2 miles east of the Strip, near UNLV. Through the years, celebrities such as Johnny Carson and Debbie Reynolds have owned residences there.
Another hidden gem scheduled for a walking tour is McNeil Estates in the heart of the city’s medical district near University Medical Center. The first model home was built in 1949, flanked by open desert and a forest of mesquite trees, according to Nevada Preservation Foundation member Mitchell Cohen, who will be guiding the McNeil Estates tour.
Over the years, about 600 residences were built on the development’s spacious lots, including several ranch-style homes constructed in the 1950s and ’60s. From the beginning, some of Las Vegas’ most affluent residents called it home, including doctors, lawyers, entertainers such as Mary Kaye and Sonny King, and at least one mobster, Cohen said.
But what truly makes the community unique is the number of longtime occupants, including some of the original residents who never left, Cohen said. The tour, called Doorstep Diaries of McNeil, will include visits with some of the most devoted occupants of the historic neighborhood, who will share their memories of the community.
“You’ll see some pretty interesting architecture but just as interesting — probably more — is the social history of the place, both the people that are living there now and the people that did live there,” he said.
“They’re very tight, too. They have lots of social events. That’s why the doorstep diaries are going to be so cool. There are people who are really proud of this neighborhood and it’s just part of their being, keeping it going.”
While the walking tours tell the stories of the neighborhoods from the outside, Sunday’s vintage home tour will give ticket holders the chance to see the inside of some of the city’s most lovingly maintained classic homes.
This year’s tour includes houses that are nestled in the John S. Park and Beverly Green historic districts near downtown and two Palmer and Krisel-designed “showstoppers” in the Paradise Palms area, Raymer said.
“We’re really excited because we also have homes in the Historic Westside for the first time,” she said.
One of the two homes that will be featured is a Tudor revival built in the early 1930s by LeRoy Christensen that became known as “The Castle.” The home’s facade has a turret made with stones gifted to the family by a nearby railroad yard, Raymer said. The stones were probably excavated from the Colorado River during the construction of Hoover Dam.
Raymer also noted that several of the homes this year are literal “time capsules,” retaining the style of the period even down to the vintage appliances.
Other Home + History events will include a Martini Tour cocktail party, special presentation at the Neon Museum and a twilight walking tour along Fremont Street with cultural urbanist Richard Hooker. A schedule of events and details about purchasing tickets are at nevadapreservation.org.