When it opened in 1973 at 400 Stewart Avenue, news reports called Las Vegas City Hall "ultra-modern" and proof the community was "in the midst of modernity."
Eight weeks after city government abandoned the 11-story, concrete-and-stone structure for a glittering new City Hall at 495 S. Main Street, it's surrounded by chain-link fencing, untamed shrubs and stained sidewalks.
That the dated edifice marked by imposing outer walls, stiflingly low interior ceilings, small offices and incredibly inefficient climate control was once considered cutting edge seems laughable.
That the incoming tenants from online retailer Zappos intend to bring it back to the forefront of Las Vegas culture seems equally far-fetched, at least to anyone who hasn't taken the time to listen to the people seeking to breathe new life into the forlorn downtown corner.
"This building has been here 40 years," says Zach Ware, who is leading the $40 million renovation project for Zappos. "What we're doing here today is refitting it for another 40."
The company will lease the building from Resort Gaming Group, a company run by developer Andrew Donner that bought it from the city for $18 million, for a corporate headquarters it plans to open in October 2013.
That gives Ware and others working on the transformation 18 months to create a space that fits with a Zappos culture that calls on employees to "create fun and a little weirdness."
The result is a renovation project unlike any other downtown, with demands to tear out interior walls, false ceilings and barriers that keep natural light from penetrating the structure, while retaining funky features like old jail cells that occupy part of the second floor.
The building also has to accommodate up to 2,000 employees, nearly three times the number of people who worked there for the city.
Although demolition work could start within a couple weeks, much of how the finished product will look remains in flux, as Zappos employees, Ware, CEO Tony Hsieh, architects and builders are still weighing ideas -- everything from rooftop gathering spaces to an outdoor concert venue.
"I think not knowing what we're doing is actually a good thing," says Ware, who didn't have previous construction or architecture experience before the project started.
"If you're an office building person, you wouldn't be thinking about that."
What is known is that cells from the former city jail will remain, a bistro is likely to go into the former library building to the northwest of the main structure, and the number of entrances will be reduced to concentrate comings and goings and encourage "serendipitous interactions" that Hsieh and others say are critical to fostering ideas.
That means not only creating individual work space for call center employees and others but also placing a heavy emphasis on common space that draws people out of the building to gather, eat, chat or enjoy the sun.
Inside workers also will tear out as many interior walls as possible to make views to the horizon line visible throughout the building and remove or repurpose other features that made sense when the structure was built for the city but wouldn't be useful for Zappos -- such as the massive, dual concrete ramps to carry traffic from the street to an adjacent parking garage.
"The city had a jail. That jail needed a special entrance so the mayor and criminals never crossed paths," Ware says. "We don't need that."
In addition to the main structure, Zappos will have use of a parking structure across Stewart Avenue, and Resort Gaming Group will lease space on the first floor of the garage and in the city's former TV studio.
Zappos has hired Penta Building Group of Las Vegas for construction and KMB Design of Seattle for architecture, the latter of which replaced Gensler of Las Vegas, the original architects on the project.
Penta superintendent Randy Corwin says despite the cosmetic flaws, the former City Hall is a high-quality structure.
"I think it has good bones," Corwin says. Del Webb, the original contractor, used more concrete than would be used on a new building today, he says, resulting in a strong structure that can hold up in the long term.
Michael Smith, project manager for Penta, added that renovating the old building will be cheaper and more environmentally friendly than constructing a new one.
"Las Vegas tends to tear down when something gets a little dated," Smith says. "We can take a good, old, solidly built building and make it a lot more efficient for a lot less cost and with a lot less waste."