Over the past few years, you might have noticed that downtown Las Vegas has become a hot spot — not just for its hip, funky bars and restaurants but also for its neighborhoods full of vintage homes. Many of these homes were designed in the midcentury modern architectural style so popular in the post-World War II years between approximately 1945 and 1969.
While these areas were very desirable in their original heyday, their attractiveness has now come full circle. Why the resurgence in popularity? According to Heidi Swank, executive director of the Nevada Preservation Foundation, many homeowners are looking for homes that seem new, yet tie them to the past.
Michelle Larime, associate director of the foundation, believes that part of the reason is that “the typical, desirable house really hasn’t changed much over the years.”
“There are larger lots and more mature landscaping downtown, and that can be very attractive to people,” she said. “Also, these properties often fall into a better price range for first-time homebuyers.”
Swank and Larime confirm that downtown Las Vegas follows some general national housing trends, with many people participating in a “back to the city” movement. Much as in other large American cities, people are embracing revitalization and the corresponding redevelopment that goes hand in hand with it.
Jack Levine of Uncle Jack’s Very Vintage Vegas real estate agency believes that a convergence of three main reasons is responsible for the downtown rebound.
“First, many people that work near downtown desire less of a commute time, so it’s partly location-driven,” he said. “Second, an entire generation of adults grew up in tract, cookie-cutter housing and are looking for something entirely different. And third, Las Vegas has a number of midcentury modern neighborhoods, and this is a style that never goes out of style.”
Downtown homeowner and Realtor Hayden Ross concurs.
“It’s becoming popular because of location and history, I believe. I also think it’s gaining in popularity because of the uniqueness and charm that living in an older home and an older neighborhood provides,” she said. “The residential areas near downtown are close to hospitals, the courthouse, the arts community, restaurants and city offices, providing an easy commute for doctors, attorneys, artists, etc.
“I think another reason for the increase in interest is that, in the last few years, people have purchased these older homes, remodeled them tastefully, and some of the blight that previously existed in these neighborhoods is now gone — leaving freshly landscaped unique homes which appeal to young families and professionals. It’s also refreshing to drive through neighborhoods with mature trees, wider streets and more green in comparison to other neighborhoods.”
Embracing its mission of preserving and revitalizing historic places and buildings in Nevada and cultivating a presence around cultural heritage and tourism, Nevada Preservation Foundation works to help homeowners through preservation, education and advocacy efforts.
Larime said that part of its work consists of aiding homeowners in sourcing materials that were common to their homes’ era as well as advising on sustainability.
“We advise homeowners to really try to keep elements of their home that honor its original integrity and define its place in history,” she said.
“This includes having vintage appliances checked out by a certified electrician and making sure all aspects of the home (including plumbing and electrical systems) are safe,” Swank said.
That is especially important because, as Ross said, “Neither of the two historic areas where I have lived has building standards. However, when entering many homes in this area, it’s like stepping back into the 1960s as some homes still have the original bathrooms, kitchens, flooring, etc., and others have tastefully remodeled their home to incorporate many of those older elements while making the home more efficient for the times.”
Just as Swank and Larime reside downtown, Ross notes that many preservationists live in these neighborhoods.
“Seeing homes being tastefully remodeled to their former glory or kept in their original condition makes everyone in the neighborhood happy,” she said. “These neighborhoods are historically significant to Las Vegas, and the wish I think most residents have is that the people purchasing these homes carefully and thoughtfully remodel them or keep them in their original condition making only absolutely necessary changes.”
Since moving to Las Vegas in 1999, Ross harbored a dream of living downtown.
“I have always had an interest in unique architecture and appreciate the look and architectural value of midcentury modern homes in particular,” she said. “I remember driving down Alta Lane between Valley View and Rancho, and saying to myself, ‘Someday when I can afford it, I want to live here.’ I marveled at the angular homes, the big trees and the beautifully landscaped part of Alta.”
Ross specifically notes that these neighborhoods confirm to an engaged community concept.
“People know their neighbors. It’s a diverse neighborhood that includes people of all races, professions and lifestyles, yet creates a community that cares,” she said.
“People watch out for neighbors’ homes, and if they see something suspicious, they call them or post on the neighborhood Facebook page. Residents also post pictures of lost dogs and shelter them until they can be given back to their owners. It’s hard to put into words the sense of community that downtown offers versus other neighborhoods in town where people don’t know their neighbors.”
Ross continued, “People in downtown appreciate that their homes are different from the others in the neighborhood. These are people that eschew tract homes and value the uniqueness of older homes. Owners of older homes are also proud of their neighborhoods.”
As an example, Ross noted that McNeil residents used city grant money to install neighborhood signs that feature a 1960s-style motif on major streets.
“Again, I think it’s popular because people appreciate the uniqueness of the homes, the sense of the community in the neighborhoods, and its close proximity to entertainment venues, new downtown attractions, and businesses situated near the downtown area,” she said. “The medical school opening will be another shot in the arm for downtown real estate and downtown businesses.”