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Vegas Modernism off the Strip, mapped

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Bars, churches, theaters, and a vintage motel-turned-neon palace showcase more of Sin City’s architectural heritage

Atomic Liquors, a Vegas landmark
All images via Nevada Preservation Foundation, unless otherwise noted

In its own oversized and entertaining way, Las Vegas architecture has always sought to both replicate and overwhelm the signature structures of other cities. Where else besides the theme park-world of the Strip would you see the (facsimile) wonders of Paris, New York, and Cairo all on the same stroll?

But look beyond the neon, and the city of Vegas has its own story and architecture, buildings that tell the story of how a small desert town blossomed and boomed in the 20th century. This list, compiled with help from the Nevada Preservation Foundation isn’t filled with the work of modern-day starchitects, but instead highlights 20th century designers, local architects, and some of the lesser-known examples of how modernism made its mark throughout the rest of the city.

Aidan Wakely-Mulroney: Flickr/Creative Commons

Guardian Angel Cathedral (302 Cathedral Way)

It’s not a coincidence that this house of God is so close to the Strip. Built on land donated by Moe Dalitz, the gangster and casino owner called Mr. Las Vegas, Guardian Angel was, in part, meant to be a convenient house of worship for Dalitz’s workers. Los Angeles architect Paul Revere Williams devised the church’s graceful A-Frame design, which also provides a triangular canvas or sorts for muralist Edith Piczek, whose depiction of the Guardian Angel graces the entrance. Williams’ angular roofline also provides 12 spaces for stained glass windows, which depict the stations of the cross. It’s arguably all but on top of the action on the strip, but due to its unique provenance and design, thought it was worth including.

Morelli House Roadsidepictures: Flickr/Creative Commons

Morelli House (861 East Bridger)

Perhaps the most famous creation of homegrown architect Hugh Taylor, the Morelli House was built in 1959 for Antonio Morelli, then the orchestra conductor and musical director for the Sands Hotel and Casino Copa Showroom. The home’s horizontal lines, glass walls, open plan (which united the living and dining rooms), and spacious communal kitchen (where a bar folds down out of the wall) were perfect for entertaining, and showcased midcentury optimism and style. Previously located on 52 Country Club Drive in the now-demolished Desert Inn Estates development, it’s since been moved to a corner in downtown Las Vegas, where it’s preserved by the Junior League of Las Vegas, which uses the space as its headquarters and provides tours.

Atomic Liquors

Atomic Liquors (917 Fremont Street)

This unique slice of Vegas history, originally named Virginia’s Cafe, was constructed in 1945, and eventually became the first establishment with a packaged liquor license in the city. The current name originated in 1952, when the owners held rooftop watching party to scope out the nearby blasts coming from the atomic bomb testing at the Nevada Testing Grounds, just 65 miles from Vegas.

Neon Museum Welcome Center Gary Bembridge: Flickr/Creative Commons

Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Boulevard North)

This gorgeous set of concrete curves, which now ushers in visitors to a treasure trove of vintage signage, was another one of Paul Revere Williams’ exemplary worked in Vegas. The structure originally opened in 1961 as the La Concha Motel, serving as the lobby for mid-century lodging in the booming city (the rest of the motel was deconstructed and moved starting in 2006). Reminiscent of Los Manantiales in Mexico City, a Felix Candela masterpiece, the wavy exterior exemplifies Googie-style architecture at its best.

Flora Duggan Humanities

Flora Dungan Humanities Center at UNLV (4505 South Maryland Parkway)

Borrowing a bit of Brutalist heft via its flared supports, this academic building, a multistory collection of offices and classrooms, was the work of locals Walter Zick and Harold Sharp, a prolific architecture duo during the mid-to-late 20th century.

St. Anne’s Catholic Church

St. Anne’s Catholic Church (1901 South Maryland Parkway)

Built in 1963 by architect Elmo Bruner, this sleek house of worship, with a slightly curving concrete facade and a grand mosaic above the sanctuary entrance, exemplifies modernist church architecture.

Huntridge Theater

Huntridge Theater (1208 East Charleston Boulevard)

Designed in 1943, this gorgeous Streamline Moderne theater was the first non-segregated performing art center in Las Vegas, a centerpiece of a then-small town of 15,000, and at one point, was partially owned by actress Loretta Young. Initially a cinema, the space has hosted a variety of events during its decades of performances, including a 1995 show by the punk band Circle Jerks that ended when the roof collapsed. Since closing in 2004, the Huntridge, due to its large, iconic sign and long-for-Vegas history, has attracted attention and support for restoration, even briefly becoming the focus of a failed crowdfunding campaign.

Bridger Building

Bridger Building (225 East Bridger Avenue)

Built in 1964 for the Bank of Nevada, the bulky International Style building, glass, steel, and aluminum office space set upon a bank of reinforced concrete, forms a sort of mini-campus of mid-century modern buildings in downtown Las Vegas that at one time, were all owned by Clark County government. Kent Attridge & Associates designed the 10-story structure, which was recently picked up by casino owners Derek and Greg Stevens, who paid just $2.7 million.

Reed Whipple Brian Church: Flickr/Creative Commons

Reed Whipple Center (821 North Las Vegas Boulevard)

This ‘60s structure brought International Style to the Church of Later Day Saints, which initially used the site as a stake, a meetinghouse within the Mormon faith. Sold to the city in 1970 for $1 million, it’s since been used as a cultural center and art studio, and been renamed after a long-time city councilman. The site has an uncertain future, as the city decides to sell, rent, or demolish to make way for a potential light rail line.

MEET (233 South 4th Street)

Now used as an event space, this unique modernist structure was formerly owned by Bank of America. During a previous renovation, the bank vault was removed and steel structures were put in place to handle the weight of the building, rendering the interior totally column-free.