Las Vegas is known for ushering in the new without much of a goodbye to the old. But tearing down a historic building doesn't just change our cityscape; it tears away at our sense of place.
For the last 10 years, Preserve Nevada has worked to save the state's most culturally significant sites. The organization's 2010 list of Most Endangered Historic Places includes the Victory Hotel in downtown Las Vegas, the Ward Charcoal Ovens, and the Masonic Hall Building in Carson City.
While critics might see preservation efforts as impeding development, the group is focused on improving residents' quality of life, said history professor Andy Kirk, the organization's founder.
"One of the fundamental goals of preservation is maintaining the sense of place," said Kirk. "People who do not have a connection to a place are more likely to withdraw from their community and its activities."
That can translate into residents unwilling to invest in their communities. Case in point, a recent UNLV sociology survey found many Las Vegans do not feel attached to the city and would leave if they could. Fostering nostalgia for a community's places helps longtimers and newcomers alike feel they belong, said sociology professor Michael Ian Borer.
"Common reference points are necessary for community building and creating a collective consciousness of who we were, who we are, and who we want to be," Borer said. "That goes back to having places serving as mediums to connect people."
Success: Balancing Out Competing Needs
Borer, who studies urban culture, adds the 21st century preservation movement reflects a fear that historical places could disappear given today's economic, political, and social climate. The tearing down of a building to generate jobs needs to be balanced out with somehow preserving a place's historical significance.
In late 2003, the La Concha Hotel lobby building narrowly survived the demolition when the three-story building around it was demolished. In 2004, the lobby was fifth on Preserve Nevada's most endangered list. After several years of hard work, the lobby was moved to the Neon Boneyard. It is currently being restored and will serve as the entry and gift shop for the Neon Museum.
"Preserve Nevada has been able to create a mindset where the historic fabric of this state matters - even in an area driven by development - and that has succeeded," Kirk said.
Other sites previously listed as endangered have been taken off the list through various efforts, including the Boulder Dam Hotel in Boulder City, Eureka Opera House, Las Vegas High School, and the Las Vegas Mormon Fort.