What’s the use?
With the city’s old courthouse building in mothballs for several years now, many mull its future role
Thu, Sep 4, 2008 (midnight)
Photo: Jacob Kepler
Real-estate agent Jack LeVine describes the shuttered Clark County Courthouse on Third Street as a “classic icon of mid-century modernism.” You may be thinking: This place, modernist? Even before it closed in 2004—its court functions moving to the stately, 17-story Regional Justice Center a few blocks away—probably few thought that this place, with its boxy shape and the aqua-colored siding on its towering column, was much to look at.
Looks aside, there are better uses for a seven-story, 135,000-square-foot courthouse than its current incarnation as a budding eyesore—witness dirt where grass used to be, indigents periodically camping under the shaded entryway and a growing amount of graffiti. County spokesman Erik Pappa says the building, constructed in 1958 to replace the Valley’s original 1914 courthouse, will stay empty until buyers or renters emerge or county commissioners find a small fortune just laying around.
“Initially we planned to tear it down,” says Carel Carter, assistant director of the county’s real property management division. “I have no idea how much it would cost to refurbish it. We don’t have any money to do anything with it. We’ve had no interest from buyers, so it will just sit there.”
“No plans are better than demolition plans,” quips LeVine, whose veryvintagevegas.com site highlights historic homes and neighborhoods and promotes Vegas history and urban living. “There’s hardly any pre-1950 residential housing or architecture in the Valley.”
But the place can’t sit empty forever. It’s so un-Vegas. When casinos underperform, we sell or implode them. So what’s an appropriate second life for a vacant courthouse?
LeVine suggests some sort of adaptive re-use that keeps the hull intact—a community center, perhaps.
Curator, urban historian and Downtown dweller Brian “Paco” Alvarez can imagine law offices or an artists’ enclave or a mixed-use facility with condos, retail and work space.
“It’s a brutalist-styled, mid-century modern building, which stands in contrast to everything about it, and that’s the beauty of it,” Alvarez says. “In Manhattan, I saw a very old building transformed into condos. That would take lots of money and a lot of work, but the location is perfect.”
Mayor Oscar Goodman would like to see a community center or an arts museum, anything that keeps the building where he tried hundreds of cases intact. Goodman says his most important case took place in the old courthouse.
“It was a 1967 death-penalty case. Back then, I was one of the few white lawyers who would represent black clients,” he says. “I got him off, and he walked out as a free man. That case is special to me.”
Oscar Goodman Museum, anyone?