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Las Vegas

Diamonds in the desert

Seven buildings you should know (+ a few favorites from notable friends)

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Residence: 3323 Seneca
Photo: Beverly Poppe

In a sea of iffy architecture, even Las Vegas has buildings that shine. Some we know about: the classy Fifth Street School Downtown, or the art deco Las Vegas Academy; the futuristic D terminal at McCarran, or the bold Lloyd George Courthouse. Others are a little harder to find—either tucked into the urban fabric of the Valley or, sometimes, hiding in plain sight. Here’s our tribute to seven such underappreciated buildings.

Residence: 3323 Seneca

That green—improbably, it works. (This may be the one green-colored house you’d welcome in your neighborhood.) It works because of the smart details (the square, white insets and faint articulation of brickwork that breaks up the color); because of the blank white plane that counterweights the expressive green; because of the setting (the austere rockscape, the modest puddles of grass, the blue sky); and because it effervesces with a kind of mid-century cocktail modernism that reminds us there was a time before Spanish tile and 27 shades of desert rose became the inflexible norm. Could there be again? This house gives us hope. –Scott Dickensheets

Christ Episcopal Church: 2000 S. Maryland Parkway

Christ Episcopal Church: 2000 S. Maryland Parkway

Some of the best buildings in Sin City are churches, and one of our favorites is the warm and inviting Spanish-style Christ Episcopal Church. Framed by tall and thin palms, the building is full of grace notes. From the front, the long symmetrical line of the church’s pitched roof is dramatically interrupted by the tower, and a swooping archway leading back to the courtyard adds an unexpected touch of Star Trek voom. Effortlessly classy, it’s a glimpse into another, more aesthetically satisfying, city. –T.R. Witcher

Regional office HQ of U.S. Bureau of Reclamation: 1200 Park Street, Boulder City

Administration Building: 1200 Park, Boulder City

A blend of Spanish colonial and Italian Renaissance revival, the 1932 Administration Building is the regional headquarters for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and commands the top of the hill at Hemenway Park, looking out over both downtown Boulder City and Lake Mead. This is one of the great urban spaces in the Valley, and the sober Administration Building proves worthy. Its long row of second-story arched windows is impressive without ever trying too hard, and the eagle emblem engraved on the stone fronting the main door gives one hope that, sometimes, government can get things done. –TRW

11th Street Lofts Townhomes: 117 S. 11th St.

11th Street Lofts Townhomes: 117 S. 11th St.

Despite the plethora of for-sale signs out front, the Urban Lofts complex is a good piece of urbanism, and suggests what a revitalized Downtown might look like for those of us who can’t afford a pad on the 20th floor of an oversized condo tower. The colorful townhomes convincingly address the corner of Carson and Maryland, and the variation in colors (red, silver, blue) keeps the complex from becoming monolithic. Best of all, the corrugated steel siding on the walls—usually a drab material—here winds up looking stylish. –TRW

Charleston Tower 1701 W. Charleston Blvd.

Charleston Tower: 1701 W. Charleston Blvd.

The Charleston Tower, a cube-shaped office tower sheathed in lustrous glass, is a building that helps us bridge the gap between Vegas’ supersized casinos and the modest homes that fill up the rest of the Valley. The right-angle geometries express the building’s structure in fine modernist style, and the recessed panes of glass help make this building look especially bewitching in the early twilight. It’s cool, not cold. –TRW

Las Vegas Development Services Center: 731 S. Fourth St.

Las Vegas Development Services Center: 731 S. Fourth St.

Sometimes simplicity is the best. There’s nothing flashy about the Las Vegas Development Services Center, at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Gass. Entering the building from the rear, off Fourth, you may even miss the long, handsome brick façade on Las Vegas Boulevard. But the real accomplishment here is the building’s human-scale proportions and reassuring symmetry, which helps provide Downtown with a much-needed sense of history and stability. Consider this the architectural equivalent of comfort food. –TRW

Las Vegas Temple: 827 Temple View Drive

Las Vegas Temple: 827 Temple View Drive

The beauty of the location of the Latter-day Saints Las Vegas Temple—in the Sunrise Mountain foothills, looking down at the glitter of the city—adds to the majesty of the architecture. Its angular, ship-like shape, with tall windows in stark white walls, adds to its dramatic presence. A copper roof and detailing, along with the angel Moroni standing atop one spire, finish the building with an appropriate sense of the ornate. Completed in 1989, it’s the last six-spire LDS church to be built (the church has favored single-spire designs since). –Stacy J. Willis

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And a few favorites from some notable Las Vegans...

Pat Mulroy, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority:

"The Desert Living Center at the Springs Preserve. I like the uniqueness of the construction."

A look at the Frank Gehry-designed Lou Ruvo Brain Institute at Union Park in downtown Las Vegas.

A look at the Frank Gehry-designed Lou Ruvo Brain Institute at Union Park in downtown Las Vegas.

Mayor Oscar Goodman:

"The Lou Ruvo Brain Insitute. It will be a building that people from around the world will want to see. It will be the focal point of Union Park and revitalized Downtown."

Penn Gillette, magician:

"It's really hard to pick one building in Vegas because the whole Strip and Downtown are so beautiful. But the ones I love the most are the ones without taste, the big stupid ones. Not the ones that just look expensive, but theones that look like they were drawn in crayon by a really rich 4 year old child, and then built to those specs. It's starts with Circus Circus and continues with New York New York, Excalibur, and then the Luxor (which should be called "Pyramid, Pyramid"). The Vegas pyramid was built by free men and women not to celebrate dead kings but to celebrate everyone with a buck to stick in a slot machine. Pure freedom. It's a pyramid built in the American desert with a light you can see from space. Just nutty and beautiful."

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