La Concha Motel Lobby

La Concha Motel Lobby, Las Vegas, NV

A Portal to Las Vegas's Luminous History

Architect: Paul Revere Williams

Year Built: 1961

Designations: Preserve Nevada 11 Most Endangered Places (2004)

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The lobby of La Concha Motel when it first opened

Credit: The Neon Museum, Las Vegas, NV

History and Significance

In a city of highways and transient visitors, sometimes even a 28-foot-high concrete structure must hit the road. The sweeping contours of the La Concha Motel Lobby's shell-shaped concrete emanate a quiet, almost classic allure amongst the dazzling displays of its Las Vegas neighbors. The La Concha Lobby's unique shape was designed by renowned African American architect Paul Revere Williams in the early 1960s. Williams designed the lobby for M. K. Doumani, who was looking for a distinctive building that would set his motel apart from its larger hotel and casino neighbors.

Doumani's plan worked, and during its heyday, La Concha hosted a variety of celebrity guests, including Ronald Reagan. The La Concha Lobby is listed in the City of Las Vegas Historic Register and remains one of the few distinctive examples of the classic Las Vegas days of the mid-20th century.

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La Concha Motel, Las Vegas, NV

Threat

In 2003, owner Lorenzo Doumani, a family member of the original commissioner of the building, announced plans to demolish the La Concha Motel and construct a new, larger hotel. Aware and supportive of the lobby's unique historical importance, Doumani looked for options to move the concrete structure rather than tear it down along with the rest of the property. This colossal task would require community leadership and a cost of around half a million dollars for removal and restoration.

Advocacy Solutions

In response to Doumani's announcement of the proposed demolition, a number of local residents, preservationists, and community organizations sprung into action to find a new home for the motel lobby. Preserve Nevada listed the lobby as one of its 11 Most Endangered Historic Places in 2004, and the Historic Preservation Commission of the City of Las Vegas, the Preservation Association of Clark County, and the NV State Historic Preservation Office collaborated on the issue. Advocates reached out to the public for donations and petition signatures to bolster their efforts. After considering and rejecting several options for the lobby's relocation, preservationists reached an agreement with the Las Vegas Neon Museum, who wanted to incorporate the La Concha Lobby as the centerpiece of its future visitor center.

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Moving La Concha Motel

After initially estimating a $100,000 project budget to relocate the structure, preservationists soon realized that Williams' swooping roof would not fit under I-95, an unavoidable barrier on the route to La Concha Lobby's new location. To surmount this over-head stumbling block, the Neon Museum requested and received funding from the National Trust's Daniel K. Thorne Intervention Fund to hire a structural engineer to assess how the building could be transported. In the end, the move required that the 1,100 square-foot La Concha Lobby be cut horizontally into 8 parts and reassembled on the Neon Museum premises, at a revised cost of $600,000. After raising funds from sources such as the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor Authority, the La Concha Lobby was moved over a five-day period to the Neon Museum's grounds in December 2006, and was reassembled.

Current Status

While the motel’s rooms and pool have been bulldozed, thanks to the efforts of a strong coalition of preservation groups, La Concha’s Lobby found a new home and purpose. In December 2008, the Neon Museum received a Federal Scenic Byways grant to begin construction to rehabilitate the La Concha Lobby into a visitor center for the Neon Museum and the Scenic Byway. Additionally, a series of restored neon signs will be placed along Las Vegas Boulevard leading the way towards the La Concha Lobby. La Concha supporters eagerly await the opening of the visitor center, where the lobby will live on as the portal to some of Las Vegas’ most luminous history.