La Concha Motel Move Has a Ripple Effect in Las Vegas

Medium-sized image unavailable for this photo.
Paul Revere Williams' La Concha lobby

Credit: Mel Green

After a Las Vegas developer and nonprofit worked together to relocate a 1961 shell-shaped motel lobby in December, the city has a new appreciation for its mid-century architecture, preservationists say.

Instead of being bulldozed, the La Concha Motel's lobby was dismantled and moved off the Las Vegas Strip on Dec. 18 to make way for a modern hotel. The 1,000-square-foot lobby, designed by African American architect Paul Williams (1894-1980), will be renovated as a visitors center starting in September.

"It's been huge for Vegas," says Andrew Kirk, executive director of Preserve Nevada. "[The La Concha relocation] has contributed to a far greater awareness of the historic resources and what constitutes historic in Las Vegas."

The La Concha lobby is spending the winter in an outdoor gallery called the Neon Museum's "boneyard," a three-acre site where the museum stores neon signs it salvages from demolished motels.

In an engineering study funded by the National Trust, Melvyn Green and Associates determined that the building could be safely cut and moved and reassembled.

So the building's owner, the Doumani family, who commissioned Williams to build the motel, donated the lobby to the local Neon Museum and allowed the group time to gather state grants and donations for the project.

So far, the museum has raised $990,000, and the move cost $400,000. Workers had to cut the concrete structure into eight parts so it could be moved beneath a freeway overpass.

"The move was more costly than anticipated because, since this had never been done before (cutting a thin-shell poured concrete structure of this size), the contractor was very cautious and added extra shoring and bracing," Dorothy Wright, museum board member, said in an e-mail.

Now the museum is trying to raise money for the rest of the renovation, which includes plans to build a 1,500-square-foot addition on the back of the La Concha, which will be a museum visitors center and entryway to its Open Air Neon Sign Gallery, or boneyard.

"The interest in the La Concha spurred a lot of research into Paul Revere Williams' work in Las Vegas," Kirk says. "There's a much greater awareness of the legacy of mid-century architecture that's still around and a new desire to research it and possibly protect it." 

For more photos, stories, and tips, subscribe to the print edition of Preservation magazine.