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Las Vegas’s La Concha Motel Finds New Life as a Museum

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Image Courtesy Neon Museum


Image Courtesy Neon Museum


Image Courtesy Mel Green


Image Courtesy Mel Green

 

The La Concha motel’s signature lobby, formed by curling shells of parabolic concrete, has gone for a drive down the Las Vegas Strip. Designed by Paul R. Williams, the first African-American member and Fellow of the AIA, La Concha was a futuristic hotspot thronged by celebrity visitors when it opened in 1961. But over time, it was upstaged by towering new casinos and hotels. The motel’s guestrooms, which were housed in a low slung box off the back, were demolished years ago, leaving only the 1,100-square-foot lobby structure intact. When it too was threatened by a new development, the city’s Neon Museum saw an opportunity both to preserve the structure, and to create a visitor’s center for itself. “In Las Vegas, it’s a landmark,” Neon Museum board member Dorothy Wright says. “It’s important on so many levels.”

Last month, the building was transported to the Neon Museum’s “boneyard” on the outskirts of the city, where the organization keeps its collection of retired signs. The move was overseen by Mel Green, a structural engineer from California who specializes in historical buildings. “We couldn’t move it as a whole because it’s 28 feet high and it had to get under the freeway, which provides about 17 feet of clearance” he explains. Instead, contractors shored it up, cut it into eight sections and moved the individual pieces by truck under the cover of night. The $500,000 operation was covered by various city and state grants.

For now, La Concha remains in pieces at its new home, waiting to be reassembled and expanded into an exhibition space, museum store, and offices. Fundraising for reassembly is ongoing, and the museum expects to have the building back together by the end of this year. 

 

Tim McKeough

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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