"Saving the neighborhood
Advocate fights for preservation of Paradise PalmsBy MAGGIE LILLIS
VIEW STAFF WRITER
Paradise Palms, the first planned community in Clark County, wants to get on the map.
Celebrities have had addresses within its boundaries, and hundreds of families still call its Mid-Century Modern-designed ranches and split-levels home.
One of the community's residents is working to preserve and protect its charm for generations to come by achieving historic distinction for the almost 50-year-old development.
Clay Heximer is trying to shield the 600 or so homes from bulldozers, developers and residents looking to make harsh face-lifts to the iconic homes.
"I just love this community, and I don't want to see it go the other way," he said.
Heximer has rallied neighbors and brought his case to the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office Jan. 12 in an effort to obtain state protection and funding.
While he waits to see where Paradise Palms ranks against projects from all 17 Nevada counties, Heximer is working with local lawmakers to see his preservation efforts through.
The neighborhood is nestled around Las Vegas National Golf Club, 1911 E. Desert Inn Road, the former Stardust Golf Course, and is bordered by Desert Inn and Flamingo roads and by Maryland Parkway and Eastern Avenue.
As Las Vegas entrepreneur Irwin Molasky developed the area in 1962, he called on noted architects Dan Palmer and Bill Krisel to work their magic for modern, massed-produced housing, said Alan Hess, architect and architectural historian.
"Paradise Palms is a very good example of their work," he said. "What they were trying to do was to bring good modern design to the average person in tract homes. We're dealing with something of excellent architecture of its time."
The houses were about $40,000 back then, affordable yet competitive, Hess said. They sold wildly from 1957 to 1959, and it's rumored that a unit per day was sold in that time period.
The architectural duo added their signature design of slanted roofs, sharp angels and less formal floor plans. They tweaked where needed to respond to the desert climate, Hess said.
"It's one of the most distinctive parts of Las Vegas I've found," said Realtor and Mid-Century Modern enthusiast Jack LeVine. "It was a total rethinking of the modernist movement."
And the architects' vision wasn't limited to bricks and mortar.
Outside, they planted palm trees -- a Krisel favorite and a nod to the name of many of their developments. Palmer and Krisel are responsible communities such as the Twin Palms community in Palm Springs, Calif., and Corbin Palms near San Fernando, Calif.
Hess was unsure if any of their other communities are on any historic registries.
The first and only designated historic neighborhood in Las Vegas is John S. Park Historic District near Las Vegas and Charleston boulevards, LeVine said.
The area also is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It is protected by the city of Las Vegas Historic Register, but Paradise Palms falls in Clark County jurisdiction.
County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani is working with Heximer and the Southern Nevada Regional Planning Coalition, on whose board of directors she serves, to draft a historic preservation ordinance to propose to the Clark County Commission.
If enacted, the ordinance would provide "an additional layer of protection, as well as recognition" when developers or planners consider changes to the communities, she said.
It wouldn't directly block, for example, a high-rise from being built, but it would afford more room for discussion, she said.
"It gives pause, and the council would then say it would be compatible," she said.
The ordinance would differ from the state's because it wouldn't provide funds, Giunchigliani said.
"It's very difficult getting money out of the state," she said.
Achieving historic distinction can be tricky, and all parties must be in sync, said Mark Hall-Patton, administrator of the Clark County Museum System.
He has worked on cultural commissions in the past and seen preservation agreements crumble, he said.
"You're balancing a public view-scape with private ownership," he said. "You have to get everyone on board, and you can't impose (on rights)."
Not only is the community a part of local history, its moniker speaks to Las Vegas' growth.
The Paradise area gets its name indirectly from early Las Vegas settlers. Land that is now a barren desert landscape was a lush watershed for miners traveling through Nevada in the mid-19th century. Hence, many found a "paradise" from a of time ranching and producing food and decided to build a life there.
Another factor as to why developers chose the Paradise Palms moniker could have come from Molasky himself. The businessman founded Paradise Development Co. with Merv Adelson shortly after moving to the valley in 1951.
Paradise Palms was one of their first projects; a community sprouted up with the aim of supporting their future properties on or around Maryland Parkway. The men famously constructed Las Vegas' first enclosed shopping center, The Boulevard mall, and Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center, the Bank of America Plaza and Nathan Adelson Hospice.
"At the time, Paradise was the edge of town," Hall-Patton said. "It was somewhat of a gamble to build out there."
Heximer has a few neighbors who have lived in their homes since Palmer and Krisel built them. He went door-to-door seeking input and distributing information about his desire to get on a historic register.
"As soon as I would say, 'We're trying to get the neighborhood back to what it was,' they were all like, 'Yes,' " he said.
He has lived in his 1962 split-level home for about a year, and he's also creating a Neighborhood Watch and social hour for residents. He's resilient about protecting his neighborhood despite a tough road ahead.
"It makes me keep trying to find new avenues," he said.
Heximer is unsure when or if the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office will return with a decision. Giunchigliani hoped some sort of county protection could come this year.
"It's the right thing to do in the long run, but it's a long process," Giunchigliani said. "I totally applaud them."
For more information about the campaign, visit paradisepalmslasvegas.com.
Contact Centennial and Paradise View reporter Maggie Lillis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 477-3839."