Historic Preservation: Good for the Soul, and the Wallet, Too

Beverly Canosa

Most of Downtown Las Vegas’ residential neighborhoods—with a few exceptions—have moved from merely being “vintage” to actually “historic.” What does this mean for the influx of people looking to purchase a home Downtown? According to Nevada Preservation Foundation founder and executive director Heidi Swank, it means educating residents—and investors—on the benefits of historic preservation.

“In general, homes maintain their value if what’s in and out of them is congruent with the era,” said Swank, who is also a first-term member of the Nevada State Assembly and founder of The Flamingo Club, an invite-only, roving neighborhood mixer whose motto is “Building community one cocktail party at a time.”

Swank founded the nonprofit Nevada Preservation Foundation in October 2013 after several unsuccessful attempts to attain historic designation for her neighborhood of Beverly Green, a collection of 1950s-era homes bordered by Oakey Boulevard to the north, Sahara Avenue to the south, Las Vegas Boulevard to the west and Sixth Street to the east.

Beverly Green's homes are of another time, before we became addicted to Mission Style.

Beverly Green’s homes are of another time, before we became addicted to Mission Style.

“We had three different tries and every time it just petered out because people were willing to do the tasks but nobody had time to coordinate the tasks,” Swank said. “So it seemed to me if you could have somebody on the outside who was just giving people direction, breaking down the process into bite-sized pieces and giving deadlines, that this would all get done.”

Although it’s primary purpose is to help neighborhoods, homeowners and businesses to obtain historic designation and related grants, Swank said the Nevada Preservation Foundation’s unstated goal is to “raise an awareness of the history we have in our state.”

“Our history isn’t very deep,” she said, “but it’s been 50 years, so it’s historical.”

Just getting residents onboard with historic designation can be challenging. When the Westleigh neighborhood (located just east of Valley View Boulevard between Oakey and Charleston boulevards) was up for designation as a historic district in 2009, the process started with overwhelming support by residents but eventually floundered due to misunderstanding and misinformation. The most prominent argument against historic designation was the fear that guidelines would be too restrictive on homeowners to the point of disallowing installation of handicap-accessible ramps—none of which was true. “There’s no way you can restrict that,” Swank said.

“People think about [historic designation guidelines] as restriction,” said Swank. “It doesn’t apply to anything inside your house, it doesn’t apply to anything in your backyard. It’s just the street view. They should really think about it as protecting their stuff. It brings a lot of stability.”

Classic homes are worth fighting for.

Classic homes are worth fighting for.

To help educate the public about the practical benefits of historic preservation, every Monday Swank posts a related argument taken from Donovan D. Rypkema’s The Economics of Historic Preservation on the Nevada Preservation Foundation’s website under a heading called “Preservation Mondays.” Such topics include “Historic Preservation is an Effective Smaller City Economic Development Strategy” and “Historic Preservation Creates more Jobs than New Construction,” each accompanied by real-world results and links to articles and case studies.

“Knowing that historic designation will help home values, I think that’s really important to people,” Swank said. “The warm fuzzy feeling is not what everyone wants. They want the hard value.”

The only residential neighborhood downtown that has attained designation as a historic district is John S. Park, whose per-square-foot prices nearly doubled in 2013, a fact that seems to support Swank’s assertions that historic preservation does positively impact home values.

“Home values either go up faster than surrounding communities or at least stay the same as surrounding communities,” she said, “but they are never, absolutely never, lower than surrounding communities.”

PHOTOS BY PJ PEREZ

  • Corinne

    Your neighbors’ perceptions are not unlike the residents of the old Las Vegas High School neighborhood. It was successfully placed on the National Register a few decades ago but it offered no protection because the residents still sold out to professionals who converted the homes to offices. Now, a significant number of the homes were torn down for multi-level office buildings because the city changed the zoning to multi-use. I wish you all the luck in trying to preserve our mid-century treasures. We have lost nearly all early Las Vegas architecture that is still in-situ due to a resistance to historic preservation.

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