The battle over the fate of the Huntridge Theater has preoccupied Downtown Las Vegas for a decade. However, another historic performance space is fighting for survival, as the Reed-Whipple Cultural Center finds itself standing directly in the path of progress—or a commute.
The Regional Transportation Commission’s master plan for Downtown includes a light-rail line that runs through the south wing of Reed-Whipple, which may mean the entire structure must go.
Those who support saving the building applaud its unique architecture and cultural history. Assemblywoman Heidi Swank, executive director of the Nevada Preservation Foundation, says it is “one of our few remaining buildings in the international style. Its flat roofline, strong vertical and horizontal lines, and lack of ornamentation make it an excellent example of early modernism.”
The building, 821 Las Vegas Blvd. North, was constructed in 1963 as a recreation center for the LDS church and sold to the City in 1970. From 1972 to 2011, it was home to numerous arts nonprofits until budget cuts forced it to close. Reed-Whipple was supposed to receive a $45 million renovation/expansion that would contain a theater, rehearsal spaces, bars and a restaurant. But that project has not come to fruition, and the building has remained unoccupied.
The Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission met last week to consider the City’s and the RTC’s plans for the site. “I hope we can have a new occupant in Reed-Whipple who will use it well,” says Las Vegas City Manager Betsy Fretwell, adding that “a nonprofit would be ideal.” There were also suggestions of repurposing Reed-Whipple into a transit center. “We want everything on the table except for tearing down any part of that building,” commission member Jack LeVine says.
The Committee unanimously passed a resolution against allowing Reed-Whipple to be destroyed, as well as one to begin the process of filing for both national and local historic landmark status for the building. Given that the RTC is working on a 30-year plan, it appears the effort to save the building has plenty of time.