They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, which may be true when it comes to preserving the midcentury architectural masterpieces of Paradise Palms, just north of the Las Vegas city limits. With urban sprawl on the rise in the 1950’s, substantial tract developments began popping up around post-war America. Inspired by the modernism for the masses aesthetic that was taking over suburban Palm Springs at the time, California developer Irwin Molasky launched Paradise Palms, Vegas’ first master-planned community. After nearly doubling the size of Palm Springs with their tract developments that still exist today, architectural trailblazers Dan Palmer and William Krisel took their post-and-beam construction, open floor plans and glass walls to Nevada to create one of the largest modernist housing subdivisions east of Palm Springs.
Built between 1960 and 1964, Paradise Palms consists of hundreds of modernist homes in a suburban development based around a shopping centre, schools and most notably, The Las Vegas National Golf Club (originally The Stardust Country Club). Palmer and Krisel drafted variations of a few standardized house plans ranging in size between 1,200 and 2,400-square-feet. To customize each home, the modestly scaled plans were rotated on their lots with a minimum of three different roof lines: folded plate roof lines, butterfly roofs and dramatic overhangs.
“If you lived in Paradise Palms in the 1960’s, you had bought the American dream,” says Bruce Wilkin of Bruce Wilkin Inc., who thoughtfully restored one of these modernist gems in Paradise Palms in 2012 (seen above). As we find out, Wilkin didn’t just buy an original Palmer and Krisel with its swoon-worthy indoor/outdoor living and pool, but also a dynamic neighbourhood with a storied past. “This community has a rich and mysterious past from a time when the mob ran the casinos and the Kennedys rubbed shoulders with Vegas entertainers.”
Glass walls and open plans aside, Wilkin appreciates the area’s rich past that attracted an eclectic group of Hollywood regency including Johnny Carson, Debbie Reynolds, LaToya Jackson, Phyllis Diller, Caesars Palace founder Jay Sarno and Dean Martin. “Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack reportedly spent a good deal of time on the links at the community’s Las Vegas National Golf Club.”
However, the neighborhood had a dark side, as it was home to notorious mobster Anthony Spilotro, the violent inspiration for Joe Pesci’s character in Casino andFrank “Lefty” Rosenthal, the inspiration for Robert DeNiro’s character Sam “Ace” Rothstein. Director Martin Scorsese chose the more aesthetically impressive 3515 Cochise Lane (above) as the fictional home of the film’s protagonist, played by Robert De Niro, instead of Rosenthal’s actual home on Spencer Street.
As seen above, facades stretched almost the full extent of the lots while concrete blocks or extended stucco walls connected the house and carport which intended to add length to the front of the house for a more impressive curb appeal. Distinctive decorative elements made use of wood, decorative concrete block, patterned brick, rock, ironwork and other unique materials.
“On one of the larger lots that back onto the golf course, our house was in pretty bad shape when we bought it. We took it right back to the studs, maintained the original linear layout and added a den, bathrooms and of course, larger windows looking out to the pool,” says Wilkin. The intention for Wilkin and his partner Ann Hillyer was to restore the minimalist architecture of the era and furnish it with midcentury furniture and collectibles. Now the home enjoys a den and three bedrooms with ensuites to create a boutique hotel feel for visiting family.
“We really couldn’t find all the materials we wanted in Nevada so I brought down hockey bags full of light fixtures, door knobs and towel bars,” Wilkin says with a laugh. And if you can imagine, Niche Kitchen, Wilkin’s kitchen design company, built the kitchen in Victoria and drove it down to Vegas in a trailer. “The contractor down there loved it — it’s rare to see this type of European design in Vegas where bigger is considered better.”
Sourcing some of their midcentury gems at Patina and Retro Vegas in Las Vegas, Wilkin adds that the pieces they offer aren’t necessarily all classic midcentury, but a blend of mid-mod with Hollywood regency style that happened at the same time — velour sofas, dining room suites in red crushed velvet, swag lamps and lush carpets. In the teak and glass hutch, authentic silver rim roly-poly glasses by artist and glassware designer Dorothy Thorpe conjure images of Don Draper of Mad Men cradling a Canadian Comfort in his Madison Avenue office. A vintage crystal chandelier from the Baccarat room in The Desert Inn and Casino hangs delicately over the solid wood dining table.
Lipstick red leather chairs from Gabriel Ross add a bold splash of colour while the weighty custom-built maple sofa table made by Anthony Baslzer in Victoria visually divides the open plan. The majority of art was brought from Wilkin’s collection in Canada and the classic Arco floor lamp was a must-have nod to the era. Paired with the Arco lamp is one of the most recognized achievements of midcentury modern design, Henry Bertoia’s classic Bertoia diamond lounge chair.
The I Love Lucy style sofa of the 1950’s was purchased in Oak Bay at an estate sale for about $40 and reupholstered at Gabriel Ross. The fireplace is in the original space but was replaced with a dual sided gas fireplace adorned in glossy brown tile. Behind the sofa, Angela Kallus’ “points of focus” paintings have visual impact in the open space. Tile flooring throughout keep things cool underfoot as temperatures soar above forty degrees celsius in the summer months.
The Mad Men-esque den is complete with four Eames lounge chairs encompassing a Tom Schneider table. Hovering like a spaceship overhead is a vintage Louis Poulsen pendant light fixture from the auction in Victoria. When asked if Wilkin plans to keep his home in Paradise Palms, he answers, “I’ve had it five years and that’s a long time for Vegas.”