Timely question as Election Day approaches, since the Fifth Street School was where I first registered to vote. The building’s spell as home to the Clark County Registrar of Voters was just one of the varied roles it’s played since it was built as an elementary school in 1936. By the 1960s, residents began to move to the ’burbs (at the time, that meant Charleston and Rancho), and the school closed, leaving the city and the county to use the schoolhouse as various government offices.
The Spanish Revival building, designed by Orville L. Clark and George K. Thompson, is apparently the last standing here from that era and of that style; it was added to the National Historic Register in 1988. Jump forward 20 years (and $9.5 million), and the building had been restored and renovated (with KGA as architects), with cultural and educational adaptive reuse in mind. During this renovation, the main entrance was relocated from Fifth Street (now Las Vegas Boulevard) to Fourth Street. Today, the facility is home to the City of Las Vegas Cultural Affairs Division, the Nevada School of Fine Arts, the American Institute of Architects, the UNLV School of Architecture’s Downtown Design Center, and facilities for the university’s fine-arts program.
The old schoolhouse also adjoins the Lewis Avenue Corridor, perhaps the first tangible piece of Oscar Goodman’s downtown revitalization agenda. Built in 2002, this pedestrian walkway closed Lewis to vehicles between Fourth Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, making for a quick walk between courthouses and offices. At the time, city officials imagined the as-yet-unrestored Fifth Street School as an “urban mall” featuring cafés, galleries and other businesses. While that would have been interesting, I find its reuse as an educational and cultural facility more appropriate to its history as a public building. Next week marks the fourth anniversary of its reopening, and although there is no central calendar for the facility, you can find some event info at ArtsLasVegas.org, including listings for the upcoming Oktoberfest and Vegas Valley Book Festival.