Longtime Las Vegans may remember paying (or disputing) parking tickets at the now-abandoned Bridger Building, one of a handful of high-rises downtown with marble tile and turquoise-blue façades. It may not seem like much of a monument—someone on SkyScraper.org even called it a “shameful monstrosity”—but to a band of influential locals on a recent Friday evening, it became a symbol of the city’s potential for sustainable preservation.
The nonprofit Preserve Nevada recently gathered a few dozen architects, engineers, investors, planners and students to brainstorm ways to save the building. The group drew inspiration from former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, as well as attorney John Mowbray, whose family originally owned the building.
The Bridger, Mowbray said, was an important center for the city’s power brokers during its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s. But more important than the building’s past is that it was built for the future—that is, to withstand an earthquake, with steel-reinforced concrete throughout. The Bridger is not an easy teardown. “It’s built like a battleship,” Mowbray says.
This may be the most persuasive argument for keeping the building. It could take 30 years or more to recoup the embodied energy in such a structure, says Patrice Frey, director of sustainability for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Her case for the Bridger reflects the growing belief that new construction—even LEED-certified—is not always the most sustainable.
So when you hear discussion of whether the ugly old Bridger should be preserved as a historic building, don’t scoff: Sometimes preserving the past is really about sustaining the future.