Visibility and Survival in the Cultural Corridor

La Concha, L.A. Street Market and the saga of revitalization

Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

Illustration by Ryan Olbrysh

When I think of La Concha, I don’t think of Summerlin, or baseball, or the L.A. Street Market. I think of standing inside the famous clamshell motel lobby on the Strip in 2003 as an excavator chomped into the 40-year-old motel rooms behind it. Rose, a woman who’d worked the front desk for years, took snapshots and cried as the machine tore through the back building, lumber popping and blue mattresses spilling out.

Plans for the site called for luxury condos—new, clean and upscale: revitalization. The lobby—designed in 1961 by Los Angeles architect Paul Revere Williams—would be saved and moved a few miles north, at a cost of about $600,000, to front the budding Neon Museum Boneyard. But the grit behind it on the Strip—cheap motel rooms, and the people whose stories rose out of them—would be ushered into history. Or, at least, to another block.

Last week, I stood amid buzzing tourists from all over the globe in the refreshed La Concha lobby that just celebrated its first year as the Neon Museum’s visitors center. There, on Las Vegas Boulevard north of Bonanza, I thought about what that old structure has seen, and what it will see. It has found a home, beautifully anchoring the museum, which grows steadily in the long-toddling Cultural Corridor. But the urban context continues to shift around La Concha: The business of revitalization has followed it north, and the fate of the area depends of issues ranging from urban walkability to stadium politics.

For now, La Concha stands next to a vacant building. Broken glass and a couple of bottles lie inside the former L.A. Street Market directly to its south. The market’s museum-side wall was made into a colorful mural by local artist Dray; its other side faces the weary Siegel Suites weekly apartments. On the one hand, the mural is an appreciated bit of local art; on the other, the building blocks the approaching view of La Concha. The store, owned by a family trust, has been closed since shortly after the family patriarch died in 2011. Although it’s for sale or lease through Equity Group, broker Sean Margulis says a price is difficult to pin down because of uncertainty about the future of Cashman Field.

The City, which is interested in revamping the blighted half-mile stretch between Downtown and the Cultural Corridor, has eyed L.A. Street Market and other vacant lots. But Councilman Ricki Barlow also says progress is stalled because of the “50-acre elephant in the room.”

The elephant, of course, is Cashman. When the Summerlin Las Vegas Baseball Club, a group led by Howard Hughes Corp., bought the 51s last spring, talk began about building the team a stadium south of Red Rock Resort.

But what would become of Cashman Field? And then, of the Cultural Corridor, which includes the Old Mormon Fort, Las Vegas Natural History Museum, the Cultural Corridor Theatre Center and the Neon Museum? And then, what would become of the lots south of La Concha—which, in any respectable bid for revitalization, need to be “walkable.”

The City is overseeing an architectural contest for the hypothetical redevelopment of Cashman, which could result in a firm winning a federal award of $800,000—but that’s a long way off. In the meantime, I think of La Concha as a witness to history in all directions. I stand inside of it and stare at Cashman, then walk south from under its curves past the abandoned L.A. Street Market into the parking lot of the Siegel Suites. An old RV and a broken-down Corolla are parked here. A woman in a beat-up Chrysler gives me an inhospitable look as she pulls in. A few dislocated neon signs peek up from behind the Boneyard fence—all within view of the La Concha lobby arches, which seem to me like raised eyebrows taking in the market forces.

For a moment, I feel like I’m back at the old site on the Strip, an uncomfortable witness to what will fall, and what will be saved, and what will be pushed into another ignored corner. I wonder about the displaced, or soon-to-be displaced. Some of what is lost will be revered in museums; some will be ushered out of sight. And the meaning of progress will always be subjective.