Homeowners Give Las Vegas New Life Down-at-the heels residential neighborhoods off the Las Vegas strip are reviving as young urban homesteaders — including the Swanks — move into decaying "mid-century modern" homes. Think sunken lounge and stainless steel.
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Homeowners Give Las Vegas New Life

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Homeowners Give Las Vegas New Life

Homeowners Give Las Vegas New Life

Homeowners Give Las Vegas New Life

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Down-at-the heels residential neighborhoods off the Las Vegas strip are reviving as young urban homesteaders — including the Swanks — move into decaying "mid-century modern" homes. Think sunken lounge and stainless steel.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand. In one Las Vegas ZIP code, the median home price is less than half what it was two years ago. Las Vegas is also a national leader in home foreclosures, and that means social fallout in neighborhoods and communities. But remember, today is our show about good news, so producer Adam Burke found some in one Vegas neighborhood.

ADAM BURKE: Wandering a residential neighborhood in the northwest corner of Las Vegas, you can find homes with foreclosure signs. Brown lawns and landscaping are another dead giveaway that a bank, not a person, owns a particular home. But 48-year-old Rita Williams(ph) has sprinklers running, and her lawn is green. Standing in front of her house, Williams says she plans on staying put even though the neighborhood dynamics are changing quickly.

Ms. RITA WILLIAMS (Resident, Las Vegas): We don't know who's moving in or who's moving out. We don't know what kind of people they are. And it bothers us because we want to stay here. We want to keep our house.

BURKE: Williams bought in when the subdivision was brand new. Now, there's a growing churn of renters, and she knows fewer neighbors.

Ms. WILLIAMS: It's a dramatic change. When I moved in here seven years ago, you could sleep with your door open. Now, you can't. All of us own alarms, all of us.

BURKE: It's not just the housing bust that's been a problem for Las Vegas neighborhoods. Bob Filden(ph) is an architect and urban planner, and he says breakneck development for two decades, and the mercenary ways of the real estate frenzy, have had a withering affect on communities.

Mr. BOB FILDEN (Architect, Urban Planner): This town has gone through so much growth so rapidly, so quickly, that some of these houses were turning over every three and four years, and most people don't know who their neighbors are.

BURKE: But in some areas at the city, people are putting down roots. So, maybe just for a moment, we can set aside the gloomy news of the day and meet Scott and Heidi Swank(ph). They live in a modest neighborhood just east of the Las Vegas strip. And their home itself expresses a kind of optimism that seems, well, almost impossible today. But there it is. Even their doorbell sounds neighborly.

(Soundbite of doorbell)

(Soundbite of music)

BURKE: The kitchen, like the rest of the house, is a work in progress. But the Swanks have a dream.

Ms. HEIDI SWANK (Resident, Las Vegas): This will be a room that will seem very much like it did when the house was built in 1956. I think with the tile, with the yellow and the blue tile all over…

Mr. SWANK: It will be gorgeous. It'll be all this stainless steel…

Ms. SWANK: Very cute.

Mr. SWANK: And pine, and yellows and blues.

Ms. SWANK: Very colorful kitchen.

BURKE: The house was built in an architectural style of the 1950s and '60s known as midcentury modern. That's mid-mod for short. And there's an openness to the place. A bank of glass and sliding doors allows the sunken lounge and backyard patio to become one giant space.

Mr. SWANK: It's not a big house, but half of it is one big room with the dining room, and then it steps down into the living room and then floor-to-ceiling windows across the back and around the side, and that goes out of the backyard.

Ms. BURKE: And when the Swanks finish restoring their house, they'll have a groovy pad in the same neighborhood where Louis Prima and the Rat Pack used to party.

Mr. SWANK: It's almost criminal not to be having people over and serving drinks.

Ms. SWANK: We definitely love to entertain and to have dinner parties and - so that was one of the things we really liked about the big spaces in this house.

(Soundbite of music)

BURKE: Las Vegas has many midcentury modern homes, like this one, clustered around the downtown area. The homes and neighborhoods were built with the assumption that neighbors socialize with one another. Imagine that. And architect Bob Filden says the renewed interest in thesehomes is remarkable. After all, this is a city where there's always been a new development on the horizon, and where commercial buildings are routinely imploded.

Mr. FILDEN: The tendency here is to tear things down. It's always been a very disposable kind of community.

BURKE: Now, Filden says, Las Vegas is going through a bit of an identity crisis. The growth and materialism that has drawn people here is fading. And Filden believes in the future, residents will need to find deeper, more meaningful reasons to stay. Things like the mid-mod homes.

Mr. FILDEN: And these neighborhoods have meaning to them. I think they were sought out because of that connection to the past and to the history of this community.

BURKE: Like a great many people in Las Vegas, Scott and Heidi Swank are upside down on their home. Meaning, they owe more than it's worth.

Ms. SWANK: But we don't plan on moving.

Mr. SWANK: Our original idea was, let's buy a house that we don't feel like we're going to move out of.

Ms. SWANK: And so for us, it's not that dire of a circumstance because eventually, you know, within the next, like, 30 years when we may be selling the house, we won't be upside down anymore, and it won't matter.

BURKE: The Swanks have also started a neighborhood social group called the Flamingo Club, where residents get together once a month. And after a few years, the club is going strong.

Ms. SWANK: A couple of months ago, one of our friends in our neighborhood lost his job. And so he sends an email out to everybody in the neighborhood. And these are the kinds of things that are coming out of meeting with the same people you live around every month.

BURKE: And the motto of the Flamingo Club?

(Soundbite of doorbell)

BURKE: Building community one cocktail at a time.

(Soundbite of music)

BURKE: For NPR News, I'm Adam Burke.

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