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Las VegasBy Ken Rivadeneira

Look beyond the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas’ storied Strip, and you’ll see a city of architectural richness and natural beauty where generations have pursued their dreams.

  • Meet Las Vegas. Photo by Jeff Green
  • Las Vegas Country Club. Photo by Jeff Green
  • Springs Preserve. Photo by Jeff Green

Everything you think you know about Las Vegas is more or less true. It’s a desert city that boomed in the latter part of the 20th century thanks to the gaming and entertainment industries. It’s featured prominently in film and television, from Bond caper Diamonds Are Forever to procedural crime sensation CSI to, of course, the Ocean’s Eleven and The Hangover movies. Some people still call it Sin City, though that moniker doesn’t ring quite true nowadays—families with young children have made Britney Spears’ outgoing “Piece of Me” show at Planet Hollywood one of the most successful acts in the history of the Vegas Strip. Speaking of which, it is also true that you can see the lights of the Strip—the estimated 15,000 miles of neon tubing and hundreds of thousands of light bulbs—from outer space.

  • LAS VEGAS COUNTRY CLUB: The mid-century modern clubhouse of this gated neighborhood behind the Las Vegas Convention Center serves as a power lunch spot for local business leaders. Since its development in 1970, led by prominent local businessman and philanthropist Moe Dalitz, the Las Vegas Country Club’s 18-hole golf course and the outstanding landscape with the city as a backdrop have offered a unique sense of tranquility. Photo by Jeff Green
  • Las Vegas Country Club. Photo by Jeff Green
  • MEET LAS VEGAS: Formerly a Bank of America branch, this three-story New Formalist building in downtown built in 1970 underwent a massive renovation a decade ago—vaults and inner columns were removed and the shell reinforced—to become the multipurpose event and conference space Meet Las Vegas. At night, lights on the outside of the building cast a magical glow. Photo by Jeff Green
  • Meet Las Vegas. Photo by Jeff Green
  • FLORA DUNGAN HUMANITIES BUILDING AT UNLV: Admired by some and reviled by others—usually those who work in its dark, windowless spaces—the imposing Flora Dungan Humanities Building at University of Nevada, Las Vegas recalls an era of expansion in Clark County, when Nevada Southern University gained independence from its parent institution in Reno. The Brutalist tower is a wonderful example of that architectural movement. Opened in 1972, it served as a gateway to the newly christened UNLV. Today it still houses the school’s administrative offices. Photo by Jeff Green

But the clichés don’t take into account the 100-plus years of history prior to the 1960s, when the boom started, or the terrific quality of life that made it easy for entertainment figures and affluent families to settle here. The Las Vegas Country Club in the Winchester area of metropolitan Las Vegas, for example, sprang out of a need for community and leisure away from the Strip. To this day, its championship golf course and modernist clubhouse with fitness, swimming and racquet sports facilities remain havens for locals. And the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, the site of the original springs that fed this grassy valley, now comprise 180 acres of botanical gardens and trails where locals can catch their breath in the heart of the city. There’s an entire Vegas that the vast majority of visitors never sees.

  • LOU RUVO CENTER FOR BRAIN HEALTH: “It symbolizes hope,” architect Frank Gehry has said of his design for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, which opened in 2010. A component of Symphony Park in downtown, the building houses a research center and nonprofit focused on curing cognitive disorders. For donors, it’s evidence of the center’s commitment to its mission; for the public, it’s a prime example of Las Vegas’ ambition to be more than Sin City. Photo by Jeff Green
  • SPRINGS PRESERVE: Las Vegas is Spanish for “the meadows,” an allusion to the unique patch of vegetation that existed thanks to underground springs before the city was built in an otherwise unforgiving desert. The Las Vegas Springs Preserve, a 180-acre expanse with botanical gardens, museums and biking trails, is the site of the original spring that served as a water stop for everyone from the indigenous Anasazi people to pioneer wagon trains, leading Las Vegas to become a major railroad junction. Photo by Jeff Green
  • Springs Preserve. Photo by Jeff Green
  • GUARDIAN ANGEL CATHEDRAL: Before the A-frame Guardian Angel Cathedral was built in 1963, various Strip hotels held Sunday mass for their Catholic workers. Casino owner Moe Dalitz, a onetime bootlegger with Mafia ties who became a civic leader, donated the land to the church and commissioned architect Paul Revere Williams to create it. Photo by Jeff Green

You may also know that the city—after decades of surging growth underpinning thriving suburbs such as Summerlin and Henderson—was one of the hardest hit by the real estate crash during the recession. What you may not have heard about is its recovery. Between 2010 and 2015, the total number of jobs in Vegas increased by 14.1 percent, a rate that outpaced the rest of the country, according to data from the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank. Although many of those jobs are in the hospitality industry, the arrival of companies such as Audi and Zappos has also drawn educated STEM professionals to the city, changing the face of downtown Las Vegas and giving new life to urban redevelopment projects that had stalled at the height of the crisis. Today, there are even small-scale efforts to rethink the way the city functions—for instance, the installation of streetlamps that can be powered by the kinetic energy generated by pedestrians. What if one day a majority of the over 42 million annual visitors to Las Vegas could power all the bright lights of the Strip?

As with all cities, Las Vegas’ development has enjoyed booms and endured busts, but a constant throughout its history is compelling architecture. Look beyond the Strip and its mega-resorts, and you’ll see a distinctively optimistic modernist identity that tells much of the Vegas story—one of creating an oasis of opportunity in the Mojave Desert. »

  • Cityscape

    WHERE TO WORK, INVEST AND PLAY IN LAS VEGAS

Downtown Project

Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh’s quixotic scheme to redevelop downtown may have hit some snags, but it’s showing great promise. With more than $350 million invested in attracting entrepreneurs and tech startups through coworking spaces, the project is building housing to create a true live-work community. 701 E. Bridger Ave., hi@downtownproject.com, downtownproject.com

Las Vegas Global Economic Alliance

To diversify the city’s economy by growing underserved sectors such as healthcare, tech and education, this nonprofit provides comprehensive assistance to companies seeking to establish themselves in the city. Michael Walsh, VP of economic development, 6720 Via Austi Pkwy., Suite 330, michaelw@lvgea.org, 702.791.0000, lvgea.org

Rob Roy’s Innevation Center

This 65,000-square-foot coworking space created by telecommunications company Switch unites startups and educators under one roof to promote the exchange of ideas. 6795 S. Edmond St., 3rd Floor, 702.444.1111, innevation.com

Aburiya Raku

This traditional Japanese izakaya, or sake tavern with food, in Chinatown has a well-deserved following. Chefs from Strip restaurants come here for an after-work meal on Monday nights. Charcoal grilling is the specialty at this small-plates restaurant. 5030 W. Spring Mountain Road #2, 702.367.3511, raku-grill.com

É by José Andrés

With just eight seats, this private tasting room in the back of chef José Andrés’ more casual Jaleo restaurant at the Cosmopolitan is one of the toughest reservations in town. The over-20-course tasting menu, which the chef creates in front of you, changes every night. Make reservations at least three months in advance. ebyjoseandres.com

The Kitchen at Atomic

Las Vegas’ oldest bar, Atomic Liquors has debuted a gastropub next door, with elevated comfort food such as Mama John’s Mac Bites—poppers with poached lobster, peppers and Gruyère béchamel sauce—and sea scallops with salt plum chutney and Thai eggplant. 917 Fremont St., info@atomic.vegas, 702.982.3000, atomic.vegas/the-kitchen

The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas

This spring this 7-year-old property debuted the Boulevard Penthouses: 21 penthouses ranging in size from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet, complete with their own private gaming salon. 3708 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702.698.7000, cosmopolitanlasvegas.com

Mandarin Oriental, Las Vegas

Set in the CityCenter complex, the Mandarin Oriental offers a spectacular spa overlooking the city, a restaurant helmed by a three-Michelin-starred chef and an elaborate relaxation program with concierges who help you to disconnect. Donald Bowman, general manager, dbowman@mohg.com, 3752 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702.590.8888, mandarinoriental.com/lasvegas

W Las Vegas

A hotel in a tower of the recently sold SLS Hotel, the W opened in December on the north end of the Strip. It’s billed as the hotel for millennials who want to do Vegas but shy away from the full-on Strip experience. Mark Eberwein, general manager, 2535 Las Vegas Blvd. South, 702.761.8700, wlasvegas.com

The Smith Center for the Performing Arts

As part of downtown’s new Symphony Park, the Art Deco-style theater hosts Broadway tours such as Hamilton and The Color Purple, as well as performances by Nevada Ballet Theatre and the Las Vegas Philharmonic. 361 Symphony Park Ave., patronservices@thesmithcenter.com, 702.749.2012, thesmithcenter.com

The Neon Museum

Vegas wouldn’t be Vegas without its lights. This nonprofit collects, restores and displays more than 200 of the famous signs that have adorned the Strip. Book the guided tour to learn unexpectedly fascinating stories behind these icons of decorative art. 770 Las Vegas Blvd. North, 702.387.6366, neonmuseum.org

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

This cluster of red sandstone formations 20 miles west of Vegas is the best way to experience the desert. Opt for one of the hiking and biking trails to see breathtaking canyons and waterfalls. 1000 Scenic Loop Dr., 702.515.5350, redrockcanyonlv.org

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