Las Vegas might have reclaimed its reputation as the Sin City of old with such campaigns as “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” But to culturally minded locals, their hometown is more than just a neon temple to avarice and excess. There is a hunger for more discerning fare that is being served by Downtown’s burgeoning arts scene, and the crown jewel of that yearning is the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, which opened last year to much fanfare.
Like many of the mega hotels nearby that attract tourists by the droves, the Smith, which cost $470 million, was built on a monumental scale. But unlike those gleaming, faux divertissements along the Strip, it was built to last.
“Las Vegas is constantly reinventing itself,” says Smith spokesman Richard Hudock. “The people here are used to seeing five years down the road that it’s time to renovate; 10 years down the road that it’s time to tear it down and build something else. The Smith Center breaks that mantra in the sense that the marble you walk across now will be the same floors your grandkids will walk across 100 years from now and generations down the road.”
The neo deco structure, built from Indiana limestone and crowned by a 170-foot Carillon bell tower, was inspired by the timeless nature of performance arts venues throughout Europe and the U.S.
Although the compound in the 61-acre Symphony Park — consisting of three live performance spaces, the largest of which is the 2,050-seat Reynolds Hall — runs the risk of appearing almost antiseptic in its unblemished opulence, a no-expense-spared approach to the materials assures that the building will only improve with time.
That marble to which Hudock refers — Rosso Asiago and Rosso Verona in the lobby and the performance hall, respectively — is imported from Italy. Stainless steel filigree accents outer-wall reliefs, the railings in the lobby and aisle seats. A combination of Venetian plaster throughout the interior, and Santos rosewood and American burl walnut, which line the posh Founders Room, inspire patrons to dress more for a night on Broadway than for the Folies Bergere.
An additional outdoor performance space is fronted by the metal sculpture, “Pipe Dream — Fanfare for the Common Man,” by Tim Bavington, the city’s best-known artist.
David M. Schwarz Architects, which took the lead on the project, was responsible for such structures as Nancy Lee and Perry R. Bass Performance Hall, in Fort Worth, Texas; and Severance Hall in Cleveland, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra.
“Great buildings actually do attract patrons of the arts and others to explore and take part in the architecture, and be fully ensconced in what we do,” says Smith president/CEO Myron Martin. “And it’s helped our resident companies (Las Vegas Philharmonic and Nevada Ballet Theater); their ticket sales are up in this first year and a half.
“We’re a young city,” Martin adds. “I think this is going to go down in the history books as an important turning point not only for the arts but as for how people perceive Las Vegas as a city.”