THE STORY OF THE
MORELLI HOUSE PRESERVATION PROJECT
A Mid-Century Miracle
The Morelli House Preservation Project by the Junior League of Las Vegas is called a “mid-century miracle” by some because it actually began with the acquisition of the Whitehead House, an historic mission revival mansion built by Stephen Whitehead in 1929. In 1997, the Oxford Group, a land development company, offered to donate the historical Whitehead House to the Junior League of Las Vegas, provided that the League would move the Whitehead House off of its original site. The League saw the house as a potential historic preservation project for the organization, a potential permanent headquarters, and a source of rental income for its endowment fund. At the time, the Junior League did not own a piece of land to move it to, nor did it have any funds to move it. Through luck and hard work, the League secured two significant donations to cover the cost of moving the Whitehead House from its original site at 7th and Mesquite Streets, and they also secured a piece of vacant land as a temporary site from Jackie Gaughan.
The Whitehead House was moved to the temporary site located on 10th Street between Fremont and Carson Streets. For the next year and a half, the Junior League searched for a piece of land in the historical district in downtown Las Vegas that would be large enough to accommodate the Whitehead House while it applied and secured grants from the Nevada Commission on Cultural Affairs to cover the costs of buying the land and relocating the house to the permanent site. Three parcels of land owned by two owners were finally located at the corner of 9th and Bridger Streets. The Commission on Cultural Affairs awarded the grant funds to purchase and relocate the house. A week before it was to be moved, in late July 2000, vagrants entered the structure and started a fire that burned the Whitehead House down.
Now, the Junior League of Las Vegas had land but no house. The Commission on Cultural Affairs met with the League and asked them to ascertain if the Whitehead House could be structurally restored; if not, they would allow the Junior League a period of time to find another worthy historical structure to relocate and preserve on the site it had funded. Shortly after the city engineers determined that the Whitehead House could not be salvaged, Steve Wynn announced that he was buying the homes at the Desert Inn Country Club Estates for demolition to make way for his new resort. Knowing about the plight of the Whitehead House, he asked the Molasky Group, whom he had contracted to buy the Desert Inn Country Club homes, to contact the Junior League about the Morelli House. The UNLV School of Architecture had determined that the Morelli House was the house most worthy of saving in the Desert Inn Country Club Estates because of its classic mid-century architectural design, its near original condition, and the provenance associated with its original owner, Antonio Morelli, who was the musical conductor for the Sands Hotel Copa showroom orchestra from the mid 1950’s to the early 1970s.
Though totally different from the Whitehead House, the Morelli House was equally significant to the architectural and cultural history of Las Vegas. Kay Glenn, the owner of the house, deeded the house to the Junior League of Las Vegas. With the insurance money from the Whitehead House, the Morelli House was moved to the corner of 9th and Bridger, to the land originally bought for the Whitehead House, on September 30, 2001. Literally, out of the ashes of the Whitehead House arose the mid- century miracle, the Morelli House.
Once the Morelli House was relocated to the site, an expansive soil problem was discovered which had to be rectified before the Morelli House could be placed on its foundation. The Junior League of Las Vegas mounted a fundraising campaign to secure funds to rectify the soil and the Morelli house was finally put in place in the fall of 2002. Shortly thereafter, the Junior League of Las Vegas moved into the Morelli House as its new permanent headquarters even though much work still needed to be done to fulfill its pledge to complete the restoration in accordance with the US Secretary of the Interior Standards for Historical Restoration.
Over the next several years, the League applied for and received additional funding from the Nevada Commission on Cultural Affairs to complete the restoration. Once most of the restoration was completed and it acquired a mid-century furniture collection from Vladimir Kagan, (another interesting story), the League held its public debut of the Morelli House preservation project on April 9, 2007. That debut event initiated the second phase of the Morelli Preservation Project to provide public access and showcase the house through tours and other educational programs, which became the ongoing mission of the project.
The restoration phase of the Morelli House preservation project was finally completed in January 2009. Preserved forever for future generations, the Morelli House, a mid-century miracle, is shared with the community and its tourists and lives on through the Junior League’s public programs related to the House. The Morelli House, that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2012, stands today as a classic example of mid-century residential architecture in Las Vegas-a reminder of the exuberant mid-century optimism and the exciting entertainment era of Las Vegas that characterize is original owner, Antonio Morelli.