We recently got a peek inside the Las Vegas News Bureau archives and tour from curator and cultural guru Brian Paco Alvarez. It’s that strange-looking columned building that looks like someone took Tara from Gone with the Wind and plopped it onto a Las Vegas intersection. Originally part of the Las Vegas Country Club, the building has been part of the Convention Center and their activities for a long time now. Oscar Goodman even has his own parking spot and office there.
Begun in the ’40s, the News Bureau’s mission was to publicize Las Vegas to the rest of the world through photography. (Mission accomplished!) Along the way they developed the best collection of archival pictures from Vegas’s heyday, both of the entertainment world and the everyday community.
It’s this collection that Alvarez helped to rescue from its previous spot above a garage on the Convention Center property. Now from the climate-controlled room in the bemusing building on Joe Brown Dr., the photos are being organized and digitized for ongoing projects like the upcoming five-year installation in the Mob Museum.
To say Alvarez possesses a wealth of information about Las Vegas history and culture is the understatement of the century. He told us detailed stories about everything from illicit celebrity liaisons to early twentieth century women’s guilds’ tree-planting endeavors. Admittedly it’s the scintillating ones that he probably has to repeat—stories like the one about the 60-something Mae West’s trysts with 20-something body builders and Elizabeth Taylor’s jilting for Debbie Reynolds, foreshadowed in the archives’ photography (a picture of Eddie Fisher clasping Reynolds as Taylor stands off to one side). Not to mention the cheesecake and pinup board from years past that has a prominent place in the office.
Alvarez also knows everything there is to know about contemporary Las Vegas culture and is on more boards than I have fingers. The good news, “one stop shop” for everything you ever wanted to know about Vegas. The bad news, not enough hours in the day. Luckily Alvarez is an early riser and he and his ilk aren’t going anywhere. We have a lot to look forward to now that "Las Vegas culture" isn’t widely considered an oxymoron.
ArtsVegas: Covering Las Vegas Art and culture since 2009.