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The Back Story: The Little House on the Campus
An odd little fact about UNLV: The oldest building on campus has only been here since 1983, even though the campus has been here since 1957. The home was plopped down on campus, five decades after it was built, thanks in part to preservationist Anna Dean Kepper, a curator in the UNLV Libraries at the time.
Kepper helped save a number of historic Southern Nevada places, including the Las Vegas Mormon Fort, and was key in Boulder City gaining designation as a national Historic District. She founded what became the Preservation Association of Clark County. She died of cancer in 1983, just 18 days after passing her final exam for her master’s of public administration from UNLV.
Built in 1933, the Tudor-style Houssels House originally was located at 1012 S. Sixth Street, near Charleston Boulevard. The home was lauded then as the “most modern” in the entire state of Nevada. A 1933 Las Vegas Review-Journal story highlighted such luxuries as a cedar-lined storage closet, an open fireplace in a bedroom suite, a glass-enclosed shower in the master bath, and a long mirror door on the medicine closet.
The home was once marketed under the name “The Pines” and was originally owned by attorney Harley A. Harmon, the namesake of the avenue that runs into UNLV’s campus. It was eventually sold to casino industry veteran and pioneer J. Kell Houssels Jr.
To preserve the home, which was increasingly surrounded by commercial buildings, the family donated it to UNLV in 1983. It was transported at a cost of $20,000 to the southeast side of campus, where it was was to be used as an architecture studio.
The day after the home made its trek from downtown Las Vegas, an arsonist nearly undid efforts to save it. The fire destroyed the roof and a good portion of the interior. The architecture school coordinator at the time, Ray Lucchesi, helped raise more than $70,000 to renovate the building a year later.
The two-story home spans roughly 2,500 square feet and now houses the UNLV Center for Social Justice today.
J.K. Houssels was on the board of trustees for the first Nevada Southern Land Foundation, a nonprofit authorized to “hold land” for sale to what would later be renamed University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The organization played a big part in UNLV’s ability to acquire land for expansion through the years.
Houssels spent 40 years in the gaming industry and was one of the first Nevada gaming licensees in 1931. He served as a district attorney and Nevada state assemblyman. He was a managing partner with the El Cortez and a principal with the Showboat Casino. He also had a controlling interest in the Tropicana and was a vice chairman of the board at Union Plaza.
1932, moved to UNLV campus in 1983
The Houssels family
$20,000 to move to campus; $77,000 for reconstruction after a fire destroyed the roof and interior walls.
2,500 square feet
Houssels House tenants have included faculty from architecture, English, and women’s studies. It now holds the Multicultural Center/Centro Multiculturál, which offers student groups a home in which to gather.
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