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Collection highlight: Martin Stern Jr.'s architectural vision for Autoworld, by Jimmy Chang and Tyler Stanger

By Special Collections & Archives Technical Services on March 20, 2017 12:00 AM | Permalink


Aerial perspective illustrating Stern's conceptual layout for Harrah's Autoworld complex. Martin Stern Architectural Records, 1953-1990. MS-00382. Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

UNLV Libraries is home to the Martin Stern Architectural Records.  UNLV School of Architecture students Jimmy Chang and Tyler Stanger explore an unbuilt project of architect Martin Stern Jr., whose projects, from the International Hotel to the first MGM Grand Hotel and Casino, have paved the way for both intellectual thought and physical land in Las Vegas.

Classic Corvette convertibles shimmer under spotlights, and curvy Chrysler coupes tempt with taillights. Among a nostalgic background of sights and sounds, a Ford Model T parks on a faux-street in a gallery lined with 19th century storefronts. The National Automobile Museum, in Reno, Nevada, displays over 200 cars from the famous automobile collection of William F. Harrah. His collection, known as the Harrah Collection, once totaled over 1,400 vehicles and features one-of-a-kind cars like: a working prototype of Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion, Rust Heinz’s custom 1938 Phantom Corsair, and James Dean’s Mercury from the film “Rebel Without a Cause.” While the museum is now located in a modest building in downtown Reno, Harrah once had a more grandiose vision for the architecture of the museum.


Elevation drawing for Harrah's Autoworld with proposals for materiality and details. Martin Stern Architectural Records, 1953-1990. MS-00382. Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

At the peak of his collection in 1975, Harrah collaborated with the architect Martin Stern to design Harrah’s Autoworld, a resort hotel, casino, and museum in Reno, Nevada, to display his collection of unique vehicles. The architecture of Stern’s proposal for Harrah’s Autoworld embraced the spirit of automotive progress and took on a grandiose futuristic aesthetic. Featuring galleries of numerous time pockets, the collection of cars, naval ships, aircrafts, and, even, a dirigible celebrated the triumphs of transportation by its variety of displays. Stern’s 1975 designs for Harrah’s Autoworld recalled the adventurous novels of Jules Verne such as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1870) and Around the World in Eighty Days (1873) and predated later works that would reimagine Steampunk and science fiction settings such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky (1986) and Alan Moore’s and Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (1999).


Take note of the hot air balloon, blimp, biplanes and naval ships all within the museum! Schematic section of Harrah's Autoworld (detail). Martin Stern Architectural Records, 1953-1990. MS-00382. Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Stern’s proposal for the Autoworld complex features the typical resort amenities like hotel accommodations, casino gaming, restaurants, and outdoor sports recreation, as well as unique features like a working train, a miniature raceway, horseback riding, and a lagoon for boating. These drawings include Stern’s presentation drawings of different schemes for the architectural form of the main display atrium. These forms by Stern include a Xanadu-like pyramid in his first scheme and a futuristic Googie-styled second scheme (Scheme B) which recalls the Starship Enterprise from the Star Trek franchise. These drawings show large hot air balloon championing Harrah’s name high above the resort, while possibly allowing people to overlook the complex and all of its bustling splendor.


Preliminary scheme for Autoworld depicting a museum design echoing the Landmark Hotel and Casino.  Scheme A. Harrah's Autoworld, Martin Stern Architectural Records, 1953-1990. MS-00382. Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.


Another scheme for the Autoworld museum, this time with reference to Stern’s pyramid step-like typology seen in his other projects, such as Xanadu and Showboat in Atlantic City.  Scheme B. Harrah's Autoworld, Martin Stern Architectural Records, 1953-1990. MS-00382. Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas.