Wexler and Harrison: The Hammond Steel Home


Dave Cornoyer


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The Other Las Vegas Part Five
Wexler and Harrison: The Hammond Steel Home

by Dave Cornoyer

In 1962 the City of Henderson commissioned the Palm Springs architecture firm of Wexler and Harrison to design a new, state-of-the-art City Hall. Incorporated only nine years earlier, Henderson already found itself outgrowing its original City Hall – a barracks structure dating from the construction of Boulder Dam that was moved from Boulder City. George Tate, who had begun practicing architecture in Henderson in 1960, acted as the local architect on the new steel structure. 

Tate convinced Henderson officials that steel construction would be cheaper than conventional concrete block construction. Maintaining that the building would be completed for under $200,000 (later growing to $300,000) the City Council approved construction of the new facility. Materials were supplied by Merrill Hammond, proprietor of Hammond Sheet Metal, who had become the exclusive southern Nevada dealer for the CalCor Metal Building Division of Rheem Manufacturing in 1961. 

Hammond began constructing various Rheem-CalCor structures around Las Vegas in the early sixties, including cantilevered gasoline canopies on Las Vegas Boulevard for the Wilshire Oil Company and a still-standing demonstration structure behind the Hammond Sheet Metal offices on South Main Street. Curtain walls of the steel structures were 3 ½ inches thick, with heavy insulation of gypsum board and fiberglass between two sheets of galvanized steel. This made Las Vegas’ CalCor buildings, when combined with efficient insulation in the suspended ceiling system, extremely cool in the high desert temperatures of southern Nevada. 

Wexler and Harrison had been implementing the use of steel in various school designs throughout the Coachella Valley, and were commissioned by the famed Alexander Construction Company to design a tract of 38 steel single-family residences in Racquet Club Road Estates, sponsored by US Steel. Engineered by Rheem-CalCor, the first three steel houses in Palms Springs began construction in 1961. The homes were built using a combination of prefab and on-site construction, with steel and glass as the primary materials. Exterior panels were light gauge steel, filled with fiberglass insulation and treated with gypsum drywall on the interiors. 

As the three Alexander models were finishing up in Palm Springs in 1962, Glen Hammond, Merrill’s brother and Secretary Treasurer of Hammond Sheet Metal, was standing before the Henderson City Council offering  an additional means to finance the $100,000 overage through a 7% loan by CalCor. The City declined Hammond’s offer, and chose to proceed with the project using other financing sources. The contract between Henderson and Wexler and Harrison was solidified in the fall of 1962, with construction commencing in late winter. 

Meanwhile, Merrill Hammond and his wife Sarah had purchased a 1/3 acre lot on Rancho Road (Drive) for construction of a new home. The Hammonds, both in their mid-50’s, were downsizing from a nearby family home on Goldring (Wellness Way) Avenue. Hammond was busy promoting Rheem-CalCor, and commissioned an all-steel home to be built. Wexler and Harrison happened to have plans at the ready, and on October 9th, 1962 permits were issued by the City of Las Vegas for construction of the 8th and final Wexler Steel House. 

The Hammonds occupied the home until 1970. Merrill passed away in 1989 while Sarah passed in 1995. Carl Lovell, the youngest City Attorney for the cities of Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, and his wife Irene became the second owners. Mrs. Lovell loved her home, however the two-lane road which the house was located on had become busier and busier, and wanting a safer place to raise her two young children, relocated to Henderson in 1977. Much like its counterparts in Palm Springs, the Hammond Steel Home fell into disrepair by the 1980s. Unaware of the provenance of the structure, its third owners placed some unsympathetic additions on it in 1984. Bars were added to the walls of glass on the front of the home, and as the adjacent roadway grew from two lanes to five, privacy walls were added surrounding the front and sides of the property. A fourth, fifth, and sixth owner followed, along with a sickly coat of beige paint and red trim. The Wexler and Harrison-designed Henderson City Hall met a worse fate in 1993 in the form of a bulldozer. 

In 2013, a writer for the Docomomo US Hometown Las Vegas series noticed that the folded-plate roofed home on busy Rancho Drive looked familiar. After some comparison to similar folded plate structures, certain details stuck out – the roof drain detail above the front windows, the upward turn of the roofline, and the Y-shaped supports which allowed the folded plate roof to seemingly float above the home. Former resident Mrs. Lovell was integral in confirming the steel materials of the home, expressing how much she liked it before the additions were put on it. In 2013 an email with photos comparing the Hammond home to the Alexander Steel Homes was sent to the Palm Springs Historical Society. 

Intrigued with the possibility of an eighth Steel Home, the Historical Society reached out to Gary Wexler, who in turn showed the photos to his father.. Donald Wexler instantly confirmed that the beige home on Rancho Drive in Las Vegas was indeed one of his designs. Gary was further instrumental in connecting the dots between Hammond Sheet Metal and CalCor/US Steel and the Wexler and Harrison designed City Hall in Henderson. 

Rising costs in steel put an end to the Wexler steel homes, with just seven built in Palm Springs and one in Las Vegas. Today the Hammond Steel Home still sits on the corner Rancho Drive and Mason Avenue, hidden by tall shrubs and recently trading in its beige paint for grey, as well as saying farewell to the bars which disrupted the all-glass facade. While a full restoration hasn’t yet occurred, awareness is growing, and there is potential for the home to receive the same recognition as its counterparts in Palm Springs. 

About the Author

Dave Cornoyer is a 20-year Las Vegas resident, graduate of UNLV’s Landscape Architecture program, former city planner, midcentury and history enthusiast, and is the Forward Planning Manager of Lennar Las Vegas.  

The Other Las Vegasis part of the Docomomo US Regional Spotlight on Modernism Series, which was launched to help you explore modern places throughout the country without leaving your home. Previous spotlights include Chicago, MississippiMidland, Michigan, and Houston. Have a region you'd like to see highlighted? Submit an article.

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The Other Las Vegas Part Six
Cliff May's Western Ranchos