City Cast

Let's Hear It for the Old House at UNLV!

Scott Dickensheets
Scott Dickensheets
Posted on September 22
Contact sheet of photos of Houssels House being moved on a truck.

How much did it cost to move a house from downtown to UNLV in 1983 dollars? Just $20,000. (UNLV Special Collections and Archives)

When Dr. Lynn Comella joined the faculty at UNLV, her office was in a space that had once been a bedroom. “It’s funny to think about that now,” she says. It was on the second floor of Houssels House, a fascinating campus anomaly. Amid the school’s toybox of large architectural showpieces, Houssels House was once, as its name makes clear, a residence — a 1933 Tudor revival located on Sixth Street near Charleston.

The original owner, lawyer Harley A. Harmon — you’ve probably driven on the street that bears his name — sold it in 1936 to J. Kell Houssels Sr., one of Nevada’s first gaming licensees. Lotta history in that handshake! Both Houssels and his son, J. Kell Houssels Jr., went on to play big roles at joints like the Showboat and Tropicana, and Jr.'s wife, Nancy, was primarily responsible for Nevada Ballet Theatre. “The Houssels family did a lot to build the community,” says UNLV history department chair Michael Green, “and in my mind they don’t get enough credit for it.”

The family donated the house to UNLV in 1983. Once off the flatbed, it became the campus’ oldest building.

Over the years Houssels House contained programs as varied as architecture and consciousness studies. “It was where the women's studies department was housed when I started at UNLV in 2007,” says Comella, now chair of the school’s department of interdisciplinary, gender, and ethnic studies. “Houssels House was a real hub of activity then.” These days it headquarters a campus multicultural center.

The point of all this being, you gotta love a place that pulls so much local history onto a campus populated by structures that were born on-site, a building that literalizes the notion of the school’s connection to the community.

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