[Transcript of interview with Randy Lavigne by Stefani Evans and Clatyee D. White, August 23, 2016]. Lavigne, Randy. Interview, 2016 August 23. OH-02808. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
i AN INTERVIEW WITH RANDY LAVIGNE An Oral History Conducted by Stefani Evans and Claytee D. White The Building Las Vegas Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ii ©The Building Las Vegas Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2016 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Editor: Stefani Evans Transcribers: Kristin Hicks, Frances Smith Interviewers: Stefani Evans, Claytee D. White Project Manager: Stefani Evans iii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of the UNLV University Libraries. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the University for the support given that allowed an idea and the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Building Las Vegas Oral History Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada, Las Vegas iv PREFACE Randy Lavigne, Honorary AIA, has every reason to smile. Since 1995 she has been the Executive Director for AIA (American Institute of Architects) Las Vegas professional organization; she works daily with her daughter in a beautifully restored historic building in the heart of downtown Las Vegas; and the architects with whom she works so value her contributions they compiled and submitted documentation in order to surprise her with honorary AIA membership. In this interview, Lavigne recalls growing up in segregated Emory Gap, Tennessee, where her grandfather bought all the schoolchildren new shoes every year. She details the cross-country trip that brought her to Las Vegas in 1994 and eventually to the AIA in 1995. The bulk of the interview focuses on the building where the AIA is housed and the history of the organization. In 2008 the AIA moved from its former home at UNLV’s School of Architecture to the historic Fifth Street School in downtown Las Vegas. Lavigne discusses the history of the building and its significance to the City of Las Vegas. She reveals plans to examine the architectural history Las Vegas to celebrate the AIA Chapter’s sixtieth anniversary. She also talks about diversity in the profession, the process of licensure, publications, continuing education, organizational records, and the now-defunct auxiliary organization, the Architects' Wives League. v TABLE OF CONTENTS Interview with Randy Lavigne August 23, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada Conducted by Stefani Evans and Claytee D. White Preface………………………………………………………………..…………………………..iv Talks about childhood in Emory Gap, Tennessee, and cross-country trip that brought her to AIA Las Vegas in 1994, and how her Honorary AIA designation came to be………...……………1–6 Discusses how the AIA moved its office to the Fifth Street School and speaks to the history of the building, its scars and its current tenants, and the history of the AIA’s former home at UNLV’s School of Architecture ………………….………………………………………..…7–15 Shares how plans to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of AIA Las Vegas will examine fifteen-year segments of architectural history; talks about diversity in the profession, the process of licensure, publications, continuing education, organizational records, and the now-defunct auxiliary organization, the Architects' Wives League.………………………………………15–28 vi 1 Good morning. This is Stefani Evans and Claytee White and we're in the stunning office of the AIA Las Vegas and we're talking to Randy Lavigne, Executive Director. Randy, would you please pronounce and spell your first and last name for the recording? It's Randy, R-A-N-D-Y. Last name Lavigne, L-A-V-I-G-N-E. I have a story to tell about that. Perfect. That's why we're here. My real first name is Randell, R-A-N-D-E-L-L. I always say my mother had a warped sense of humor because she named me Randell and she named my brother Laverne. So he and I have kind of had some funny incidents throughout our lives because of our names. But all in all I appreciate her being that unique in her thinking and giving me a name that is a little unusual for a woman. CLAYTEE: That's a great story. Yes, I love that story. So speaking of your mother, why don't you tell us about your early life; your parents, your very creative mother; and your siblings, your brother Laverne; and where you grew up and all that? I was born in a little town called Emory Gap, Tennessee. It is in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee, about forty miles west of Knoxville. It is a tiny town, a railroad stop really, and the reason I was born there is because my dad worked for the railroad. The reason we lived there was because my grandfather, my mom's father, worked for the railroad, also, and when my mom married my dad, my grandfather gave him a job working on the railroad. Emory Gap is little, not even a town; it's a depot and water stop 2 for the train station. My grandfather and grandmother had a big house on the hill that they used as a boarding house for the railroad men who worked on the Tennessee Central Line, which ran from Nashville to Knoxville. I was born there, and I have four brothers and one sister. I like to tell the story about...This little gathering of people in Emory Gap...To tell you the truth, the white people lived on one side of the tracks; the black people lived on the other side of the tracks. But we all got along and all the kids played together. But the thing about my grandfather was that he took care of everyone. At the beginning of school each year he'd bring all the kids together, black and white, and march us into town, which was about a mile away to Harriman, and all the kids got new shoes. So we all got new shoes at the beginning of school every year. We marched in, got our shoes, and marched back to Emory Gap. That's a great story. And he did that every year? He did that every year, yes, for many years, even before I was born. Did he continue to do it after you were out of school? Oh my goodness, yes. Well, up until he had a stroke and got very ill. We moved away from there when I was about seven or eight years old. My dad got a job as a conductor on the railroad and moved us from Emory Gap to Nashville. So we moved to Nashville and that's where I grew up and went to school and spent my teen years. And then where did you go to college? I went to two colleges although I don't have a degree. After I was married we moved to Millersville, Pennsylvania. I studied advertising and graphic art at Millersville State College and then I spent some time studying marketing at Franklin & Marshall College, 3 which is located in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My marriage and family needed my attention so I did not finish my education or get my degree. So you don't have a degree, but you do have an Honorary AIA. Yes, I do. So how did you get into design? How did you get into this fabulous job that you have now? When I first came to Las Vegas, I thought—well, I have to go back a little bit and explain what prompted me to come to Las Vegas. I had a small public relations firm in Nashville and I had a variety of small accounts. And I started thinking, gee, my life is passing by me. I haven't seen the West. I need to be exploring a little more. So I decided to take six months off and just travel and look at the country and see what I could find. I’m a writer, so when I came to Las Vegas I was looking for a writing position or maybe some public relations work on a freelance basis just to be able to have an income and make ends meet. I happened to hear about a position with the American Institute of Architects. Having come from a marketing/public relations background, when I sat down to talk with Jon Rappel, AIA, who was the president of the Association at that time, I could quickly see that this little organization needed someone who could promote membership and get the organization involved in the community and give them a little more visibility. It fit with what I liked to do and it was a nice fit. I took the position and have been here for twenty-two years. It has gone by so much quicker than I ever thought it would. What year was this, Randy? Ninety-four. When I left Nashville I just threw my computer in the backseat of my car 4 and I headed out. I said, "I'm going to give myself six months." So I drove around the United States. I stopped in little towns. I wrote as I went. I collected a lot of good information about our country. It was just a really good growing experience for me. My daughter Kelly was living in San Francisco, so that was my ultimate target. Drive slow; get over to San Francisco; see my daughter, and then come back. As it turned out, I did get to San Francisco and worked there writing and doing some television production. But San Francisco is a very intense kind of town. If you wander in and you don't really know anyone there, it's a little hard to get connected. And so I thought, well, I need to be someplace that's a little more relaxed. And, believe it or not, Las Vegas is a little more relaxed than San Francisco. Oh, yes. So after being in San Francisco for a while, I thought, well, I need to make some money. I'm going to go back and see if I can find something in Las Vegas that will be a temporary position for me. But when I got here and I got the job, I thought, six months at the most; at the most I'll be here for six months. Like I said, that very quickly just went away and the next thing I knew I had been here ten years. Why Las Vegas? I did have some friends here that I knew at the time. So on my travels I had stopped here and visited them. So I felt like, it's a little less intense and a little less expensive to live in Las Vegas than it is San Francisco. So I decided it would probably be best if I go back there. I had a temporary job at Harry Campbell & Associates, which was an architecture firm here at that time. The people there at Harry Campbell told me about the position at AIA. They gave me Jon Rappel's name. After talking with him I knew, yes, I can do this. 5 It was just a nice fit. It felt good and I thought, this is going to be for me. And so when did the honorary recognition come about? Oh my goodness, yes. Well, in 2005, the Chapter hosted the AIA National Convention here. There was a lot of work involved in putting together the convention and being the hosting chapter and it was the first time that AIA Las Vegas had ever taken that on. We are the smallest AIA chapter ever to host the conference. We did a fabulous job with it. I had a great steering committee guiding the conference. We all worked together. We also had three hundred volunteers who helped us put it together. We had twenty-five thousand people who attended. It was the largest AIA convention ever. It was a really successful national convention for the AIA. My board of directors and the steering committee felt that I should be recognized. Brad Schulz, FAIA, put together my submittal covering all that I had done. I had helped with the UNLV School of Architecture to get the School’s first accreditation. I initiated the idea for the Architecture Las Vegas Magazine, which reaches out into the community and brings architectural issues to community awareness rather than just showing pretty pictures of architecture. That magazine has been very successful, also. AIA Las Vegas held a twenty-four-hour town hall meeting to celebrate the hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the Institute and out of that, we published a Blueprint for Nevada, which really was a guideline for the City of Las Vegas, the City of Henderson, and Boulder City on the things that they could do to make our community more sustainable. My submittal was presented to AIA National, and I was recognized as Honorary AIA, which is a very prestigious distinction. I do not have architectural training; I don't 6 claim to. But in working to elevate the profession and to help the community, it's a wonderful honor to be recognized that way. So your magazine talks about architectural issues and not just pretty buildings. So what were some of those architectural issues that the magazine addressed? Well, public spaces for one. The idea of the magazine was to educate and inspire the citizens of Las Vegas to be a little more aware of their built environment and how it impacts how they live and how our city functions. That was the purpose of the magazine and it still is. We published from 1999 through 2009. And then, as you will recall, the economy was so terrible that we had to stop publishing. We couldn't generate enough income from the magazine to cover the cost of publication. So we had to stop. This year, 2016, we have brought the magazine back. So now we're back to publishing two issues this year. We're publishing in partnership with Nevada Public Radio and their Desert Companion magazine. Oh, perfect. As you look around the city and you see more public spaces being created, can you trace that back to some of the discussions that you had in the magazine? Oh, my goodness, I really would have to go back and look at some of those magazines and some of the issues that we discussed. But, yes, the way public space is used. As I said, sustainability issues was another area that we talked about in the magazine. Education and the design of our schools and how schools are used as community centers, all of those kinds of issues; that's the thing that engages the public in architecture. It's really how that architecture touches their lives, how those buildings make their lives 7 better or offer inspiration. Yes, I'd have to look back at some of the old issues to refresh my mind on everything that we've brought to public awareness. Sure. When you say "sustainability," can you explain what that means for people who might not know? Well, utilizing our resources, of course, to the maximum and not being wasteful. In design and construction, of course, there are certain materials that are more sustainable than others, and so it's encouraging in the design the way the building is situated on the land. It's just an overall approach to how a building or a structure is designed so that it is the most energy efficient and mindful of how it impacts the environment. Utilizing the materials, the way the building is sited, the various elements of light, water conservation, the whole idea of how projects come together, and architects do that; that is what they are trained to do. Architects are problem solvers. When they take on a project they look at the overall influences and try to design the best possible structure to meet the client's needs, but also to be the kind of building that provides service and happiness to the people who use the building. So I want to talk about this building. I love the history. But I want to talk about this building and what you were just talking about, water and use and light. I just want you to talk about it any way you want to including that glass. Oh, all right, well, we'll get to that. I want you to tell stories. Well, the historic Fifth Street School was built in 1936. Of course, it was a school, an elementary school and it was called the Fifth Street School. It was called the Fifth Street School because Las Vegas Boulevard is actually Fifth Street. Of course, the street name 8 has changed. It [the school] was designed by Orville L. Clark. It is a mission-style building and the only building from that era remaining in Las Vegas. So back in 1936, there was no air conditioning. They did not have all of the modern materials and services that we have today. So the building was designed with windows that open at the top and doorways to take advantage of any cool breezes and to keep the students as cool as possible in our hot summers and hot winters, as well. I understand that when the building was being constructed, Hoover Dam was being constructed at the same time. So any concrete that was left over from Hoover Dam was brought in and they poured these walls. Now, the walls look like they're made out of block, but they're actually poured concrete. Who knew? Hoover Dam concrete. Yes, left over. That's what I've been told. Let me think. Where was I? The building was used as a school from 1936 up through the sixties. In about the mid-sixties, they stopped using it as a school. It was owned by the City of Las Vegas part of the time. Clark County took it over and used it for several years. At one time this was a police station. At one time it was the Building Department for Clark County. It served a lot of different purposes. Throughout the years the people who were using the building did certain things that changed the original design. A second floor was added in the gymnasium. Partitions were added to make offices. So I think it was in 2005 or 2006, the City of Las Vegas took it back and decided that they would save the building and make it a community center. So in that process they hired KGA Architects to do the renovation. KGA came back in and repurposed the building and saved everything that they could save. They restored the original design. And now, for the most part, the building is back to exactly the way it was when it was 9 originally designed. At about that time, in 2006, the City came to AIA Las Vegas. We were then located in offices in the School of Architecture on the UNLV [University of Nevada, Las Vegas] campus and the City asked if we would like to have tenant space in the newly restored Fifth Street School. I was absolutely thrilled. While I love the affiliation with the School of Architecture and being on campus, AIA needed a more public location. We needed someplace that's a little easier for people to get to and being downtown and being in this location was perfect. So naturally I said, "Absolutely, we will be there." Other tenants include UNLV School of Architecture; the fifth- and six-year studio classes have space here. The Nevada School of the Arts teaches violin and piano; they have offices and classrooms here, as well. Of course, the City of Las Vegas located their Cultural Arts office here. So I felt we were really lucky to be in such good company. Of course, the building is used for many public events and there are so many weddings that are scheduled for the courtyard area. It's lovely to do a wedding here. We sometimes use the auditorium for our member meetings. We have events and lectures and so forth that we do in the auditorium space. Originally, the space we use as a gallery was the girls' locker room and the boys' locker rooms and there was a wall between them. KGA took that wall out, and when they started renovating that area, they realized that there were skylights that had been covered over for years. So they opened up the skylights, which gave beautiful light in that whole area, and they turned that into a gallery space, which is just lovely. So the City of Las Vegas has a nice gallery and they have rotating art exhibits that are in there all the time. Not many people know that that there is an art exhibit in that space all the time. So, yes, we get a lot of use out of being in this 10 location. We also do events in other locations around the city, too. When the City showed us this space for our offices, it wasn't finished and we were responsible for the interior design. Our members helped to complete the space. Faciliteq [Building Materials Store] worked with us to get the furniture we needed. Nevada Sales Lighting installed the lighting systems for us. Faciliteq also built this glass partition around my office. So it was, again, the members of AIA coming together to make a nice space. When they opened the ceiling in this room [the conference room], Stoney Douglas, project manager for the City, called me to come see it. I said, "Oh, my, that's so beautiful; let's leave it open like this." And it makes a nice little conference room for us. Of course, we have all the beautiful windows opening on Las Vegas Boulevard. The one panel there—well, before I get to that let me tell you another story. There are hundreds of residents who live here in Las Vegas who went to this school as children, and I think that's a really important part of our history. So many of them will stop by from time to time [and say], "Oh, this was my classroom." Well, the interesting thing is that the building across the street is the Lloyd George Federal Courthouse. When Lloyd George was a little boy, this was his classroom. So I love telling people that story because I know that as a kid, as a child going to school here, it never once occurred to him that there would be a Federal Courthouse across the street named in his honor. Of course, Judge George is still around and he's still over at the courthouse. I don't know how many cases he hears now, but he's still active, very active. I really love that story. I love it, too. 11 That is a great story. So the one panel there that looks like shattered glass is actually from a bullet hole, a shot that went through there. About four or five years ago there was a man who went into the courthouse and he shot a security guard and there was another employee over there. He ran out, down the steps and across here and down the side of the building. The federal marshals came out and they were shooting at him as he ran across and down. One of the bullets came through this pane, this window pane here and went through and shattered the glass and went all the way through and hit the wall on the other side and then ricocheted into the window frame and launched in there. But the glass held; it shattered, but it didn't fall. So you can see where the bullet hole is, where it went through. [Ed. Note: The attack took place about 8:00 a.m. on January 4, 2010.] Yes. So the FBI and the police and everyone came in and they dug out the bullet and they said, "Oh, we'll replace that glass for you." And I said, "No, I don't think so. I think we'll keep it. It's interesting and it's a part of the history of the building now." So I had it sandwiched in glass so that it doesn't fall down. And nobody can get hurt on it. Right. So it's just, as a said, a part of the history of the AIA office and of the building now. And it's beautiful. And it's beautiful, yes. 12 13 Oh, it's beautiful. Everyone who comes in wants to know, well, what is this? What happened here? Yes. And I just thought it was designed that way. I was going to say because this is the AIA, you figure it's a design piece. Yes, yes. That's what I thought. Well, sometimes the best designs can be accidents. So, yes, it's an unusual thing. I just think it's amazing that it didn't just fall, but it held together and just shattered that way to make a beautiful design. Now, I was not here when that bullet went through that office. Good. Or you might not have... Right, right. It happened at about eight o'clock on a January fourth or fifth a few years ago. So I was on the way to the office and I got a call from Brian Kendall—he manages the property—and he said, "Don't come, there is a problem down here." So I went back home and turned on the TV. My goodness, it was terrible. There was so much gunfire. There were actually eighty-seven bullets that were fired into the building. It's a fortunate thing that the students were not here; that it was still holiday vacation and there were no students here. But the windows along the side here were broken and so forth. Did any go into the cement walls? Oh, yes. Are they still there? No, no. The FBI came in and dug out all the bullets and re-plastered everything and you could never tell. But the director for the school— 14 The Design Center? —for the Design Center. He normally gets there at about seven o'clock in the morning and he's sitting at his desk inside there. Robert Dorgan was the director at the time. Robert told me that that morning he woke up and he thought, I'm a little sleepy; I think I'll just sleep in today. So he slept in; otherwise, he would have been sitting there at his desk and his desk was riddled; his office was riddled. So it's just fate that sometimes takes care of us. Yes, and listening to our intuition sometimes, oh my God. So what kind of relationship do you have with the Design Center, the AIA office? Well, we have a really good relationship with them and with the School of Architecture over the years. If you go back in history, the reason that we have a School of Architecture at UNLV is because the professional community, the AIA architects, got together and made it happen. They worked to get the funding through the state legislature. They pressed for it. When the school was established, it was Julio Lucchesi who really took the lead on establishing the School. During the 1980s all the architects who were practicing here were all very supportive of that effort and went to Carson City and testified, lobbied, and petitioned and really worked to establish a School of Architecture. Then once that was done, Ray Lucchesi, Julio's son, became the champion for what the curriculum would be and he taught classes. He enlisted some of the professional members of the community to also teach. So the reason that we have a School of Architecture is because the professional community made it happen. So we have a very close relationship. AIA's first real office was located in Houssels House. Ray Lucchese secured a building called the Houssels House, which was moved to the south end of the UNLV 15 campus, and that was the home of the School of Architecture for many years. In the early nineties, AIA was given an office. The chapter had sort of floated; whoever was president of the component at that time would have the meetings in their architecture firm offices. So we were given a small office space in the top floor of the Houssels House. So that's how we came to be in the School of Architecture. When I first came, it's so funny because after Jon Rappel hired me, he told me where the office was located. He said, "Just go over and look at things." So I went over and found the office. It was about a six-by-seven-foot closet space and it was completely filled floor to ceiling with boxes, forty years of accumulated files and everything that the chapter had done since it began in 1956. So all the files or records and anything else they had was all just crammed into this office. So my first job was to get in there and start digging around and make sense of all those things. There was a computer that had a membership list on it and that was about it. At that time there were only about, I don't know, thirty or forty architects that were listed as AIA members. I thought, oh my gosh, there's no limit to what I can do here. And I think that that conference that spurred the AIA honorary degree...I think what you did with that deserved that degree. Yes, but it isn’t a degree. It’s a very special recognition for the work I’ve done in elevating the profession. Making sense of the records and putting them into a situation where the AIA is going to be able to continue functioning when Randy Lavigne is no longer or no matter who the president is. Right. Well, yes, it was a challenge. [Laughing] 16 With a capital C. Yes. A lot of those records are in our storage facility and I have kept them. This year I am working on writing a history. It's really telling the story and hitting the highlights of what has happened with the chapter and with the community over the last sixty years. As I said, it's an informal history because it's more stories that I have heard and contributions from some of my members that they recall. We're in the process of putting that together. I hope that by December, this December, we will have a publishable piece that I can give to the members as a gift because it's our sixtieth anniversary this year. Are there any sneak peeks, a special story that you put together that you liked a lot? Oh, it's so hard. I admire what you are doing because I know how difficult it is to sit down and get your arms around all that has been involved. I want to tell the story of the Chapter. But you can't tell that story without telling the story of what was happening in Las Vegas at that time and the people who were involved and the projects and the political situation. You have to get a good overview of everything. This year for our sixtieth anniversary, we took that sixty years and we divided it into fifteen-year segments and each quarter of this year we are looking at those fifteen-year segments. So as I said, it's not comprehensive; it is hitting the highlights and saying, "This is what happened here and this is what happened here and this is what happened here and all together we celebrate our sixty years." That's exactly why UNLV libraries is doing with this project called Building Las Vegas, because we are trying to create an archive that would help researchers who want to look at different aspects of the growth of the city. So the architectural growth, the engineering achievements, the way the city has changed 17 environmentally with its environmental awareness; all that is going to be available to researchers. That's so wonderful and so necessary. So this is... Yes, this is part of it. This will be a great compliment to what you're doing. Absolutely. Well, as I said, anything that I have I'll be glad to provide that and share with you. Because I think having an oral history and having documentation of people, places, and events of the last sixty years of architectural history is so important. Our president this year is Brett Ewing, AIA. Brett is an architect who has practiced here since 1986. His idea for our theme for the year is that there would not be a Las Vegas if it weren't for the Strip. The development of the Strip had a great deal to do with how the city developed and its growth and popularity as well as the influx of people who have moved here. People move here for a lot of different reasons, but the Strip has been a financial motivator for many, many years. At the same time we're looking at what was happening with the local community and our local chapter, we're looking at what was going on, on the Strip, what projects were being developed over there, how tourism was affecting what we did here in the valley. We have more people moving here. We need more houses. We need more schools. We need more shopping centers and fire stations, churches, hospitals, libraries, and all those things that go into making a community. So the development of the Strip was the impetus. It helped us to become the world-class city that we are today. That's true. 18 And it still does. Yes, and it still does, yes. And also created political divisions; for example, the City of Las Vegas never could annex the Strip. Right. So how has that affected the continuity of design or public space between the city and the county? Has that been a challenge? It has been a challenge for the architects, but they have adjusted and made it work. As with anything, you find out what the rules are and then you play by those rules. You do what you need to do. When you have a different set of codes and requirements for the county and for each city it makes it a little more difficult but you adjust. For example, building schools has always been a major priority. In one fifteen-year period architects built a hundred and thirty schools. That's like twenty-four schools a year. It's amazing. I seem to remember for a couple of years there were twenty-five, twenty-six schools a year. Opening, yes. What we've done here with the growth of this community is unfathomable. It's something that hasn't happened in any other city in the country. For that sustained period, right. Yes. So give me a definition statement about the mission of the AIA here in Las Vegas. Well, we're basically a professional association. So our mission really is to elevate the profession and to be of service to our members and also to educate and inspire the residents and citizens of Las V