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Martin Stern Architectural Records (MS-00382)


The collection is comprised of drawings (1950-1990) completed by American architect Martin Stern and/or his architectural firm, Martin Stern Jr., AIA Architect and Associates, and contains 400 cubic feet of materials including 710 drawings from over 300 different projects involving over 100 buildings. Stern’s work focused on the resort centers of Las Vegas, Nevada; Reno, Nevada; Lake Tahoe, Stateline, Nevada; and Atlantic City, New Jersey. The materials feature hand-drawn architectural drawings, ranging from pencil and ink on tracing paper preliminary sketches to ink on Mylar (TM) construction documents, and a number of artist’s renderings, used for presentations and promotional materials. The drawings also contain work from a number of consultants, engineers, and other architects who collaborated on the development of the various projects. The collection includes architectural drawings for: hotels, casinos, integrated casino resorts, office towers, multi-family residential developments, and custom single-family homes.

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400.3 Cubic Feet (605 rolls, 215 flat files, 35 boxes)
329.60 Linear Feet

Related People/Corporations

Scope and Contents Note

The Martin Stern architectural drawings (1950-1990) contain 400 cubic feet of materials, including 710 drawings, from over 300 different projects in the United States, with a strong focus on the Las Vegas, Nevada area. The materials feature hand-drawn architectural drawings, ranging from early preliminary sketches to construction documents. The drawings also contain work from a number of consultants, engineers, and other architects who collaborated on the development of the various projects. These include several sets of original construction documents that Stern used for reference while working on additions, alterations, expansions, and remodels to the original buildings. A typical set of construction documents may include drawings like: site plans, floor plans, exterior and interior elevations, building and wall sections, construction details, structural plans, as well as plans and diagrams for mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems.

The drawings include hotel and casino projects of: varying sizes, from the Normandie Club in Gardena, California, to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas (now Bally’s Las Vegas); varying locations, from Las Vegas, Reno, and Lake Tahoe Nevada, to Atlantic City, New Jersey with consulting design work on international projects in Australia, Japan, and Slovenia (then Yugoslavia); and varying design problems, from structurally integrated casino resort complex master planning, as with The International Hotel, to successive resort iterations over time, like the Sahara Hotel Casino. While most famous for his hotel and casino resort work, Stern also designed a number of multi-family residences in California, the Del Webb Towne House’s and Wilshire Manor Apartments. In addition to these built works, this collection includes Stern’s unbuilt proposals for the Xanadu Hotel and Casino and Harrah’s Autoworld.

Access Note

Collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Materials in this collection may be protected by copyrights and other rights. See Reproductions and Use on the UNLV Special Collections website for more information about reproductions and permissions to publish.

Biographical / Historical Note

Known for how his design work changed the Las Vegas Skyline, Martin Stern Jr. influenced resort design internationally through his vision of master-planned structurally-integrated casino resort complexes, his fusion of conceptual themes with natural environments, and his enlargement of casino resort scale and complexity. He and his studio, Martin Stern Jr., AIA Architect and Associates, redefined both the casino’s streetscape experience and the project’s visual impact on the skyline. From pencil to plans and from steel beam to towering signs, Stern’s work set the stage for modern design trends—an effect still felt decades later.

Martin Stern Jr. was born on April 9, 1917 in New York and moved to Beverly Hills, California after completing high school. Stern studied architectural engineering at the University of Southern California, and, upon graduating, became a sketch artist for a Hollywood film studio. He worked on various military construction projects before enlisting into the army in 1942 and was promoted to First Lieutenant in the Army Corps of Engineers in 1943. After the war, Stern returned to California and started his own business designing and supervising the construction of apartment buildings.

He was licensed as an architect in California in 1946 and became a member of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1947. Between 1951 and 1953, he served in the army as a reservist First Lieutenant in the 6th Army’s Corps of Engineers, in the Construction and Planning Division, designing master plans and construction programs for army camps throughout America including Camp Irwin and Camp Cook in California. After his discharge, Stern began his own practice in Beverly Hills designing various residential, commercial, and retail projects, notably the Ship’s Coffee Shops. Stern’s designs for the Ship’s Coffee Shops, in the then contemporary Googie-style, were among the more notable built works of Los Angeles’ drive-in culture.

In 1953 Stern designed the low-rise room additions for the Sahara Hotel for Diller Construction Company—his first built work in Las Vegas, Nevada. Then, in 1954, Stern began a long association with Arizona construction contractor and developer Del Webb, who had taken over the construction (and ownership) of the Sahara Hotel. For Stern, it was the beginning of a succession of Sahara Hotel projects. These Sahara projects included the first 14-story high-rise tower in 1959, the later additions of a convention facility in 1967, a 342-room high-rise addition in 1977 and another 625-room addition in 1979. As one of the first to build vertical hotel towers, Stern took the first steps in changing the architectural landscape of Las Vegas from a loose collection of low-slung, sprawling hotels to the booming mega-resort casino hotels seen in Las Vegas today.

Outside of Las Vegas, Stern’s work with Del Webb included the Del Webb Towne Houses, the Kuilima resort and country club in Hawaii, the Sahara at Lake Tahoe, and Webb’s personal residence. In Las Vegas, Stern also designed a new tower for the Sands Hotel in 1964, and a tower for The Mint Hotel in 1968. These projects throughout the 1960s established Stern’s reputation as a hotel architect and, along with towers for the Riviera and Stardust, began to change the look of the Las Vegas skyline. Webb remained Stern’s biggest single client until Stern began designing for the next generation of resort developers—Bill Harrah and Kirk Kerkorian.

In 1969, Stern, along with Kerkorian, took a pivotal step in changing the architectural landscape of Las Vegas with the design and construction of The International Hotel. The design of The International Hotel, perhaps inspired by the challenges of expanding and remodeling the Sahara, demonstrated Stern’s skill in master planning, which he had gained from his experiences in the Army Corp. of Engineers. This new hotel was the first Las Vegas resort to plan the hotel, guest amenities, casino, convention, restaurant, and retail spaces as a single, cohesive design—giving birth to the architectural genre of structurally integrated casino resort complexes, or mega-resorts.

Stern’s design for Kerkorian’s The International Hotel also gave Las Vegas a new architectural form, the three-wing tower plan, and, by being promoted as the largest of its time at 1500 rooms, pushed Las Vegas architecture into the hyperbolic scales of the world’s largest or most expensive. Joel Bergman, Stern’s project architect for the MGM Grand Hotel, later adapted the three-wing plan for a number of Las Vegas properties with Steve Wynn: first, with the Mirage Hotel and Casino in 1989 and then most notably, or expensively, with the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in 1998.

In 1970 Kirk Kerkorian sold The International Hotel to Hilton Hotels Corporation and rebranded it as Las Vegas Hilton (currently branded as Westgate Las Vegas), and began work with Stern on another casino resort complex—the MGM Grand Hotel. Stern’s design for Kerkorian’s MGM Grand Hotel (now Bally’s Las Vegas) opened in 1973. This design, themed after movies from Kerkorian’s MGM Film Studios, pushed the scale of mega-resorts even further—2,084 rooms—reclaiming the title of world’s largest hotel from The Las Vegas Hilton.

Together, Stern and Kerkorian established, through The International Hotel and MGM Grand Hotel, the structurally integrated casino resort complex, the architectural form of the three-wing plan, the hyperbolic scale of design, and also advanced the themed aesthetics that came to define architectural landscape of the Las Vegas Strip. Many of these elements were to be combined most elegantly in his proposed 1975 design for the Xanadu Hotel Casino.

Stern was also responsible for the export of the Las Vegas hotel and casino resorts to other resort centers. His association with Bill Harrah made him the most prolific architect in Atlantic City, New Jersey and in Reno and Lake Tahoe, Nevada where his Las Vegas forms were often repeated in scaled-down versions such as the MGM Grand in Reno. However, Stern did not simply transplant Las Vegas hotels to other cities; his designs for the Showboat and Playboy and Marina properties in Atlantic City, Harrah's, Sahara, and Harveys at Tahoe, and the Kuilima Hotel and Country Club in Hawaii were distinctive and carefully designed blends of a resort theme with its natural setting. The Atlantic City Showboat design, for example, took the traditional gambling boat motif of the Las Vegas Showboat hotels, and Stern’s unrealized Xanadu project, and rendered it into a modern stylized and streamlined cruise ship design. The marina motif was carried further in the smooth sleek sailing lines of Harrah’s Marina in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Stern closed his architectural practice in 1996 and donated his collection of the architectural drawings and documents generated to produce his buildings to the University Library at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV). When Martin Stern donated his drawings to UNLV, he remarked that, from them, all his buildings could be reconstructed to the last detail. Martin Stern died on July 28, 2001 in Los Angeles, California. Stern's work to transform the Las Vegas skyline left an architectural legacy that continues to influence resort architecture today.

Martin Stern Jr. opened his own architectural office in Los Angeles in 1946 under the name Martin Stern Jr. AIA Architect. As his business grew, especially in Las Vegas, he added associates, Brian Webb in 1959, and later, Berton Severson and Bruce Koerner. In 1968, Joel Bergman, answering a newspaper ad, was hired as a junior designer, was quickly advanced to associate, and then worked as Project Architect for the MGM Grand construction in 1972 and Riviera Hotel tower additions in 1974. The firm was incorporated in 1970 and, by 1980, had over 30 employees. The firm was led by Vice President and CEO Brian Webb who was made full partner in 1985. In addition to Webb, the firm was led by Associates and Vice Presidents Bert Severson (Chief Designer), Fred Anderson, and Mas Tobuko, and Associates Roberto Caragay (basic project architect), Joseph Rothman (head of specifications) and George Dagnai (office and personnel). The firm also employed five senior draftsmen and 15 intermediate or junior draftsmen and women. Other architects who regularly worked with Stern but were not members of his firm included Jim Moore, Mike Gateby, and Ron Isaacson. Stern worked with a variety of consulting firms: most regularly, Norman Cohen, electrical engineering who donated many of the sets of electrical drawings for Stern’s projects to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas (UNLV); John A. Martin & Associates, structural engineers; Yates-Silverman, and Henry Conversano, Interior Designers.

According to one of his office staff, Stern’s firm never fully recovered from the litigation over the MGM Grand fire of 1980 and the settlement Stern ultimately paid out, which resulted in Stern drastically downsizing his firm. Bert Severson left to start his own firm in 1986 as did Brian Webb in 1990. Stern retired in 1995 closing his office at 5820 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, California and donated all his drawings to UNLV in 1996.

Martin Stern’s most well-known and successful associate, Joel Bergman, left Stern’s firm in 1978 to join Steve Wynn’s Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City as Vice President of Design and Construction. Bergman later followed Wynn to Las Vegas as part of Wynn’s design firm Atlandia which designed the Mirage Hotel and Casino and Treasure Island Hotel and Casino. Bergman eventually established his own firm, Bergman, Walls and Youngblood, still one of the most prominent design firms in Las Vegas. Bergman discussed his “Stern Years” in his often acerbic autobiography, “Whatever You hear About Me is True” (Bang Printing, 2015). Bergman, a graduate of USC School of Architecture, was advised by his early mentor, Carl Winslow, for whom Bergman had been working, “You don’t want to go work for Martin Stern. He’s a lunatic.” (Steve Wynn later told him the same thing). Bergman and Stern often quarreled (as did Bergman and Wynn), but Bergman admitted “I learned an extraordinary amount about tall and complicated buildings” from Stern. “As I became more valuable to him, he taught me more and I paid more attention. That didn’t mean I always did what he said. However, I always listened.” Joel Bergman and Atlandia provided a link between Martin Stern Jr. and a number of younger architects who have achieved international prominence in resort hotel and casino design: Roger Thomas (originally with Yates-Silverman) and DeRuyter Butler of Wynn Resorts; Brad Friedmutter (originally with Henry Conversano) of Friedmutter Group; and Paul Steelman, of Steelman Partners.

Preferred Citation

Martin Stern Architectural Records, 1950-1990. MS-00382. Special Collections, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.

Acquisition Note

Materials were donated in 1996 and 2009; accession numbers 1996-023 and 2009-025.

Processing Note

The finding aid was created and materials were processed in 2016 by Tyler Stanger and Jimmy Chang who physically rehoused, inventoried, and described the materials. Original numbering of rolls was retained, resulting in gaps in the numbering sequence. Gaps in the numbering sequence does not indicate missing materials.

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