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Preserving history: Nevada Preservation Foundation working in northern Nevada
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Preserving history: Nevada Preservation Foundation working in northern Nevada

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Preserving history - Nevada Preservation Foundation working in northern Nevada

Heidi Swank, executive director of Nevada Preservation Foundation (center), Wells City Manager Jolene Supp and an unidentified man discuss plans for the El Rancho Inn and Casino in Wells.

ELKO – Nevada Preservation, a nonprofit located in southern Nevada, has recently added several northern Nevada projects to its portfolio.

“We started in 2013,” said Executive Director Heidi Swank. “We started out of Las Vegas with just me in my back bedroom at a desk. One day I decided I was a nonprofit. Now we have four staff in Vegas and our new intern, Shaela Zaga, with Great Basin College.”

Swank said the organization helps people decide what they would like to do with their historic building and tries to help them find the path to get there.

“We give advice and do fundraising [around projects],” Swank said. “We are working on a project in Virginia City right now restoring St. Paul the Prospector. When they came to us they had two federal grants. We are administering those grants and we got them an additional grant.

“We are launching a fundraising campaign this fall. In total this will be about $1 million for this one restoration of St. Paul the Prospector. We think of ourselves as ‘the old building troubleshooters.’”

Swank said she and her organization can help owners of historic buildings in the Elko area.

Besides historic preservation, the nonprofit also works in promoting tourism in Nevada communities.

“We have an event that usually occurs in April in Las Vegas called ‘Home and History,’ Swank said. “It’s about 25 events over three days.”

This year the event could not take place due to Covid-19. Staff banded together and over a period of about three weeks and created a series of virtual tours. The events all published at the same time, according to Swank, and are still available for viewing on their website. Zaga created a program that involves a tour of Elko and its mining and railroad history.

“It got a lot of attention,” Swank said. “It actually got some national attention from the National Trust.”

“With the coronavirus we were trying to figure out how we could make history available at home and fun,” said Zaga.

Zaga said she learned about the internship opportunity through one of her professors at GBC. The internship is sponsored by Nevada Gold Mines. Zaga will graduate from Great Basin College in 2021 and hopes to teach history in the region.

Zaga said she is a third-generation Elkoan of Basque ancestry. She also works at The Star Hotel and is creating live tours of the upper level of the building, which was a traditional Basque boarding house. She said her great-grandmother was born upstairs.

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Zaga hopes to be able to hold the tours in December.

Through Nevada Preservation Foundation, Zaga is documenting homes in the Elko “tree street” area to create a concise source of local information.

“Shaela has been going out and surveying houses, so people might see her standing in front of their house with a clipboard,” Swank said. “She is looking at [your house] writing down what style of architecture and what type of windows it has. If a neighborhood someday wants to be designated as a historic district, this is the kind of information you need in order to put together those nominations.”

“The oldest homes in Elko are in the ‘tree streets,’” Zaga said. “I’ve created a little map of the homes I have been logging. It’s a big project and I am still learning how to figure out the different architecture and materials used and styles.”

Zaga said eventually the organization may want to put together historical home tours.

Swank said Nevada Preservation Foundation is looking for more board members from rural Nevada.

“We would love to have realtors or developers,” she said. “Historians are a good fit for us, too. We are a fundraising board so you do need to be able to raise funds. If anybody is passionate about history and passionate about the area they live in, that is often a really good fit for our board, too.”

Besides Elko, Swank and other members of the foundation are working on other projects in northeastern Nevada, including a building in Battle Mountain and the El Rancho Hotel and Casino in Wells.

According to the foundation’s website, The El Rancho is located is in the heart of what historians define as “Nevada’s Northeastern Frontier.” The building survived a 6.0 earthquake in 2008. It remains one of the last historic hotel-casino buildings in the community.

The hotel was built in 1949 by Italian immigrant and entrepreneur Leo Quilici. It was the first hotel in Wells to utilize structural steel construction and electricity. Ranching and railroad work in the region brought workers into Wells on weekends, and the El Rancho was a popular destination for gatherings.

“We are getting the El Rancho on the National Register of Historic Places,” Swank said. “It is so lovely to see it come back. We have also been providing the city with advice on sourcing materials and what should be kept, what can be let go. The big thing there is we needed to remove the portico off the front of the building in order to get on the National Register.”

Elko then and now:

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