Ancient Egypt has repeatedly been a focus of attention in art and architecture. The tradition of drawing inspiration from Egypt is antiquated.
Egyptian culture fascinated Classical Greeks and then the Romans. The United States has seen three periods of Egyptian Revival, two of which have had an effect on Nevada.
A modern expression of Egyptian Revival began in the late 18th Century with French and English exploration and documentation of Egyptian antiquities.
This period saw the discovery and translation of the Rosetta Stone, which made the text of the hieroglyphs available for a public with a voracious appetite for the culture of the Nile Valley.
As a consequence of these discoveries, people began building houses and public buildings with elements inspired by ancient Egyptian architecture. The tradition reached its peak in the United States in 1830, but monumental examples of the style were still being built as late as 1848.
At least two examples of Egyptian Revival style architecture occurred in Nevada, but they were late manifestations for the style. When the Winter's family of Washoe Valley built their ranch between 1862 and 1864, they included slanted door jams and fireplace surrounds. Whoever chose the details apparently borrowed these elements from Egyptian Revival. Much of this material has disappeared during successive changes to the house, but the Winter's ranch house is part of a larger legacy.
Similarly, the brick front of Piper's Opera House in Virginia City includes two iron pilasters - forged half columns - that bear lotus-flower capitals. Although John Piper constructed the theater in 1885, the brick building that serves as its entrance dates to around 1860. Like the Winter's Ranch, this is extremely late for the style to appear, but Piper's Opera House remains as a second Nevada example of the immortal nature of Egypt's charm. It has not been uncommon for architectural styles to appear and disappear later in the West where current fashions were slower to manifest, so the late occurrence of these Egyptian Revival elements is not surprising.
A second period of Egyptian Revival coincided with discoveries in the early 1920s, including that of Tutankhamen's tomb. This was echoed in the 1970s by a resurgence of Egyptian Revival coinciding with Tutankhamen's world tour.
In many ways, all things Egyptian remain in vogue. Indeed, Nevada is home to one of the nation's most recent monumental expressions of Egyptian Revival architecture, a structure dating to end of the 20th Century. Built in 1993, the Luxor Hotel Casino in Las Vegas is a current use of a very old tradition. At 30 stories tall and with 4,427 rooms, the pyramid is one of the largest structures ever built in this style. It includes a 110-foot-tall Sphinx with accompanying obelisk. For the convenience of patrons, it boasts inclinators - elevators at an angle - to accommodate the slanted sides of the building. The 315,000-watt beacon at its pinnacle would have been the envy of any Egyptian pharaoh.
These three examples tie Nevada to an age-old tradition of borrowing inspiration from Egypt. Readers who recognize other examples of Egyptian Revival architecture in Nevada are encouraged to contact the Office of Historic Preservation at 775-684-3440. The Office is part of the Nevada Department of Museum, Library and Arts, which offers many cultural resources to the public. For information, call 775-687-8323 or visit:
Ron James is the State Historic Preservation Officer and has published three books on Nevada history.