Column: And, now, the first annual ‘O’Neills’ |

Column: And, now, the first annual ‘O’Neills’

by John O'Neill

Douglas County recently presented its annual “Award of Excellence in Design” to the architects, builders and owners of seven Carson Valley buildings. While I have no problem with these awards and – with one or two notable exceptions – can live with the choices, I think it’s time to also present awards for the most outstanding examples of “Poor and/or Inappropriate Design” and “Just Plain Bad Taste.”

Naturally, I have my own nominees and here are a few of my favorites:

– The all-too-numerous private homes that are simply not at home in a desert setting, especially the ones that look as though they were plucked by helicopter from Cape Cod or Buffalo; those with little, phony dormers staring blindly off into space; Tudors surrounded by sagebrush and, of course, those suggesting Sarah Winchester as the architect (I have always wondered why wealth and aesthetic sensitivity are so often the antithesis of one another).

– Anything that resembles a World War II army barracks and isn’t: Commercial buildings and houses whose predominate colors are robin’s egg blue, purple, orange, chartreuse, fire engine red or canary … or any combination thereof;

– Anything that looks as though it should be surrounded by a moat;

– Churches that can be mistaken for warehouses;

– Pompous and overbearing buildings that appear ready to pounce on and devour their neighbors (watch out, McDonald’s!).

Now, I know I will be beaten over the head by that old saw, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” and that’s OK, but may I offer my deepest sympathy to anyone whose “eye” detects even a modicum of “beauty” in these structures.

Before I head for the bomb shelter, however, let me point out that blame for the architectural aberrations that are popping up all over Carson Valley must be shared equally by our commissioners and other county officials. These are the same nice people who plunked down a water tank (another one on the way) in an older residential area of Johnson Lane in order to save a few dollars for the residents of a newer, “upscale” development down the road apiece … attempted (unsuccessfully, it seems) to force the citizens of Genoa to accept an unacceptable new commercial development … and who are, at least, politically, the descendants of those officials who gave us our wonderful downtown sewage treatment plant (anyone for a tour before lunch at Denny’s?).

Prior to beginning any construction in Douglas County, a builder must jump through innumerable hoops: there are hoops for electrical, plumbing, engineering, zoning and more … the only one missing seems to be that for architectural design. Once it has been proven that the wiring will be safe, the pipes won’t leak, the roof won’t cave in and the property won’t be under water more than once every 10 years, apparently anything goes!

“Save our open space” is the current rallying cry. However, regardless of the success of this movement, which I support wholeheartedly, there will be development in Carson Valley, the only question being what kind?

Will we continue to let the incredible beauty of our Valley be eroded by this visual pollution? Or, might we borrow a page from South Lake Tahoe and include a “hoop” for architectural review? Lest I appear too disparaging, let me single out some recent construction that I believe should illuminate the path of future development: The Historian Inn; Pinon Hills Elementary School; The Record-Courier building; Mid-Town Plaza; the restoration of JT’s Basque Bar in Gardnerville and Minden’s old Wool Warehouse.

Our election is finally over, but blessed as we are with a one party system, there seemed little to get enthusiastic about. Which begs the question: Does partisan politics really belong in local government? A discussion for another day.

(John O’Neill is co-director of the Carson Valley Violin School and may be contacted by e-mail at: or through his Web site at