Historic Las Vegas New Mexico
The Story of an Intriguing Town Maps, Historic Buildings, and Districts
A Trail Town and So Much More! The archaeological record shows that the fertile valley of Nuestra Senora de los Dolores de Las Vegas Grandes–Las Vegas–was occupied as early as 8,000 B.C. by Paleo-Indians. Pueblo Indians were present in the area during the 1100s and 1200s until forced out by drought or aggressors. In subsequent years, nomadic Native Americans, including Comanche Indians, camped in the Las Vegas area. A succession of Spanish explorers, beginning with Coronado in 1541, passed through going east in search of the fabled Cities of Gold. By the 1790s an increase of population in the Rio Grande valley caused Spanish settlement to expand out to the eastern face of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. In 1835, twenty-nine individuals applied for and received the Las Vegas Land Grant from the Mexican government. The Alcalde (administrative justice) of nearby San Miguel del Vado accompanied the settlers to “the meadows,” and in Spanishmanner, according to the Laws of the Indies, they laid out a large plaza and surrounding community.
Welcome to Las Vegas! Whether touring on foot, or by bicycle, car or bus, Las Vegas, New Mexico, provides the visitor with an architectural experience unparalleled in the Great American Southwest. From the indigenous adobe architecture of New Mexico to the glamorous, machine-age International Style, Las Vegas boasts excellent examples of nearly every important architectural residential style built in the United States between 1840 and 1940. Many of these houses are in pristine condition, some unmodified for more than 100 years. Las Vegas continues to fascinate, not only for its architecture, but also for its unique city planning. The Old Town Plaza was established on high ground above the Gallinas River for irrigation purposes; the area that is now Bridge Street and Moreno, San Juan and Valencia Streets was used by settlers to grow crops. Streets in Old Town radiate from the Plaza like spokes of a wheel. They tended to follow natural features of the land such as arroyos, hills and cow trails. The Las Vegas Plaza, with these characteristics intact, is probably the best preserved in New Mexico. In sharp contrast, on the east side of the Gallinas, is another Las Vegas: a logical grid-plan of streets reflecting Eastern United States urban planning sensibilities of the late 19th century. This community developed upon the arrival of the AT&SF railroad in 1879 and was populated by a high percentage of European and American immigrants and merchant families who came west seeking economic opportunity. Until 1970, Las Vegas continued to exist as two separate communities—the City of Las Vegas and theTown of West Las Vegas. Though the west side had grown steadily due to Santa Fe Trail commerce, from the start the railroad greatly expanded the trade area for both towns. The census of 1900 shows Las Vegas as the largest city in New Mexico. Even as Las Vegas prospered through 1905, its trade area was reduced as additional rail lines crossed the territory causing other New Mexico cities to bemore competitive. A local agricultural depression in the mid-I920s followed by the Great Depression of the 1930s put an end to Las Vegas’ prosperity. A long period of dormancy ensued, with gradual growth and a commitment to historic preservation resulting in present-day Las Vegas. Today the community continues to show through architecture, land use, and commerce the intersection of the cultures and peoples that settled Las Vegas.
Exploring Las Vegas This brochure, with its “tours” laid out according to historic districts, is intended to give you a taste of Las Vegas history through some of our treasured places. Limited space prevents the inclusion of the roughly 900 structures in and around Las Vegas that are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We leave it to you to discover the remaining gems as you leisurely stroll the streets of our town.
Old Town Plaza and Bridge Street Districts
The Plaza,which had long served for parking wagons, also began to change. A windmill, erected there in 1876, served briefly as a vigilante gallows. This sign of frontier justice was replaced in 1880 by a bandstand encircled by trees and a picket fence. Today’s Plaza, with its gazebo under a canopy of mature trees, reflects efforts of Las Vegas’ first historic preservation movement led by Rheua Pearce and Johnny Villegas in the 1960s. Wesche-Dold Building, 1805 W. Plaza (Built 1865) (1) This building encloses the original Our Lady of Sorrows nave from 1840. By combining classical proportions and detailing of Greek Revival architecture with massive adobe and stone masonry, the U.S. Army introduced Territorial architecture into New Mexico—perhaps the most significant innovation since the Spaniards introduced religious structures and adobe brick to the Pueblos over two centuries earlier. Santa Fe Trail Traders Andres and John Dold bought the site from the Catholic Church and built theirmercantile headquarters in the military style. Early on, the front sported a two-story portal with balcony above.
The first flat-roofed, log and adobe houses stood side-by-side, one room deep around the Plaza, for ing a defensive enclosure into which livestock could be herded in case of attack. This new self-sufficient farming village stood on the Santa Fe Trail and was the first New Mexican settlement encountered by supply trains coming from the United States. The Trail meant jobs and commerce, and Las Vegas grew to over a thousand people by 1860. During the next twenty years its population quadrupled as it became a major trade center with businesses as well as residences lining the Plaza. The arrival of the railroad a mile east of the Plaza in 1879 was a mixed blessing. Though a new town district was established with a competing commercial district, the entire city’s position as amercantile center was solidified because it was the first large town to be reached by the railroad. At its peak, Las Vegas’ trade area expanded into western Texas.
Veeder Buildings, 1815 W. Plaza (Built 1880-1908) (2) To the right, the first Veeder Building, which was built by Andres Dold, is one of the more flamboyant commercial buildings in the Italianate style on the Plaza. In 1895, the Veeder Brothers added the building to the left–an example of local brickwork with a Moorish flavor. Between 1902 and 1908, a Tudor Revival carriage house was added to the right of their structures. These commercial establishments were built with living apartments on the second stories.
The Plaza Hotel, 230 N. Plaza (Built 1882) (3) It was a matter of pride for every railroad town to have a fine hotel in which to house visitors. Local businessmen headed by Benigno Romero formed the Las Vegas Hotel & Improvement Company in 1880 to provide Las Vegaswith the finest hotel in the territory. The hotel has a colorful history. It was home to early silent-film producer Romaine Fielding (see the ghost sign still on the west facade) in 1913, and the Mama Lucy Gang of liberal politicians in the 1960s. More than a century after it was built, Plaza Partnership, Ltd., acquired the property and meticulously rehabilitated the building, motivating reinvestment in Old Town and, once again, restoring the hotel as an object of civic pride. Charles Ilfeld Building, 224 N. Plaza (Built 1882-1890) (4) Charles Ilfeld located his modest dry goods firm in a one story adobe that was later transformed into his son’s law office. By 1882 he had prospered to the point he could erect the first third of this Italianate building and completed the larger second stage by 1890. Between World War I and II, the Ilfeld Company continued to grow, becoming the largest mercantile firm in the state, with warehouses and stores in every major city in New Mexico. Louis Ilfeld Building, 220 N. Plaza (Built 1921) (5)After attending Yale University, Charles Ilfeld’s son, Louis C., located his law office here. The onestory red brick building was designed in a mix of periods with crenelated parapets and linteled windows and boasted an early air-cooling system. This facade, restored in 1975 by early local preservationists, Joe and Diana Stein, shows the restraint of early 20th-century classicism.
Maese House/Dice Apartments, 218 N. Plaza (Built pre-1846) (6) This one story adobe, although “modernized” on the exterior, is one of two buildings on the Plaza that predates the Mexican American War of 1846. In that year, General StephenWatts Kearny, commander of the American Army of the West, stood on this one story building on the north side of the Plaza to address the town’s population, claiming New Mexico for the United States. Desmarais House/Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Hall, 1810 E. Plaza (Built Pre-1883) (7) Like the other remaining adobe buildings on the Plaza, the Parish Hall lost its wooden porch and was stuccoed, though it retains Territorial style lintels over the windows. The curvilinear parapet which now caps its facade dates to the 1930s or later—a picturesque folk addition. Romero Building, 178 Bridge St. (Built 1919) (8) Built by Secundino Romero, a local political leader and member of the wealthy Romero family, this was the last large new building constructed on the Plaza. The California Mission Revival styling of stepped parapet and corner pavilions with the red tile roofing is similar in design to the Murphey’s Drug Building on Douglas, east of the river. Aniceto Baca Building, 146 Bridge St. (Built 1884) (9) The Baca Building and Estella’s to its side are characteristic of Italianate Commercial, which predominated on Bridge Street and the Plaza in the 1880s. Loosely modeled after the palazzos of Italian Renaissance merchant princes, the style is distinguished by heavy, decorative hoods over arched windows, ornate cornices supported by brackets, and cast iron structured columns.
Stern and Nahm Building, 114 Bridge St. (Built 1885) (10) This building was originally occupied by the office for the Stock Grower weekly newspaper before being taken over by the Stern and Nahm dry goods firm in 1897. It is a typical commercial building with large display windows and cast iron columns on the first floor, and pressed and folded sheet metal ornamentation above. Chapman Hall/Winternitz Block, 125 & 127 Bridge St. (Built 1880s) (11) The Winternitz Block is a good example of local decorative brickwork with its vertical piers, recessed panels and stepped brick. In the early 1900s, part of the building was converted for use as an early movie theater. The Las Vegas Citizens’ Committee for Historic Preservation acquired and restored this building in 1999. E. Romero Hose and Fire Company, 155 Bridge St. (Built 1909) (12) The original wood frame fire house was replaced by this brick building. Its banded piers capped by pressed-metal “capitals” and its modest cornice with dentils (not brackets) make it Neo-Classical in style. The 1913 Sanborn insurance map notes for the building “2 horses owned by members, 25 volunteers, 1 paid man, 1500’ of 2 1/2 inch cotton hose, 130’ of ladder, 2 extinguishers.” Hedgcock Building, 157 Bridge St. (Built 1882) (13) While the Hedgcock Building has lost its bracketed metal cornice, its arched window hoods still reveal its original Italianate Style. It has been home to Stern’s Famous Dry Goods, Charles Hedgcock’s boot and shoe factory, a saloon and “lunch.” It was also once
home to the West Las Vegas Town police station and jail. The jail sequence in the movie Easy Rider was filmed in this historic building in 1968. First National Bank, SE corner Plaza & Bridge St. (Built 1880) (14) Incorporated in 1876 by the Raynolds Brothers, the First National Bank occupied an adobe building across the Plaza before moving to this new building in 1880. Most Italianate buildings employed mass-produced, castiron or pressed-metal ornamentation such as the First National’s pressedmetal cornice. However, the remainder of this building’s ornamentation was fashioned out of contrasting shades of local sandstone. Courtroom Building, 213 S. Plaza (Built 1882) (15) From 1882-1885, this building served as a courtroom. Likemany buildings of the 1880s the Courtroom Building used readily available local stone for its side wall, reserving brick, which had to be shipped in by rail, for its facade. The arched recesses framing the second-story windows are the inventive touch of a local builder. Vicente Silva House, 225 Moreno St. (Built ca. 1878) (16) This fascinating house could be called a New Mexican folk style, Renaissance Revival residence. The elegant Palladian windows and alternating bands of red and tan sandstone are a surprise here or anywhere. This was the home of Sheriff Lorenzo Lopez, who brought many of outlaw Vicente Silva’s “society of bandits” of New Mexico to justice in the 1890s.
Lorenzo Valdez House, 1111 South Pacific (Built ca. 1870) (2) Originally built as a Territorial Style house, the Valdez House (along with others nearby) represents the “Victorianization” of New Mexico re s i d e n c e s upon the arrival of the railroad. A classical porch complete with Corinthian columns was grafted onto an adobe structure to emulate the “new” architecture being built east of the Gallinas River.
This triangular-shaped district is named for early Jesuit and Catholic schools formerly located within and adjacent to it. Within this district are some of the oldest structures in Las Vegas. South Pacific Street was the route that wagons of the Santa Fe Trail used to exit Las Vegas on the final leg of the journey to Santa Fe. It’s not difficult to imagine this street as it appeared 150 years ago: a long string of one-roomwidth adobe houses with portales (porches) and people busily selling milk, cheese, and local produce to wagons as they passed. 1311 South Gonzales St. (Built ca. 1880) (1) This small cottage is a good example of the “NewMexico Vernacular” or common house type found throughout Northern New Mexico. Typically, the walls are adobe, and a simple gable roof with porch (covered by corrugated metal) provides protection from the elements. Look directly across the street and youwill see part of theAcequiaMadre (or “Mother” irrigation ditch).
Rheua Pearce Houses, 1208-16 South Pacific (Built ca. 1846) (3) The former residence of Rheua Pearce (18941993), an educator and founder of the Las Vegas historic preservation movement, is a handsome row of adobe rooms that is actually two houses, lovingly preserved by Rheua. Territorial window frames, peaked like a classical pediment , punctuate the massive exterior walls (about 2 1/2 feet thick). The pitched roof was probably added around 1900. 1305 South Pacific (Built ca. 1870) (4) Here, a classic Territorial facade is dominated by the central doorway, a charming and elegant threshold. The ornate “Victorian” door is flanked by sidelights and transomwindows, details copied from the Greek Revival inspired Officers Quarters built at nearby Fort Union in the 1860s.
O.A. Larrazolo House, 1321 South Pacific (Built ca. 1880) (5) This home is another example of the Victorian influence on New Mexico houses. The elaborate window hoods and roof cornice are Second Empire details, French and lacy in form and spirit. (The Second Empire style is named for the popular architectural style of France during the reign of Napoleon III, 1852-70.) This house was the residence of Octaviano A. Larrazolo, New Mexico’s Governor from 1919-1920.
Old Town Residential District (See Old Town Plaza map) Geographically, this is the largest historic district in Las Vegas, encompassing much of its south and west sides. Streets throughout the district were laid out along topographical features– hills, ravines, man made ditches–rather than a grid. Many structures are original adobe buildings, although modern housing infill, construction materials, and economic necessity have resulted in a loss of architectural coherency in some neighborhoods. Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church, 413 Valencia (Built 1862-69)
Esquibel-Gallegos House, 1402/10 South Pacific (Built ca. 1870) (6) The intersection of roof gables betrays the house’s U-shape (actually these are two houses joined together), and the spindle work columns add a delicate touch to an otherwise massive building.
La Casa Redonda (the Round House), 1409 South Pacific (Built ca. 1870) (7) This house is remarkable for its form rather than its details. Fourteen adobe rooms surround a central placita (courtyard). La Casa Redonda is one of the few fully realized courtyard houses in Northern New Mexico. Manuel Romero offered his home to the Jesuit School for Boys and it was headquarters for La Revista Catolico, a leading Spanish-language Jesuit newspaper from 1875-1919. Presbyterian Mission, 102 Chavez (Built 1871-73) (8) The Presbyterian Mission was surprisingly similar to Spanish Colonial missions built 250 years before, combining locally available materials (adobe), the simplest Christian church style (single nave) and the prevailing Mexican residential form(the residential courtyard is now demolished). The modest missionwas embellishedwith a Classical temple front and exceptionally fine examples of Territorial Style woodwork.
The second Nuestro Senora de los Dolores Church is one block northwest of the Plaza, where the first church had been built. Although its foundation was laid in 1862, work progressed slowly and was not completed until 1869. The red sandstone, quarried 25 miles away in Anton Chico and hauled in by wagon, was laid in a random ashlar pattern with blocks finished in a variety of pecked surfaces. Built after the arrival of Archbishop Lamy, the structure reflects a French influence with Gothic Revival style windows. Inside, an impressive century-old pipe organ dominates the sanctuary fromthe choir loft at the rear. 2004 North Gonzales St. (Built ca. 1890) This small cottage combines Te r r i t o rial style elements (after the Greek Revival-influenced architecture of the adobe New Mexico Territory, 1846-1912) and Queen Anne spindle-work.
Jack Johnson House, 2008 North Gonzales St. (Built ca. 1870) This imposing two-story adobe house has gained local notoriety because it served as Jack Johnson’s training camp for his World Heavyweight Boxing Title defense on July 4, 1912 against Jim Flynn. In the open area in front and alongside the house, bleachers were built for capacity crowds to watch his daily workouts. Johnson stopped Flynn by TKO, providing Las Vegas its greatest claim to sports fame. Benigno Romero House, 2003 Hot Springs Blvd. (Built ca. 1874) The Benigno Romero House is one of the finest Territorial-style houses in Las Vegas. Thick adobe walls, a Monterey-style cantilevered balcony and elegant proportions distinguish it. This is the former home of the man who led the company to build the Plaza Hotel and the Territorial Insane Asylum (now the NewMexico Behavioral Health Institute), still two of the largest employers in Las Vegas.
Montezuma, NM and the “Castle” As the railroad brought new influences and growth to Las Vegas, the hot springs in Montezuma provided the AT&SF with a resort destination in the form of the Montezuma Hotel at the Hot Springs. During the late 1800s many eastern doctors recommended trips to the West for treating tuberculosis and other ailments Consumptives found the quality of the air and water in Montezuma to be quite healthy. Prior to the present Castle, two hotels, which burned,were located on the site. Designed by the Chicago architectural firmof Burnhamand Root, the present 90,000 square foot structure is a fascinating combination of Queen Anne design and locally quarried red sandstone and slate. This design incorporated brick fire walls and placed a water reservoir on the hillside above the site as precautions against fire. The railroad resort closed in 1903 and the property served a succession of purposes—Baptist College, YMCA and Mexican Jesuit Seminary. Even though the railroad sold the Montezuma Hotel, theymaintained a series of ice ponds west of the site in Gallinas Canyon for harvesting ice for railroad refrigeration. It is now the home of the Armand Hammer United World College of the American West. The two year program, which culminates with an International Baccalaureate Degree, was founded afterWorldWar II to bring international students together in an educational setting to develop better understanding and to foster world peace. The Montezuma campus is the only United World College in the United States. Its 200 students come from more than 80 countries. The college completed a $10.5 million renovation of the Castle in 2001, transforming it into an international center with student housing, dining facilities, offices, and a student social center. The Castle also hosts the Bartos Institute for Constructive Engagement of Conflict. The Castle is open to the public by appointment. Hot springs, accessible fromthe highway, are located west of the campus.
Railroad, Lincoln Park & Douglas Street Districts
with notorious characters to match. In 1879, Dodge City’s most famous dentist, “Doc” Holliday, bought a saloon on Center Street (now East Lincoln) and fatally shot aman named Mike Gordon. Holliday returned to Kansas the following year. The railroad brought modern technology to Las Vegas through improvements in communications and transportation, and new building materials and designs. Local businessmen and professionals installed telephones in their stores and offices the same year the railroad came to town. By 1881, The Las Vegas Street Railway was operating horse drawn streetcar service between the train depot and the Plaza,west of the Gallinas River. The most visible legacy of this technology can still be seen in the use of fired brick, structural cast iron and pressedmetal in “new” construction.
As the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe (AT&SF) Railroad steamed into Las Vegas on July 4, 1879, hundreds of new citizens descended on the “City of the Meadows.” Overnight, a new town was born amile east of the Plaza populated by families, merchants, professionals, desperadoes and dance-hall girls, all hardy pioneers seeking their fortunes. Several thousand people came to Las Vegas that year, making it one of the largest towns in the Rocky MountainWest, rivaling Denver, Tucson, and El Paso in size. At first a town of tents and sheds, the new town, “East Las Vegas,” was laid out within six months and lots were sold at a brisk pace. Las Vegas as a whole became an economic boomtown. Trade here earned the railroad $2,500,000 fromshipping and $500,000 from passengers between 1886 and 1891. The railroad provided jobs for track construction, maintenance and locomotive crews, and headquarters officials, as well as seasonal employment in the ice industry. Not only a bustlingmercantile center, the railroad district also boasted hotels, saloons and dance halls
Rawlins Building, 515 Railroad Ave. (Built 1899) (1) Though in a deteriorated condition, the Rawlins Building remains an outstanding architectural landmark. The building’s pressedmetal front is one of the few left in New Mexico, and the recessed storefronts are intact. The upper story boasts a row of engaged Ionic columns and swag panels. The Harvey girls who staffed La Castaneda’s dining room across the street lived here for many years during the early 20th century. La Castaneda Hotel, 524 Railroad Ave. (Built 1898) (2) Built to be a jewel in Fred Harvey’s famed chain of railroad hotels, La Castaneda is one of the early Harvey Houses to be built in theMission Revival Style. Its main facade and courtyard face the railroad tracks. La Castaneda was a sister hotel to Albuquerque’s Alvarado Hotel, which was demolished in 1970. The Hotel was the site of the first Rough Rider Reunion in 1899, attended by New York Governor Theodore Roosevelt.
Las Vegas Railroad Depot (Built 1899) (3) Though it is similar to La CastanedaHotel with its curvilinear gables, the Las Vegas Railroad Depot was not designed by the same architect. The City of Las Vegas completed a $1.2 million renovation of the depot in 2003. It is now the City’s intermodal transportation facility. Amtrak stops here twice a day.
saloons and public drinking in Las Vegas, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union attempted many works. According to Las Vegas historian Lynn Perrigo, “The ladies of the WCTU came up with the idea… that a public drinking fountain located near the saloons would serve as an alternate thirst-quencher that would reduce the patronage of the bars. They raised funds, engaged Angelo da Tullio as sculptor and had a stone lion erected…with projecting drinking fountains and a stone trough.” The park was dedicated on Dec. 16, 1886.
Brown & Manzanares/Gross Kelly Commission House, 420 Railroad Ave. (Built 1898-99) (4) Designed by the Rapp Brothers, architects whose works can be seen along the rail line from Pueblo, Colorado, to Santa Fe, this building housed one of New Mexico’s leading mercantile companies. Built in the World’s Fair Classic Style, its remarkable second story loggia (row of classical Ionic columns) is an elegant feature. A cast-in-place concrete warehouse was added about 20 years after the original construction. Acquired by the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM) in 1982 to house its district headquarters, the building received extensive repairs to the exterior masonry and interior oak woodwork. The restoration wonmany awards, including a New Mexico Governor’s Award.
Lincoln Park District The city fathers of East Las Vegas, influenced by Eastern city planning, rejected the traditional Southwestern community plan dominated by the central Plaza, which had been introduced by the Spaniards centuries earlier. Instead, on the flat terrain east of the Gallinas River, an orderly grid plan was established. The plan created two parks, Lincoln Park and Carnegie Park, located south and north (respectively) of the east side’s main commercial avenue, Douglas Avenue. By 1882, East Las Vegas was transformed into a thriving community of several hundred permanent houses and commercial buildings.
Wells-Fargo Building, 615 E. Lincoln (Built 1908) (5) This building is a rare example of a three story Neo-Classical commercial structure. Elegantly carved Corinthian capitals flank the main entrance. The front and the alley facades are well designed and boast exceptional brickwork and terracotta medallions. Notice the alley facade orients to the railyard so that incoming train traffic could immediately identify theWells Fargo site. Doc Holiday owned a saloon just to the right of this building in 1879. Lion Park, Corner Grand & W. Lincoln (1886) (6) Founded in 1885 to protest the proliferation of
Lincoln Park and Carnegie Park are two of the finest examples of 19th century landscape architecture inNew Mexico. They exemplify principles of city planning developed by the French Beaux-Arts School; namely, symmetry, and long vistas of green space terminating in amonument or building. (Incidentally, these principles governed the design of our nation’s capital.) In both parks, sidewalks radiate outward froma central structure to the corners of the park in a symmetrical pattern. Trees and shrubs were planted in a pattern. On June 23, 1899, Spanish-AmericanWar veterans, including Teddy Roosevelt, camped in Las Vegas’s Lincoln Park for the nation’s first Rough Rider Reunion. On the southwest corner of Lincoln Park, three great brownstone residences stand, a legacy of one of Las Vegas’ pioneer citizens, James H. Ward. Ward’s career as a contractor with the AT&SF Railroad brought himto Las Vegas in 1879 where he bought lots by Lincoln Park,which was to become one of Las Vegas’ most fashionable neighborhoods by 1900.