Friday, August 17, 2012

The Historic Las Vegas

When you can trace your town’s history to 8,000 B.C. and the Paleo-Indians, you are talking some serious history. And this is the case with Las Vegas, New Mexico (about 70 miles east of Santa Fe via I-25).

Jumping ahead several centuries and a succession of nomadic Native Americans and Spanish explorers to 1835 brings us to the twenty-nine individuals who received land grants from the Mexican government and laid out a large plaza and surrounding community.

A town grew up around the Plaza, with streets radiating from this source like spokes of a wheel. In contrast to this town on the west side of the Gallinas River, the town that grew up on the east side of the river was laid out in a grid pattern reflecting the Eastern United States urban planning concepts.

Due to the trade from the Santa Fe Trail and the start of the railroad lines through the area, Las Vegas was the largest city in New Mexico by 1900. But with increased rail lines, a local agricultural depression in the mid-1920s, and the Great Depression of the 30s, Las Vegas’ prosperity ended.

But Las Vegas did not die.

The town, formed when Las Vegas and West Las Vegas merged in 1970, is doing quite well, valuing its history and enjoying the present. We began our tour of some of the 900 structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places with the buildings around the Plaza.

Looking through the Plaza, we could see the Plaza Hotel on the northeast corner.

Plaza Hotel
Built in 1882, the Hotel was "meticulously rehabilitated, motivating reinvestment in the Old Town section of the town" (Historic Las Vegas, New Mexico brochure).

Off to the left of the Hotel's lobby was the dining room.

The Hotel lobby.

Off to the right of the lobby wa the Byron T's Saloon.

Charles Ilfeld Building
Built in stages (1882-1890), the Ilfeld Company became the largest mercantile firm in the state with warehouses and stores in every major city in New Mexico.

Louis Ilfeld Building
Built in 1921 and housing Ilfeld's law offices, was designed in a mix of periods.

The Veeder Buildings
Built in 1890, the first Veeder Building (left) is "one of the more flamboyant commercial buildings in the Italianate style of the Plaza."

The building above (and below) is an example of the local brickwork with a Moorish flavor.

Wesche-Dold Building
This building, built in 1865, encloses the original Our Lady of Sorrows nave from 1840. The mercantile quarters of Andres and John Dold is an example of Territorial architecture (massive adobe and stone masonry).

Courtroom Building
From 1882-1885, this building served as a courtroom.

"The arched recesses framing the second story windows are the inventive touch of a local builder."

First National Bank
"Most Italianate buildings employed mass produced, cast iron or pressed-metal ornamentation, e.g., the bank's pressed-metal cornice. However, the remainder of this building's ornamentation was fashioned out of contrasting shades of local sandstone."

Romero Building
The last new building on the Plaza (built in 1919), the California Mission Revival has styling of stepped parapet and corner pavillions with the red tile roofing.

"A distinctive historical structure, respectfully restored to both its original function and handsome appearance."

Winter's Drug Store first occupied the retail space and the ice cream
parlor and soda fountain, "complete with authentic 1920s fixtures and furnishings, still features Lickety Split ice cream--called 'the best in the country' by Time magazine--in all the traditional flavors."

I found a sizable array of medicinal herbs stocked by local herbalists and a full-service pharmacy doing a brisk business.

A model of the Romero Building occupied a prominent space in the drug store.

The building was unoccupied from 1970-1984 until it was purchased and restored by Eloy (a pharmacist by profession) and Frances Aragon.

Our Lady of Sorrows Parish Hall
Built before 1883, the buildings curvilinear parapet dates to the 1930s.

We left the Plaza to explore other parts of the town.

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