Making it home: Urban Renewal in central and Downtown Las Vegas
The historic center and University District offer smart city amenities to adventurous urbanites
At its heart, Las Vegas is a quirky mix of old and new, balancing a hunger for the new with a penchant for a mythical past. Paradise and Winchester, two of our largest towns, are unincorporated townships, a nod to the independent spirit of our Wild West heritage. And yet those same two townships encompass the world-famous Strip, where yesterday is regularly imploded to make way for tomorrow.
Along with all the cool stuff on the Strip, Paradise is home to McCarran Airport, the Atomic Testing Museum, and, of course, UNLV. The University District spans Maryland Parkway from Flamingo to Tropicana. On campus, the Barrick Museum and Donna Beam Fine Art Gallery feature exhibits by both students and professionals. Open 24 hours, the infamous Double Down Saloon, known for punk music, psychedelic murals, and being the birthplace of the bacon martini, is located here. The intersection of Paradise and Naples is one of the city’s better-known LGBTQ hubs, with bars and nightclubs catering to the community.
Stretching past Paradise and Winchester, Las Vegas Boulevard winds into Downtown, the historic center of the city. Before the development of the Strip, it was also the core gambling district. Fremont Street remains the heart of downtown gaming — now framing a pedestrian mall underneath a 90-foot-tall canopy, 1,500-feet-long. With a nightly light show, loved-and-loathed SlotZilla zipline attraction, local bands and national acts playing on three stages, and exceptional people watching, it’d be easy to stay on Fremont.
But then you’d miss Fremont East, “an up-and-coming entertainment district catering to local hipsters,” according to Geoff Schumacher, author of Sun, Sin & Suburbia: The History of Modern Las Vegas, with hotspots like the Beat Coffeehouse and Records, Atomic Liquors, and Downtown Cocktail Room. North of Fremont is the Downtown 3rd area, or dt3, best known for the Mob Museum and its Friday Downtown 3rd Farmers Market. South of Fremont is 18b Arts District, an assortment of art galleries, one-of-a-kind stores, and restaurants.
With an eclectic blend of history and art, a diverse range of activities and nightlife, and the appeal of an urban lifestyle, Downtown and Central Las Vegas bring a lot of verve to the city.
Small, classic and high living
From retro ranches to sleek mid-rise living
Those craving a more urban lifestyle in the midst of Downtown’s renaissance can choose from four high-rise condos —
Soho Lofts, Newport Lofts, Ogden and Juhl. These properties offer easy walkability, luxury amenities, minimal maintenance and great views. A 1,356-square-foot, one-bedroom, two-bath condo at Soho Lofts (900 Las Vegas Blvd. S.) was recently listed on Zillow for $294,999. A one-bedroom, one-bath unit at the Juhl (353 E. Bonneville Ave.) was recently listed for rent on Zillow for $1,250/month.
Downtown denizens-to-be will soon have another option to choose from. Construction is underway on Fremont & 9th, a 5-story, podium-style building that will combine 231 stylishly appointed rental units with 15,000 square feet of retail space along Fremont Street.
Call of the bungalow
Near Fremont East, the Biltmore Bungalows (which aren’t actually bungalows at all), were built in the 1940s as homes for civilians supporting the war effort. Homes in this subdivision are mostly two-bedroom cottages. An 832-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom Biltmore Bungalow home, located at 320 Bonanza Way, recently sold for $30,000 on Zillow.
West of the I-15 and walking distance to Downtown, the upscale Scotch 80s features ranch estates on large lots. The well-heeled McNeil Estates neighborhood blends unique homes in a variety of architectural styles with a central location, west of Rancho Drive between Charleston and Oakey.
Fans of retro charm will appreciate the Huntridge and John S. Park neighborhoods, both located south of Charleston and east of Las Vegas Boulevard. In 2003, the residents of John S. Park successfully petitioned to have their neighborhood designated as a historic district, so the homes here have to stay true to their original designs. Built between the early 1930s and the late 1950s, the homes in John S. Park are predominantly Colonial-Revival or Ranch. The difference is easy to spot. Instead of the L- or U-shaped floor plans, covered patios and rustic exteriors that characterize ranch houses, Colonial-Revival homes are rectangular, with multi-pane windows and entrances accented with columns, pediments or hoods. (Many of the area’s last remaining Tudor-style houses are here, too.) A 2,960-square-foot, one-story, single-family home with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, located at 1311 S. 7th Street in the John S. Park neighborhood, was recently listed for $339,900 on Zillow. ED
In the neighborhood
It’s no surprise that Paradise Palms was named the Valley’s “Hottest Neighborhood of 2015” by real estate website Redfin. Popular in its heyday, this quaint vintage neighborhood is seeing a resurgence of interest.
Situated between Downtown and the University District, Paradise Palms was Las Vegas’ first master-planned community, developed in the 1960s by Vegas developer Irwin Molasky. Close to the Strip, the curved streets and cul-de-sacs made it feel private, which is why stars like Johnny Carson, Debbie Reynolds, and Phyllis Diller had homes here. Mob associate Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, the inspiration for the protagonist in the movie Casino, was a resident as well.
The houses at Paradise Palms had multiple designers, which lent the community a playful, quirky feel. Homes designed by architects Dan Palmer and William Krisel were characterized by open, ranch-style floor plans, post-and-beam construction on concrete slabs, clerestory windows, decorative block walls, and seamless indoor-to-outdoor spaces. Desert Inn architect Hugh E. Taylor had an edgier style. He favored angled butterfly roofs and coarse concrete, stretches of glass, wood and stone, and ornamental shutters. The variety of rooflines and colors are just as appealing today as they were back then. ED
Street smarts: Maryland
There’s something old and something new on our “other” main streetMaryland Parkway is an unsung main street. Spanning from Downtown to midtown, the street features cheap eats, dive bars and cool cultural quirks. Let’s start on south Maryland Parkway and Fremont Street at new downtown cafe PublicUs ( publicuslv.com). This place is so artisanal, you’d suspect even the unerringly cheery baristas are free-range. Its design might be called Martha Stewart Industrial; the food and drink, painstaking and precise but rich and generous, too. Up the street is The Center ( thecenterlv.org). It’s the social HQ of the LGBTQ community, offering classes and services, but it feeds bodies as well as souls: Check out the can’t-believe-it’s-vegan dishes at the Center’s Bronze Cafe, helmed by the inventive chef Peter Bastien.
Okay, including the entirety of Commercial Center (Sahara just west of Maryland) on a street crawl may be cheating, but, it’s necessary to give a proper shout-out to its Thai comfort food (Komol, komolrestaurant.com), Northern Thai cuisine (Lotus of Siam, lotusofsiamlv.com), its edgy plays (Onyx Theatre, onyxtheatre.com), not to mention its celebrated trans dive bar, Las Vegas Lounge (702-737-9350).
Maryland Parkway also has some of the best dive bars in the city, from the rapidly hipsterfying Huntridge Tavern (702-384-7377) at Charleston to the nautically themed Smuggle Inn (702-731-1305) on Vegas Valley Drive, with its strangely comforting, dim, smoky, subsea murk, to Champagnes Cafe (702-737-1699) at Twain, a literal and figurative brick house of no-frills drinking. Finally, grizzled blue-collars rub elbows with equally grizzled grad students at the Stake Out (702-798-8383) — and the burgers, wings and various fried things are surprisingly good.
Across the street is UNLV, but for a different kind of book-learning, check out Alternate Reality Comics near Flamingo and Maryland ( alternaterealitycomics.net), a volcano of pop culture that features everything from smash-’em-up superhero tales to underground comix to action figures. AK
On Maryland Parkway just south of Charleston is The Center, a place devoted to providing services and support to the LGBTQ community. But it’s so much more: It’s a hangout, a social hub, resource center and, in many ways, the heart of the gay and lesbian community in Southern Nevada.
Bronze Cafe at The Center
Tilts and buzzes
• Behind the doors of a nondescript warehouse next to a strip mall, a multi-sensory repository of popular culture awaits. The Pinball Hall of Fame (1610 E. Tropicana Ave.) houses the largest collection of pinball machines in the world. Unlike most museums, you can touch (and play) the hundreds of pinball machines, classic arcade games and other novelty machines. It’s a nonprofit with a volunteer staff, and every quarter you drop into a machine goes to charity. Considering that games cost between one and four quarters to play, $20 will go a long way for you — and a good cause.
The Pinball Hall of Fame
• Tenaya Creek Brewery (831 W. Bonanza Road), is a buzzy new arrival downtown — literally. Formerly a suburban brews-and-food operation, the new location marks a renewed focus on its well-respected craft brews, from crisp pilsners to heavies like its God of Thunder, a thick, rich, sweet Baltic porter with a nice kick.
• When you see the motorcycles out front, you’ll know you’ve arrived at Hogs & Heifers Saloon (201 N. Third St.). Order a beer or a shot of whiskey, but don’t ask for wine — or blended drinks. They do serve lots of fun attitude. The bartenders scream out orders over megaphones, and the girls dance on the bar, wearing strategically placed stickers in case they decide to take their tops off. Be sure to look for Jim Morrison’s mug shot and arrest report on the wall. ED
Quench your thirst for culture, learning and fun
Embrace your competitive side at the Gold Spike (217 Las Vegas Blvd. N.). Play ping pong, pool and oversized cornhole in air-conditioned comfort in the Living Room. Or soak up some Vitamin D over a round of giant chess or Jenga in the Backyard. The more introverted among you will gravitate toward the hotel’s media library, stocked with books to borrow and vinyl records to play on a portable Crosley turntable.
The 180-acre Springs Preserve sits on the Las Vegas Springs, the city’s original water source. If the wide range of exhibits and two museums (Nevada State Museum and Origen Museum) don’t quench your thirst for knowledge of the area’s history and culture, follow the 3.65 miles of trails through 11 acres of native habitats and archeological sites.
Stroll through the Las Vegas’ luminous past at the Neon Museum (770 Las Vegas Blvd. N.). Meet your guide at the clamshell-shaped Visitors Center, which is the former La Concha Motel lobby. From there, you’ll walk through one and a half acres piled high with donated and rescued signs. Go at night to see several signs illuminated. And keep an eye out for a few fully restored signs that have been mounted throughout DTLV. ED
Making the Grade
Area schools of special noteFounded by Wharton School of Business graduate Connie Yeh in 2013, 9th Bridge School (310 S. Ninth St.) is a private preschool with an entrepreneurial focus. Enrolling infants through second-graders, the curriculum at 9th Bridge centers on “social-emotional learning” along with science, reading and math.
Number of Students: 45
Ages: 6 weeks through 7-9 years
Indoor/outdoor classroom environments
Valley High School (2839 S. Burnham Ave.) is a public school that offers two well-regarded magnet programs. The curriculum for the International Baccalaureate program is considered to be among the most rigorous in the world. Through the Academy of Hospitality and Tourism, students gain experience from internships at Las Vegas resorts and a partnership with the Hotel Administration College at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Graduation Rate: 66.06%
Average Class Size: 22-27
The class of 2014 earned $8.8 million in scholarships, with students now attending colleges such as Princeton, Tulane, Brown, and Cornell.
Now 23 years old, Las Vegas Academy of the Arts (South Ninth Street and East Clark Avenue) quickly become an educational institution, turning out world-class musicians, dancers and more. The school has received 12 Grammy awards, more than any school in the country.
Average GPA: 3.742
Graduation Rate: 98.2%
Average Class Size: 27-29
Awarded a 5-Star School rating for the past two years
Amenities and Attractions
The fun begins before you set foot in the Downtown Container Park (707 E. Fremont St.) when you’re greeted at the entrance by a flame-throwing, 40-foot-high praying mantis. Inside, repurposed shipping containers housing retailers and restaurants line the perimeter, and a large playground and stage fill in the center.
Displayed throughout Main Street Station Casino Brewery Hotel (200 N. Main St.) is an eclectic assortment of antiques and curiosities. Pick up a brochure and map from the front desk or bell desk in the lobby and take a self-guided tour through history. The most unusual attraction? A graffiti-covered section of the Berlin Wall located in the men’s restroom off the main casino floor. It’s not just for men’s eyes only. Women can ask to be escorted in by security to see this pivotal piece of the past, too.
Winchester Cultural Center (3130 McLeod Drive) is Clark County’s only full-service arts facility. Programming covers the usual dance, theater, and the visual arts, but also more unexpected areas like fitness and skateboarding. There are offerings for adults as well as youth. The center has a gallery that exhibits the work of local artists, an indoor theater, a desert demonstration garden and a skate park. ED