Give him a hammer and some nails

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By Lupita Gonzales

The doorway seemed an odd shape, but once inside, everything was conventional — sort of.

Ignacio “Nash” Lucero, Las Vegan, contractor, builder, broker, home inspector, looks like a regular guy, but is far from it.

    Get this — Nash’s first “job” at the age of 6 was building a porch. Today, 85 on June 14, he’s still building, but much more than porches. Give him that hammer, some nails, a rough idea of what you have in mind, and he’ll build it, or tear it down, if that’s what you want.

    What’s Nash’s building cachet (characteristic style or feature)? His words say it best, “I like to do things different. If you see something crooked, out of the ordinary, I’ve been there. Every home I’ve built has been different; of course some homes seem alike.”

    Truth be told, he’s been all over Las Vegas with his craft and imagination and has torn down and built up many structures — and he’s done it his way. How many homes has he built in Las Vegas? He estimates 25. That doesn’t include his having been instrumental in clearing the old Jesuit Boys’ School on Valencia or having revamped the area now occupied by the former Hilton Our Lady of Sorrows School (now Tony Serna Elementary), much less having helped the nuns sell their convent on South Gonzales Street to West Las Vegas Schools.

    He got the hammer and nails and pick-ax, and in his characteristic way, he went forward. Lucero expresses pride in “my own way of doing things.” He asks, “Say you’ve got a beam to remove that weighs more than you do? How do you do that, without heavy equipment, by the way?”

    He readily describes his process — his knowhow. He uses pulleys, ladders, ropes, ramps and a pickup, and he’s pleased that he’s “gifted with ideas.” He often does his work singlehandedly and remarks that when he was younger, he used his own strength, “but now I use my head.”

    Nash acknowledges that he had help to build some homes, but others he built himself, digging footings with a pick and shovel, setting foundations, building walls, raising roofs, installing carpets, building or installing prefabricated cabinets. “I was having a ball.”

    So how did this gifted builder get his start? Born in Las Vegas in 1924, Nash attended both North and South Public schools, Las Vegas High School — and here a twinkle in his eye, and C.U. (Creston University) — meaning that he played hooky, and further quips, “running from school,” he joined the U.S. Army in 1943.

    In the military, he served in the Signal Corps, the Corps of Engineers and took several correspondence courses in building, architectural drawing, typing, real estate. Eventually, Nash was shipped overseas and served near Tokyo as head draftsman.

    He recalls, “I viewed the demolished buildings, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Out there we’d eat and throw our leftover food in the trash. The people would take our leavings to feed their families.”

    Before Japan, in 1945, Nash married his sweetheart, Marie Montenegro, a native of Arizona who had moved here to live with relatives. The couple will celebrate 64 years of marriage Oct. 20. He repeats the familiar, “Behind every good man is a good woman,” but adds, “I consider mine the best of the best — no offense to the rest.”

    A picture of the young couple greets the visitor in their entryway. Marie would be right beside Nash on many projects during their years together. He says he’d build and she’d paint. He adds, “She’s the best cook. She does the best job in all kinds of things.” Evidence of this is her scrumptious-looking pizza-sized, double-crusted apricot pie, which she displayed.

    But on to Nash’s accomplishments. In the early 1960s in Las Vegas, Catechist nuns, who provided religious instruction to Las Vegas and area children, were to be sent away for lack of instructional sites. Hearing about the nuns’ predicament, Marie, Nash and six volunteers began an effort to provide the nuns with facilities for their work. They raised money to provide a center for Catechist activity.

Nicknamed “The Victorians” by the nuns, the group held bingos, raffles and other functions, raising enough money to purchase a five-room house, heaters and desks for the building, located next to North Public School, a block from the Luceros’ home.

    Nash recalls the rewarding feeling he’d experience when he heard “the tiny knock at the door” (almost daily), The first thing I would hear from these toddlers was, “Thank you, Mr. Lucero.” Perhaps fittingly, Nash later was named “Father of the Year.”

    Subsequently, in the early ‘60s, Nash was approached by Sister Catherine Michael to build a school in West Las Vegas. Conrad Hilton, a friend of the nun, had agreed to be a benefactor, but there were other monetary conditions that had to be met to have the school built.

    Sister Catherine told Nash that Msgr. Lomme had recommended him highly and asked if he could help. Nash chose a site (the current site of the previous Hilton Our Lady of Sorrows Elementary). With the help of students from the then-Montezuma Catholic Seminary, Nash demolished or moved some of the homes on that site, sold the materials, and the effort succeeded in meeting the matching monies required for the erecting of the school.

    It was not easy, as a power struggle had ensued among the powers-that-be, and sister Catherine and Lomme were transferred. That left the ensuing progress entirely in Nash’s hands, as he had to deal directly with the Denver architect and Hilton. In addition, there had arisen a local movement to have the school built in East Las Vegas, not in West.

    In the end, however, given the work already accomplished under Lucero’s direction, the school was built in West, “with Mr. Hilton’s and Archbishop (Edwin V.) Byrne’s blessings.” The school later was sold to the West Las Vegas School District.

    Nash also takes pride in his efforts while a councilman for West Las Vegas. Many plans were in the works at the time, but the issue of consolidating the two municipalities loomed. Nash doesn’t hesitate to say that he was then and still is adamantly opposed to the consolidation.

    One reason he cites is that, along with Kansas City, Kan., and Kansas City, Mo., East and West Las Vegas held the distinction of being the only two cities of the same name in the United States divided by a river. He liked having that distinction.

    Consolidation changed that, though, as Las Vegas, East and West, became one community. Nash had other reservations, as West had hired a firm, Yguado and Associates, to prepare a comprehensive plan for the future of West Las Vegas. Lucero had envisioned an ingenious suspended building spanning the Gallinas, with City offices on the east half and Town offices on the west; it would have been a tourist draw, Lucero said, but it all came to an end when the towns merged.

    While on the council, Nash was in charge of the installation of the gas system, ordinances, zoning plan and zoning map. He also was involved in the development of the low-rent housing project and served on the Housing Committee. Eventually he became the full-time inspector for the project. Later, in 1978, Nash assisted in organizing an Eagles Club in Las Vegas.

    There is much more that could be listed, but that will have to be told at another time, in another place. Ironically, Nash says his favorite word is “Now (forget mañana).” He also asserts that time waits for no one; i.e. use it wisely. Do, then talk. But regretfully, he quotes, “Uno corre la lievre, y otro la alcanza.” (Often one does the work and others receive the credit).

    But give Ignacio “Nash” Lucero his hammer, and there’s little doubt that he’ll get the job done, no matter the obstacles.

    “Oh, yes,” he adds, “my wife keeps telling me to slow down. I assured her that I am seriously considering semi-retiring — in 10 years.”