Our tale of two cities, presently focusing on the history of Las Vegas newspapers, will culminate in later columns with the merger of East and West Las Vegas in 1970. Consolidation of the twin cities is closely interwoven, however, with the Alpha News and its publisher, Junio Lopez — acknowledged by his contemporaries and historians alike as the father of consolidation.
Probably more than anyone else in Las Vegas history, Junio Lopez epitomizes the Horatio Alger story. From humble and hard working families (like most people from this area), Lopez became a successful merchant and entrepreneur with a legendary business acumen, at one time owning most of the Old Town Plaza. (Lopez alone or with business partner George Arellanes owned no less than a dozen buildings on the Plaza, and several along either side of Bridge Street, together with the mini-mall they built at Valencia and Hot Springs Boulevard, where a branch post office and bank are still located.)
Another of his remarkable achievements was that Lopez was among the last Republicans to attain high office and influence in Las Vegas, well after this area had become a Democratic bastion. Elected mayor of Old Town in 1958, Lopez embarked on a lightning-speed transformation of the west side, including first-time infrastructure for water and sewer, and asphalt paving of most streets. So rapid and transformative were the improvements, that in 1961 the National Municipal League selected West Las Vegas as one of only 11 cities in the entire country to be recognized as an “All American City.” (The recognition and publicity earned the 38-year-old Lopez the Republican nomination for Congress in 1962.)
In 1966, Lopez was elected state senator from San Miguel County, defeating Fidel “Chief” Gonzales (who would later become the first mayor of the consolidated City of Las Vegas), and the dynamics of that epoch-changing election are worth noting. In the volatile and racially charged Democratic primary, Gonzales, then closely associated with and endorsed by Tiny Martinez, narrowly defeated long-time incumbent Sen. Gordon Melody, as Martinez continued his quest to dismantle the long-standing and unchallenged Anglo monopoly on most all positions of influence in the county.
As a result, at the general election which followed, embittered Melody partisans supported Lopez, who had astutely foreseen the brutal fallout that would occur in the Democratic primary. (Melody’s followers regretted the decision, as Lopez and his Alpha News took up the cause of Hispanic rights at Highlands University, with which Melody was closely associated, and for whom a campus park and dormitory were named.)
A year before he was elected to the state senate, Lopez had started the Alpha News, at about the same time Tiny Martinez’ Revista Norteña appeared. Unlike La Revista, the Alpha News was a traditional newspaper, published weekly on a regular schedule, and containing all the fare of a standard newspaper. Lopez established the newspaper’s offices and printing operations at 220 North Plaza, in the one-story brick building he had recently acquired, overseeing the newspaper from his Tru-Parts auto supply store on the west Plaza, now Plaza Antiques.
The Alpha News became a popular Las Vegas weekly, and many believed it would become a serious competitor to the Optic. And as the newspaper grew, so too did Lopez’s views about the future of Las Vegas, and the publisher began to champion two issues in particular on the pages of his newspaper:
Consolidation and Hispanic inclusion at Highlands University.
Not since 1902 had the notion of merging East and West Las Vegas been given any serious thought on either side of the Gallinas, until the Alpha News began in earnest to promote consolidation. The novel idea perplexed both sides, each fearing domination by the other, Optic reporter Jack Flynn writing at the time that in East Las Vegas, consolidation was regarded as a “poor relative wanting to move in.”
Lopez was unrelenting, and as the Alpha News advanced consolidation locally, the senator took his cause to Santa Fe, where he proposed one consolidation bill after another, either forcing merger or requiring a referendum on the question. Opposed by most civic and political leaders in Las Vegas, Lopez’s legislation failed – but the idea of consolidation had taken root. (Lopez succeeded in other important legislative endeavors, including passage of the law which created Luna Vocational Technical Institute, now Luna Community College.)
As for Highlands, like Tiny Martinez’ Revista, the Alpha News took up the cause of Hispanic inclusion in the governance of the university, and Lopez ran scathing editorials openly accusing Highlands and President Thomas C. Donnelly of systematic racism. The local Republican Party repudiated him for his “attacks” on the university, but the maverick Lopez was unfazed and the Alpha News continued its broadside on what Lopez said was “the deliberate exclusion of Hispanics from the faculty and positions of authority at Highlands University.”
The Alpha News ceased publishing around 1970, but in its short run Junio Lopez’s newspaper created the catalyst for consolidation, and helped stoke the fires that would transform Highlands University, topics which will be recounted at length in later columns.
(Note: Since childhood, the writer knew Junio Lopez, but there is no family relationship.)
Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.