Nuestra Historia - Old Town remained firmly rooted

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While East Las Vegas moved forward as New Mexico’s newest and most vibrant American city in the 1880’s, the west side did not immediately take a back seat. The Romero brothers and many of the early non-Hispanic merchants continued their business establishments in what became La Plaza Vieja (Old Town).

In 1882 — at the very time New Town was emerging — Benigno Romero built the Plaza Hotel, and Charles Ilfeld was making plans for his building next door. Emmanuel Rosenwald’s great mercantile store on the south plaza, built in 1876, was re-built at that location, and brothers Jefferson and Joshua Raynolds completed their First National Bank building in 1881, at the southeast corner of the Plaza. Bridge Street also continued to thrive, with such notable establishments as Shupp’s carriage factory (El Rialto), and the extant Stern & Nahm store, whose business name is still visible on the building.

Of course, even before the railroad arrived, the Old Town plaza had been transformed from its traditional Hispanic appearance, into a new and distinct manifestation. The hybrid building style — blending adobe with frame porches, balconies and boxed windows — originated in Las Vegas in the 1860s, as recounted at length in “The Americanization of the Old Town Plaza,” Nuestra Historia, March, 2011.     

The unique architecture is shown in the picture which appears with today’s column, and became known as territorial-style, quickly spreading to Santa Fe and throughout New Mexico. (As for the appearance of the plaza between 1835 and its Americanization, little evidence is provided by scant photographs and contemporary drawings, but all accounts indicate the original gated plaza was made-up of adjoining one-story adobe casitas, with the original Our Lady of Sorrows church prominently located where Plaza Antiques is today.)

Outward from the plaza, in all directions west of the Gallinas, Old Town was firmly established by the time the east side was emerging in the early 1880s. The academy of the Sisters of Loretto was built on South Gonzales in 1876, and the Jesuit College was located at the south end of that street in 1878, in what became known as El Distrito de Las Escuelas. (See “The Sisters of Loretto,” “The Jesuits,” and “El Distrito de Las Escuelas,” Nuestra Historia, June, 2011.)

By the early 1880s, Our Lady of Sorrows Church had been erected west of the plaza, and the first county courthouse was completed at its present location in 1885, three years before New Town became an independent municipality. As well, several business enterprises were flourishing along North Gonzales Street, including a sprawling brewery at the intersection with Delgado Street.    

As for Old Town’s residential areas, they continued to grow along South Pacific and North Pacific (Hot Springs Blvd.), and west from those streets, and along both South and North Gonzales Streets.

Interestingly, the first-generation Jewish merchants who arrived in Las Vegas in the 1850s and ‘60s, continued to reside in Old Town even after New Town was established in 1879. (See “The Jewish Merchants” and “Charles Ilfeld,” Nuestra Historia, May, 2011.)

They included Emmanuel Rosenwald, whose first home was at 1603 South Gonzales, followed by a three-story Queen Anne style frame house which he built at the corner of South Gonzales and Moreno.

Located behind the famous Rosenwald & Son mercantile, the home was later owned by the West Las Vegas Schools and demolished in the 1970s. (The second generation Rosenwalds moved to New Town, where they built imposing homes, including Cecilio Rosenwald’s residence at 1054 Seventh St.)

Like Emmanuel Rosenwald, Charles Ilfeld also stayed in Old Town, on South Gonzales Street, in the elegant home he purchased from Trinidad Romero in the 1870s, after Romero built his mansion in Romeroville (pictured in Nuestra Historia on April 15, 2011.) Unlike their father, Ilfeld’s sons Herman and Arthur moved to East Las Vegas and established its exclusive residential area, building imposing homes — both extant — at 1037 Seventh St. and 1053 Eighth St., respectively.

(The Romero brothers never moved to New Town, and youngest brother Margarito’s home west of the plaza, most of which was destroyed by fire, is still considered the most beautiful and elegant home ever built in all Las Vegas.)

Other prominent non-Hispanics who stayed in Old Town were banker Jefferson Raynolds, who had built his two-story home in 1877 at the fork of Hot Springs and Bernalillo Streets, and Charles A. Spiess (president of the New Mexico constitutional convention in 1910), in the home he built at 2323 Hot Springs Blvd. Their sons Harold Raynolds and Waldo Spiess, like the Ilfeld and Rosenwald second-generation, also moved to imposing homes in New Town.

As for municipal government in Old Town, after the eastside bolted and became a separate municipality in 1888, the west side remained unincorporated, with no official governing body until 1903. In that year, for reasons primarily related to the administration of the Las Vegas Land Grant, the west side incorporated as the Town of Las Vegas.

Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.