When West Las Vegas became an incorporated municipality in 1903, Margarito Romero was elected the first mayor of the Town of Las Vegas, and a Romero would be the Republican mayor of Old Town for the next quarter century. Don Margarito, youngest of the five Romero brothers, had led the effort to incorporate the west side, with the purpose of having the Town administer the Las Vegas Land Grant, as explained in an earlier column. (See “Land Grant Prompted Town of Las Vegas in 1903,” Nuestra Historia, Sept. 28, 2012.)
Margarito Romero was followed as mayor of Old Town by his nephew, Secundino Romero, who was a Republican candidate for governor in 1910, and was also U.S. Marshal for New Mexico, Speaker of the House of Representatives and sheriff — and the most powerful political boss in the history of Las Vegas and San Miguel County, as recounted in earlier columns.
In 1914, Secundino was followed as mayor by his father Eugenio Romero, second oldest of the Romero brothers.
Thirty-two years earlier, Don Eugenio had been elected mayor of the short-lived (1882-84) consolidated city of East and West Las Vegas, and was the only person to hold that distinction until consolidation in 1970. (See “One Las Vegas, 1882-1884,” and “Eugenio Romero Wins, East Bolts,” Nuestra Historia, August 2011.)
Following Don Eugenio’s death in 1920, his other son, Cleofes Romero, was mayor of Old Town until 1926, when Romero cousin and Secundino’s protégé, Lorenzo Delgado, seized power from Secundino, became mayor of Old Town and sheriff, and ended the near 75-year Romero family control of Las Vegas and San Miguel County.
It was during this time that both town and county elections became so acrimonious between the Romero and Delgado factions (and the latter’s alliance with Democrats), that the New Mexico National Guard was sent to Las Vegas to keep the peace in the elections of 1924, 1930 and 1932.
Lorenzo Delgado continued as mayor until his death in 1935. A year later, with the Roosevelt landslide of 1936, Democrats began to be a competitive force in Town elections (and countywide), and in the late 1930s, Pablo Lopez became the first Democrat elected mayor of Old Town. Lopez ran a large ranch in Ribera, and was also an early business associate of Fidel “Chief” Gonzales, and together they started Gonzales Funeral Home.
It was Lopez who established a recreation site in Old Town which served for several decades as a popular baseball field and venue for other sports events. Named in honor of Mayor Pablo Lopez, Lopez Park is now the site of the Gilbert “Gillie” Lopez gymnasium, south of Moreno Street on the West Las Vegas High School campus. (Pablo Lopez was 82 when he died in 1972, and was the maternal grandfather of Sally Ann Ortiz, wife of present mayor Alfonso E. Ortiz, Jr.)
Following Lopez, Old Town continued to elect Democratic mayors and trustees, and Republicans were shut out for the next two decades. Manuel J. Baca was mayor from 1946 to 1950, and was pictured along with East Las Vegas mayor Alfred E. Rogers in our recent column of Aug. 9. Baca was a longtime manager for the Joe G. Maloof Company, in both Las Vegas and other parts of New Mexico, and among his children, retired educator Freddie Baca continues to reside in Las Vegas.
After Manuel Baca, Old Town mayors included Democrats Manuel Galindre, Alfredo Maez and Fred Wildenstein. (We intend a later column devoted to the origin of many non-Hispanic surnames which have long been identified with Hispanic families in this area, but are of French, German, Italian, Irish or other derivation, and in addition to Wildenstein, include, among others, DeTavis, Fulgenzi, Geoffrion, Gold, Guerin, Hern, Kavanaugh, Kemm, Korte, LeDoux, Leger, Lesperance, Ludi, Nelson, Rudolph and Sweeney.)
Fred Wildenstein, who also served as San Miguel County clerk, won the mayor’s office by a coin toss. He and Republican Roman Maes tied in the election, and agreed to the coin flip, which took place at Maes’ popular White House bar on Bridge Street. (Maes was the grandfather of native Las Vegan Roman Maes III, who lives in Santa Fe, and was a longtime Democratic senator from that county, and more recently a member of the New Mexico State Highway Commission.)
Mayor Manuel Galindre and his wife Alice were a popular Las Vegas couple and lived on South Pacific Street, about a block from the plaza. Alfredo Maez lived on Hot Springs Boulevard, and was a lifelong rancher in Mesa Rica, in far east San Miguel County, near Conchas Dam. Maez also served as a San Miguel County commissioner and state representative.
In 1958, 20 years of Democratic domination in Old Town came to an end, when a dynamic 33-year old Republican took the west side by storm. In short order, Junio Lopez would transform West Las Vegas into an “All American City” — then proceed to ignite the fires of consolidation.
Jesus L. Lopez is a native of Las Vegas and a local historian. He may be reached at 425-3730.