West Las Vegas:
The Other Side of the Strip
Las Vegas is a city largely known for its casinos, entertainment, and a lifestyle that has given the city a moniker by the name of “Sin City”, but there is another side that is just a short distance from the Las Vegas Strip, West Vegas.
Over the years, West Las Vegas built a reputation as being the home of Las Vegas gangs or being label as the West Las Vegas ghetto, but many times exaggerated by the local media and citizens who have very little ties to the community.
Bounded by Rancho Drive (Hwy 95) and Interstate 15, on the east and west, West Las Vegas is its own small community that has had its share of moments of success and its share of moments of trouble and conflict.
The community changed after the city of Las Vegas began to end segregation and allowed the city’s black population to occupied other businesses and establishments outside of West Vegas, while also allowing them to live in other communities.
By the 1970s, Westside Las Vegas was completely different from its early days as a new era has entered the community that somewhat changed the culture of West Vegas.
A new generation of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s led to the rise of the likes of the Gerson Park Kingsmen (GPK), who were originally referred as the Ace of Spades, a large gang in West Las Vegas in the former Herbert Gerson Park housing project.
Even after the Herbert Gerson Park projects being demolished during the late 1990s, the Kingsmen reign throughout Las Vegas, and not just the West Side, as their conflicts with Crip City and other Las Vegas gangs was broadcast across the region.
While Gerson Park was the most known and the fiercest reputation in the West Las Vegas ghetto, other sections like The Coast (Marble Manor), the old Madison Terrace projects, the Jetz (Sherman Gardens) and the once historic area of Berkeley Square, known as Burgunday Square, had become well familiar, especially with their affiliation with Bloods.
North of Lake Mead Boulevard is Las Vegas gangs of the Crips in areas and ‘hoods like Crip City, Valley View, Vegas Heights, or the States (Regal Estates), all have their own reputations within the streets of West Vegas.
Neighboring West Vegas is North Las Vegas or North Town, a large community with Mexican and black ‘hoods like the infamous Donna Blocc, which shows how Las Vegas gangs have never been limited in one area or section of the city.
History of West Las Vegas
Before local politics helped with the decline of the Westside Las Vegas, African-Americans built a community that they were forced to reside in, due to redlining and being forbidden from living and opening businesses in any other section of Las Vegas other than West Vegas.
Originally, black families arrived in Las Vegas between the 1930s and 1960s with the help of employment opportunities with the construction of the Hoover Dam and the later opportunities in the local casinos, restaurants, and hotels.
While some may claim there was a small black community in the nearby town of Henderson, which can make sense as African-Americans first came to work on the Hoover Dam, but the West Las Vegas has been historically known for always being the heart of Las Vegas’ black population.
Much of West Las Vegas was constructed during the 1950s, but the community has been around since the beginning of the 1900s as the neighborhood’s early days had white families to live nearby with Highland Avenue (M.L.K Blvd.) being the racial dividing line.
By the 1950s, through segregation and discrimination, the community of West Vegas was well established as Berkeley Square, Jackson Avenue, and F Street became the center for Las Vegas’ black community, an area that had numerous black businesses and entertainment establishments like the legendary Moulin Rouge.
Even with famous black entertainers performing on the Las Vegas strip, outside of their paid performance segregation only allowed them to entertain themselves in West Vegas as the neighborhood became so popular that even white people would occupy the businesses and nightlife of the area.
After segregation ended, West Las Vegas changed as many African-Americans left the community and did not continue to occupy the local black businesses of the neighborhood, along with local laws and ordinances making it harder to conduct business.
By the 1970s, the West Side was completely different from the days of the 1940s and 1950s as an area that lacked community owned businesses, entertainment, and resources had no comparison to the community’s early days.
Today’s Las Vegas
With rising population of over 2.2 million people in Las Vegas’ Clark County, the Las Vegas black population accounts for almost 13% and has been constantly rising as Las Vegas is becoming a transplant city, meaning the community is filled with people who were born and raised in other cities.
People from California and other cities have been populating the communities of Las Vegas, areas like North Las Vegas, the East Side or even Paradise as the cost of living in Las Vegas makes “Sin City” one of the most affordable places on the West Coast.
The West Vegas community is still well intact, minus the demolishing a couple of old housing projects, even though many African-Americans in Las Vegas have outgrown the small neighborhood of West Las Vegas by establishing their home elsewhere.
While the neighborhood of West Las Vegas experienced slum clearance and urban renewal during the 1940s and 1950s, which demolished homes to make way for highway construction and housing projects, it is currently unknown if gentrification will impact Westside Las Vegas.
From the days of thriving black businesses and entertainment to the days of gangs running the streets, today’s Westside Las Vegas is completely different from previous generations, but there still is remnants of the past two era’s.