Springs Preserve Celebrates Black History Month

Looking for the UPDATED info on the upcoming Las Vegas High School program?  Click here


To commemorate the contributions of African-Americans to Southern Nevada's history and culture, the Springs Preserve and Las Vegas Black Image magazine will host a Black History Month Festival at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd., on Sunday.

The festival will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for children ages 5-17, and free for children 4 and younger. Advance tickets are available at Sight and Sound Center, 1000 N. Martin Luther King Blvd.

Visitors will be able to view a special "Historic Black Vegas" photo exhibit.

Entertainment will include a Children's Film Festival, a Greek Step Show, a Children's Hair and Fashion Show, music by 6-year-old DJ "Baby Chino," and other music and dance performances. The event also will feature food sales and access to the preserve's museums and galleries.

Untold Stories this Thursday: African American Entertainers in Las Vegas



We kick off a the new year with our first "Untold Stories" on Thursday, February 4th with a look at African-American Entertainers in Las Vegas.  We will discuss the early days of segregation up through what it is like to perform in Las Vegas today.

Panelists include:

Claytee White:  Director of UNLV's Oral History Program

Skip Trenier:  cousin to Claude and Cliff Trenier and member of the band

Audrey Henry:  dancer with Debbie Reynolds and others

Sonny Turner: Lead singer  of The Platters from 1960-1970

Michael Ryan Tyler: Musician who has played with Wayne Newton and others in today's Las Vegas

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

6:30 pm

Las Vegas Springs Preserve

Desert Learning Center

Admission $9

Discounts available if you buy a class pass!

More info on Berkley Square in West Las Vegas!

I found this piece by Courtney Mooney on the history of Berkley Square.  Lots of info about the first subdivision for African-Americans in Las Vegas:

Rediscovering a Las Vegas Neighborhood’s African American Roots

by Courtney Mooney


Survey and inventory of historic resources should be an integral part of every city’s redevelopment process. This type of research is not only a valuable economic planning tool but also an exciting opportunity to unearth valuable gems, as was the case with a study of West Las Vegas, a historic, predominantly African American, area of Las Vegas, Nevada. The City of Las Vegas’s Historic Preservation Plan calls for the ongoing documentation of historic neighborhoods and properties. Each year, the City of Las Vegas Planning and Development Department applies for grant money from the National Park Service’s Historic Preservation Fund for survey and inventory through the State Historic Preservation Office. In 2002, the award funded the research of the “Historic Westside” area.

The rediscovery of the origins of the Berkley Square neighborhood in West Las Vegas, a post-World War II subdivision marketed to African Americans, began with a chance newspaper research find during this 2002 survey. (Figure 1) Two newspaper articles published in December 1949 announced the opening of a new subdivision named “Westside Park,” with 155 tract houses designed by a “famed” African American architect, Paul Revere Williams.(1) Because the development site was outside the 2002 survey boundaries in an area now called Berkley Square, this information became a side note in the historic context statement.

In 2004, discussions about moving the La Concha Motel’s mid-century, free-form concrete lobby again raised the name of architect Paul R. Williams. (Figure 2) Williams was well known for his movie-star homes and public buildings in Los Angeles, such as Frank Sinatra’s Trousdale estate and the Los Angeles County Courthouse. With the potential connection to the West Las Vegas subdivision in mind, the City of Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission began discussing Berkley Square as a possible survey area for the 2004 National Park Service grant.

Several issues complicated the decision to survey this area. The 1949 articles referred to a development called Westside Park, but the subdivision was now called Berkley Square, with county assessor information showing construction dates of 1954-55. What happened between 1949 and 1954? Were the Berkley Square homes actually designed by Williams? All the Historic Preservation Commission had to go by were documents describing a land sale and a current photograph of a house that resembled the architect’s sketch accompanying the 1949 articles. The Commission voted to include Berkley Square in the 2004 survey and hired a historic preservation consultant, Diana Painter of Painter Preservation and Planning, to document the neighborhood and solve the mystery.

Painter began by documenting and photographing all buildings within the neighborhood, providing a Nevada State Historic Resource Inventory Form for each. A historic context statement was prepared to help assess the importance of the properties within the contexts of Las Vegas history and mid-century residential design. In addition, research was conducted at the historical society, local libraries and museums, and the Environmental Design Library at the University of California at Berkeley. Painter also used information from a previous interview with Karen Hudson, Williams’s granddaughter. From this research, she was able to stitch together compelling arguments for a probable link to the Los Angeles architect as well as for eligibility for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Besides attracting a famous clientele and important public commissions, Williams was the first black architect to become a member of the American Institute of Architects and served on the California Housing Commission and the California Redevelopment Commission. He published two pattern books on small houses, Small Home of Tomorrow (1945) and New Homes for Today (1946).(2) By 1949, he had won three national competitions for small home design, and he would eventually design military housing and other housing stock for subdivisions. According to his granddaughter, the modernized ranch house became his specialty.

Williams’s design for Berkley Square filled a desperate need for adequate housing in West Las Vegas. Platted by surveyor J.T. McWilliams in 1905, settlement began as a wayside for miners. It was hoped that the arrival of the railroad would bring prosperity, but these hopes were unrealized. The railroad company owned most of the land east of the completed tracks, as well as all of the water rights, effectively controlling development for decades.

During the 1930s, McWilliams’s Townsite, now called “the Westside,” had few permanent buildings, but blacks were free to own businesses and live on the east side of town. Subsequent segregation practices in Las Vegas forced most of the black families to relocate to the Westside. Well into the 1940s, the area lacked basic amenities such as sewer and paved streets, with sometimes two or more families living in small, one-room wood shacks. Low-income minorities and whites continued to find refuge here, with the black population having the strongest cultural presence. A community of churches, businesses, and nightclubs was formed using the residents’ own resources and ingenuity. Adequate housing lagged far behind, however, especially during and after World War II, when many black soldiers returned home or residents lost their jobs at the local Air Force base or military industrial plants.

Westside Park/Berkley Square was the result of “four years of planning, designing and negotiating with government officials, by a group of local businessmen endeavoring to make the first real contribution to improvement of conditions on the city’s Westside.”(3) It was sorely needed in 1947, when the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) began discussions with the City of Las Vegas to develop a “new 2-bedroom project for colored people…with Federal Housing insured loans.”(4) The property changed hands several times, but finally in 1954 with new owners, Edward A. Freeman and J.J. Byrnes, the subdivision was recorded as Berkley Square with 148 lots on 22 acres.

The new “Berkley Square” name came from Thomas L. Berkley, of Oakland, California. Berkley was a distinguished African American attorney, media owner, developer, civil rights advocate, and a frequent guest at the White House during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. It was in his civil rights capacity that he became partial financier of Berkley Square. An article in the Las Vegas Review Journal from April 1954 stated that Berkley Square was “the first minority group subdivision to be approved for construction in the state of Nevada.”(5)

Painter’s report established Berkley Square’s eligibility for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places as the first subdivision in Nevada built by and for African Americans. The subdivision contributed to improved living conditions for the community and represented the progress of local civil rights activism. In addition, Berkley Square is significant for its association with attorney Berkley and architect Williams. The neighborhood of suburban one-story ranch houses also retains much of its architectural integrity

Berkley Square is officially a Historic Place

It's official!  Berkley Square, designed by mid-century modern architect, Paul Revere Williams, was the first subdivision to be built in Nevada by and for African-American residents of Las Vegas.  It is now on the National Registry of Historic Places!


The historic Berkley Square Neighborhood, located in West Las Vegas, has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places.  The Register, a National Park Service Program, is the nation’s official list of cultural resources worthy of recognition and preservation. The city of Las Vegas Planning & Development Department nominated the neighborhood on behalf of the Berkley Square residents after a consultant’s report found that the neighborhood met the National Register criteria for historic district designation.

  “I am thrilled that the National Park Service has recognized this important and historic neighborhood. This is truly an incredible honor for our community,” Ward 5 Councilman Ricki Y. Barlow said.  

 The Berkley Square Historic District is located about one and one-half miles from downtown Las Vegas near Owens Avenue and D Street, and is bound by Byrnes and Leonard avenues on the north and south, respectively, and G and D Streets on the west and east, respectively.

The district includes 148 homes constructed in 1954-55 in the Contemporary Ranch style with two models that varied by roof type, porch overhang and façade finishes and fenestration. The neighborhood was designed according to Federal Housing Administration standards of the day, showing concern for traffic and pedestrian safety with limited access points and sidewalks separated from the streets by a grass strip.

Berkley Square is the first subdivision to be built in Nevada by and for African-American residents of Las Vegas. It was designed in 1949 by Paul R. Williams, an internationally-known African-American architect from Los Angeles who made great strides for his race in the profession.

The developers and builders comprise an A-list of prominent African-American community activists and civic leaders, including financier Thomas L. Berkley, an attorney, media owner, developer and civil rights advocate from Oakland, Calif. It was also financed by Edward A. Freeman and J. J. Byrnes of Los Angeles. The developer was Leonard A. Wilson of Las Vegas. Construction was supervised by Harry L. Wyatt of the Las Vegas firm Burke and Wyatt.  Massie L. Kennard, a Las Vegas civil rights leader, was the real estate agent.

Berkley Square contributed to improving living conditions for the city’s African-American community, and represented the advances that were being made as a result of local activism in the community in the late 1940s and early 1950s. It is additionally representative of the massive building boom that took place in Las Vegas and across the country in the post-war era, and retains good integrity as a residential suburb of that time.