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A look at the past and present of the Historic Westside

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Posted at 5:57 PM, Feb 02, 2023

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — Over the years, Las Vegas has earned its fair share of nicknames, from "Sin City" to the "Entertainment Capital of the World." But it wasn't very long ago when it was widely referred to as the "Mississippi of the West."

Intense racism toward the Black community, plus segregation and housing codes, kept Black residents in one neighborhood. 13 Action News reporter Alyssa Bethencourt takes us to the Historic Westside to introduce some key people — past and present — helping to shape the community.

SYMBOL OF WHAT COULD BE

Downtown Las Vegas: it's a place known for its beautiful hotels, casinos and entertainment. But over the years it's become a symbol of what could be for many living nearby.

Not even a mile away from the center of downtown sits the Historic Westside. It's an often forgotten neighborhood filled with a very rich history and stories that few people are still around to tell.

"You could definitely see the difference in how you were treated. When you went into the department store, a grocery store or wherever. It was different," Ruby Amie-Pilot tells KTNV.

Amie-Pilot moved to Las Vegas with her family in 1952. At the time, African Americans were flocking to the area for jobs in the defense industry. But racist policies put in place by white leaders prevented Black people from owning homes and businesses — except on the Westside.

"It was just my desire, one day, to see better," Amie-Pilot said.

As a kitchen employee at the Desert Inn Hotel, Ruby remembers feeling hopeful that things could be different — that things would eventually change.

"After 12 o'clock, entertainment closed down on the Strip. The people from out there started to come over and that place would be jammed — white and Black. We couldn't go on the Strip. We couldn't do anything like that," Amie-Pilot said.

THRIVING WESTSIDE

That's part of the reason why the Westside developed into its own thriving, majority-Black community, with plenty of shops and restaurants. In 1955, it even became home to the Moulin Rouge, the first integrated hotel-casino in the United States.

"It was the doors we could open for the future of others," Amie-Pilot said.

But this version of the Westside is a far cry from what exists today. Integration in the 1960s gave African Americans the choice to live where they wanted. Many moved to other parts of the valley with brand-new houses and schools.

"It left a void in the heart of the community. Many people left, businesses left. And lo and behold, we have what we have today," said Las Vegas City Councilman Cedric Crear.

He was born and raised on the Westside. He now represents the area and is working to revitalize the neighborhood without losing its deep essence.

"I've seen this community grow, and I've seen it prosper. We're also seeing the demise of the community," Crear said.

Historically an African American neighborhood, its population has diversified over the years.

Today, just over half of the population is Black, and 35% is Hispanic. The median household income for the area is just under $25,000 per year. And it typically experiences unemployment rates two to three times higher than the city of Las Vegas.

"We have been a community that has seen so much, that has grown, but has also been overlooked for so long. And we're changing that," Crear said.

100 YEAR PLAN

That's part of the reason why Crear introduced the 100 Year Plan in Action. The goal is to make investments that represent the culture and history of the Historic Westside without changing the demographics and displacing residents.

Projects include building a new library, theater and historical museum, plus start-up initiatives to help entrepreneurs on the Westside who may not have the means to start their own business.

"I would love to see homes and things built there equal to anywhere else. Streets built up to where they're equal to anywhere else," Amie-Pilot said.

After all her years living in the neighborhood, Amie-Pilot questions why change is taking so long and why more major investments haven't been made.

"You would think downtown. Look, the beautification down there, why shouldn't they want their neighbors to be the same way?" she said.

"That's what makes our community so resilient, and that's what gives us our backbone. And that's what, you know, it gives us the opportunity to continue to push forward," Crear said. "Of course, we were denied opportunities left and right on many levels — economic, social, as well, to progress. But we're here, we're standing. We're standing strong, and we're moving forward."

A step forward that Amie-Pilot hopes she'll witness in her lifetime and a reassurance that what she hoped for so long will come true.

"But I hope I see, one day, that things are made better. We're not fighting each other, we're praising each other. If I can have it, I want you to have it. What is wrong with that?" Amie-Pilot said.

Some of the most recent developments in the Historic Westside includes Legacy Park. City and community partners are also working on a future technology center with Cox. And next year, they hope to break ground on a workforce development center in partnership with the College of Southern Nevada.