New Historic Westside park honors Nevada’s Black trailblazers
January 17, 2022
Nestled between two streets buzzing with traffic, a plaza decorated with desert-friendly landscaping, vintage-inspired signage and shiny golden orbs marks the newest addition to Las Vegas’ Historic Westside neighborhood.
The Historic Westside Legacy Park, dedicated last month, combines art, history, a trail and communal space while honoring Black leaders prominent to the Las Vegas Valley and the state. Currently, the stories of 36 leaders are presented in memorial plaques, but members of the Historic Legacy Park Committee are expected to add new people to the park each year.
“Creating the big [Historic Westside] signs lets people know when you're coming out from the 95 and MLK, that you are entering someplace special. And it is something special,” said Las Vegas City Councilman Cedric Crear, who was born and raised in the Historic Westside and knows many of the people featured. “So many people that have done so much in our community, they have suffered, they have prospered … We wanted to find a way to honor them and to let people know what this community is all about.”
Crear and former Clark County Commissioner Lawrence Weekly collaborated with the county and City of Las Vegas to plan and build the park. Weekly took inspiration from a memorial park at his alma mater, Grambling State University in Louisiana, and pitched the concept to Crear.
It took two years, Crear said, from conceptualization to opening day on Dec. 4. The county helped finance the project, which cost $3.2 million, and the City of Las Vegas provided the land.
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The memorial plaques found at the park include figures such as former Sen. Joe Neal, the first Black state senator, Charles West, the first Black doctor in Nevada, and James McMillan, the first Black dentist in the state.
Former president Barack Obama is also honored as a “special inductee to the party,” Crear said. A life-size bronze statue of the 44th president, created by sculptor Brian Hanlon, sits on the edge of a planter in the park.
“Being the first Black president in the history of our country is so monumental on so many levels. His induction, it's nothing to do with politics … it's all about the fact that he has made an overall impact on our community on such a scale that is hard to put into words,” Crear said.
The park also features an art installation by artist Chase McCurdy. Living Black Pillars consists of steel pillars holding golden orbs above the park, representing the community growing from the “foundation laid by our ancestors” and “reaching heights only dreamed of in their lifetimes.”
The park is located at 1600 Mount Mariah Dr., near the intersection of Lake Mead and Martin Luther King Jr. boulevards. The location was chosen for its closeness to nearby businesses and lack of a green space, Crear said.
The city has also been paying more attention in recent years to the Historic Urban Neighborhood Design Redevelopment Plan, also known as the revitalized HUNDRED Plan In Action, which prioritizes addressing the area’s 15 percent unemployment rate, homeless population and urban development.
“We brought it off the shelf, we dusted it off, went back out to the community,” he said. “The importance of the ‘in action’ is that it is a moving document. And we aren't going to let something else just sit on the shelf anymore.”
While Legacy Park doubles as a memorial and a historical hub, children also have a spot to play when visiting.
“I think it was great that we added the kids playground and gave the kids a little something to do while you're here,” Crear said. “It's not just a matter of walking through it. You can spend some time and it tells a story.”