36 leaders to be lionized in $3M Historic Westside park

January 27, 2021

Artists rendering of the future Historic Westside Legacy Park in Las Vegas. (City of Las Vegas)

By Shea Johnson | Las Vegas Review-Journal

Cedric Crear has a particularly close connection to some of the city of Las Vegas’ longtime leaders in the historically Black westside neighborhood that he now represents on the City Council.

He was baptized by Rev. Marion Bennett, attended an elementary school named after Mabel Hoggard, learned to swim from Charles Kellar, and can trace his father’s relocation to Nevada to a business proposition from the state’s first Black doctor, Charles West.

They are just four of 36 leaders and icons of the Historic Westside neighborhood near downtown whose significant contributions will soon be lionized within the $3.2 million Legacy Park expected to open late this year.

As a joint project between the city and Clark County, the park will be modeled in a mid-century modern style and feature a timeline of the Historic Westside, an interpretive walking trail, a playground and public artwork, according to both governments.

Trees and landscaping will provide the green space sorely missing from the heart of the Enterprise Park business district, where the new park will be constructed near West Lake Mead and Martin Luther King boulevards, officials said.

A rendering for the project, which broke ground in December, shows plaque displays of honorees within the park.

The idea for Legacy Park was born in a phone call to Crear from ex-county Commissioner Lawrence Weekly, who was inspired by a similar concept at his alma mater, Grambling State University.

Rich history

The Historic Westside developed as a predominantly Black neighborhood around the 1930s, when residents were forced to settle there due to racist segregation laws, and grew rapidly after World War II. By the 1950s, Jackson Avenue was a booming neighborhood epicenter with businesses such as Town Tavern, Harlem Club and Brown Derby.

Over the years, the Historic Westside has been marred by disinvestment and gone virtually unchanged, although the city is presently in the first phase of implementing a comprehensive plan to revitalize it.

Beyond the neighborhood’s rich history, its contributors — often dubbed “pioneers” — are revered.

“Now we have an opportunity through the Historic Westside Legacy Park to memorialize them for future generations to know the shoulders that they stand on and the folks who have blazed a trail for them today,” county Commissioner William McCurdy II said.

Honorees revealed Tuesday

Crear and McCurdy, whose district encompasses the neighborhood, revealed the first three dozen honorees on Tuesday during the seventh annual African-American Trailblazer Service Awards Program, which recognizes residents who have outstanding civic achievements in the community.

Honorees for Legacy Park were nominated by the community and chosen by a three-member panel of people with expertise in the neighborhood’s history. New honorees are expected to be added each year.

“This first set of individuals I believe are just home runs,” Crear said.

Weekly, who was also on hand during the trailblazer awards and preceded McCurdy on the commission, said he gets emotional when he views the roster of honorees.

“I can only imagine these men and women, what they had to endure to accomplish and achieve the many things that they did,” he said.

Many leaders now school namesakes

Bennett marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s, served as a Nevada assemblyman and founded the first Black Methodist church in Las Vegas. Hoggard was the first Black teacher hired by the Clark County School District, according to the city, and one of 13 honorees who are namesakes of a school, said Tammy Malich, the director of the city’s department of Youth Development and Social Innovation.

Kellar, a lawyer, filed a lawsuit that led to desegregation in Clark County schools. West was “a civil rights pioneer who paved the way for other African-American professionals in Las Vegas,” according to the city.

The honorees also include the late former state Sen. Joe Neal, who spent 32 years in the Legislature as the first Black person elected to the Nevada Senate, and spearheaded public safety improvements to commercial structures following the deadly MGM fire in 1980.

Helen Toland, whose home was recently added to the city’s historical register, was the first Black woman to be a principal in the Clark County School District and is the recent namesake to the former Kit Carson Elementary School where she worked for seven years.

Bob Bailey was a TV personality in Las Vegas and the state’s first chairman of the Equal Rights Commission, tasked with investigating employment discrimination. He is survived by his wife, Anna Bailey, a fellow honoree who was a longtime dancer and performed at the city’s first interracial casino, the Moulin Rouge.

And Crear’s father, John Crear, was the second Black doctor in the state, while the councilman’s mother, Barbara Crear, was a substitute teacher who was active in the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority and community service, according to the city.