History Lesson: A Look At 75 Years Of North Las Vegas


Long before becoming mayor pro tem of North Las Vegas, Isaac Barron was a kid who went dove hunting in the desert off Craig Road and attended classes at Rancho High School, where the motto was “the best is yet to come.”

He sees the same for the city, now 50 times its original geographic size and, with a population of more than a quarter-million people, the fourth-largest city in Nevada.

“We’re really beginning to ride the crest of revitalization,” Barron told the Las Vegas Sun. “I think that for the city of North Las Vegas, the best really is yet to come.”

North Las Vegas turned 75 years old in May and touts itself as a full-service place to live without the congestion of its similarly named, world-famous neighbor, with burgeoning industry of its own, after decades of social and economic ups and downs.

The Sun story linked a photo gallery of 30 images of city history. The anniversary is an official date, but North Las Vegas has been a community for much longer.

Mid-1800s: Conrad Kiel establishes a 240-acre homestead. Sometimes misspelled as Kyle Ranch (this misspelling can also be seen in Kyle Canyon), the city eventually acquires the seven remaining acres of the Kiel property and opens Kiel Ranch Historic Park in 2016. The restored adobe hut is thought to be one of the oldest standing buildings in Nevada.

1919: Utah transplant Thomas L. Williams settles near what is now the Jerry’s Nugget Casino off Las Vegas Boulevard. The teetotaling churchgoer ends up selling dozens of plots of land to moonshiners, but he’s also a libertarian, so the town is rowdy and wet during Prohibition.

1932: Local leaders fill the first town board and the first grammar school is established. The community is briefly known as Vegas Verdes but soon takes the name North Las Vegas.

1941: Las Vegas Army Air Field opens weeks before the attack on Pearl Harbor and the United States entry into World War II. Gunnery training begins in 1942. The airfield is renamed Nellis Air Force Base in 1950.

1946: City founders file a petition for incorporation on May 1, 1946. The town covers 2.31 square miles and has a population of 2,875. The city gets its own police department.

1964: 1st Lt. Raynor Hebert, a student pilot behind the controls of a Nellis-based F-105 fighter jet, stays with his failing plane to guide it away from crashing into Lincoln Elementary School during recess. He and four other people die when it crashes into nearby homes. A park adjacent to the school is named in his honor.

1960s: Population booms to about 18,000 in 1960 and 36,000 in 1970, according to the U.S. Census.

1981: Theron Goynes, a schoolteacher, is first elected to the City Council. He was previously appointed from 1971-73 and again from 1979-1981. Goynes is reelected four times and becomes the first Black elected official in Nevada to lead a public body when he chairs a City Council meeting as mayor pro tem in 1981. His daughter Pamela Goynes-Brown is elected to the council in 2011.

Pamela Goynes-Brown was becoming a North Las Vegas insider when she was still in grade school. She moved here 56 years ago, when she was a toddler, and when her father joined the City Council, she, still a child, sat in on meetings and government conventions.

Some things ring as true in her era as her dad’s, she told the Sun, "like lower economic neighborhoods, bringing the best development into neighborhoods, and why aren’t developers coming to certain areas in town.”

In her youth, Craig Road was the city’s northern terminus. Rancho Drive was the western edge. The nickname “Northtown” wasn’t said affectionately, she said.

North Las Vegas had a reputation for rough neighborhoods and gangs. Redlining, now-illegal, created rundown neighborhoods the mid-20th century because banks refused to lend to non-white would-be homeowners or in areas where minorities lived.

Today, master-planned communities are coming online, and North Las Vegas still has space for residential and commercial growth.

“People didn’t want to live in North Las Vegas,” she said. “But you can’t say that now, because look at North Las Vegas.”

1989: Congress passes Public Law 101-67, allowing the creation of Apex Industrial Park. The complex spans more than 18,000 acres and the city anticipates it will create 20,000 direct jobs and 56,000 indirect jobs when fully developed. Waterline construction begins in 2018 and should be complete next year.

1990s-2000s: Another population spike, from about 48,000 in 1990 to 217,000 in 2010.

2000s-present: Amazon opens its first facility in 2009. The e-commerce giant now has seven logistics centers in town, with an eighth set to open this fall. Sephora, The Honest Co. and sports merchandiser Fanatics also have centers in North Las Vegas.

2010s: The Great Recession hits hard in North Las Vegas. A third of the homes in the bedroom community went into foreclosure, and with little industry and an outsize reliance on residential property taxes, the city tipped into insolvency and hit junk bond status in 2013. In 2019, the city regained A and A+ bond ratings.

Current Mayor John Lee, who was elected in 2013, is credited with diversifying the city economy and ushering it through a phoenix rising.

“My goal is to see that the reputation of North Las Vegas is one of manufacturing, industry, job creation, profitability, more a community built on a stronger economy than just gaming and tourism,” Lee told the Sun in 2016. “And I’ll make it happen.”

Barron, who has lived in North Las Vegas for 50 of his 51 years, said this week that North Las Vegas’ misfortunes affected all of southern Nevada, especially to outsiders who saw it as part of Las Vegas proper. Likewise, its renaissance will drive the future of the region, he argued.

Faraday Future, the Chinese electric car startup that was supposed to build a $1 billion manufacturing plant at Apex Industrial Park but stopped work in 2017, was nonetheless an influential boost for the city, Barron said.

“It showed to the world, I think, that North Las Vegas was open and ready for business,” he said.

2012: The Veterans Affairs Hospital opens at 6900 N. Pecos Road, a 1-million-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility that consolidates care for veterans who previously visited clinics scattered around the valley. It is the first new hospital in the VA system since the 1990s.

2019: Maya Cinemas opens its 14-screen cineplex downtown. It’s a central component to the continuing redevelopment of the downtown corridor.

2020: The city reopens its jail, mothballed in 2012 as a cost-cutting measure, as the North Las Vegas Community Correctional Center with a focus on rehabilitation and reduction of recidivism. The North Las Vegas CARE Court, a companion specialty court component, opens later.

Barron, who taught at Rancho, his alma mater, speaks with hometown pride about North Las Vegas’ neighborhood jewels: Craig Ranch Regional Park, the Broadacres Swap Meet (“Every weekend that we’re not having a pandemic there’s 45, 50,000 people out at the Broadacres Swap Meet. That’s better than any of the local malls.”)

He looks forward to a walkable downtown with fresh housing development.

Barron credits locals as industrious, resourceful and resilient, like his immigrant parents, a kitchen worker and a maid. Las Vegas Strip casinos are great, he said, but many of their workers live in North Las Vegas.

“We almost went under,” he said. “But I think our people, they made it through.”