Las Vegas neighbors pursue history

Phyllis Wattenbarger came to Las Vegas to be with her new husband, Bill, who had been living here two years. She moved from Dayton, Ohio, where it was green, to Southern Nevada, where it was mostly brown. She arrived in the heat of August.

She gave Bill a deadline.

"I told him, ‘I’ll give you two years to get out of here,’ " she said.

That was in 1950.

Three years later, the couple bought a house on Darmak Drive in the brand-new Westleigh subdivision on the south side of Charleston Boulevard between Valley View Boulevard and Cashman Drive.

And they stayed, as did many of their neighbors.

Several of the original homeowners still occupy their houses, and children who grew up there have come back to live as adults. Wattenbarger’s son, for example, owns three houses in the neighborhood.

Many of the houses, too, have stayed close to the same on the outside, enough at least to be considered for a listing on the Las Vegas Historic Property Register.

The city’s Historic Preservation Commission recommended the listing this week. The Planning Commission will consider it Sept. 24 before it goes to the City Council for final approval.

The Westleigh neighborhood represents one of the major booms in population and home building in Las Vegas’ history, after the dramatic growth spurred by the Boulder Dam construction in the 1930s and the World War II-era spurt generated by defense spending.

Construction stretched from 1951 to 1957 in Westleigh, with most of the homes built in 1953 and 1954. There are 288 properties in the proposed district today, according to a consultant’s report. About half are considered historically significant. Commercial properties along Charleston would not be part of the district.

In the postwar period, Las Vegas kept receiving federal money because it was a center for Cold War activities. Tourism was growing, and there was tremendous pent-up demand for housing that fueled growth through the 1960s.

When the houses were built, subdivisions on the west side of Las Vegas were off on their own, separated by large, empty pieces of land.

Oakey was barely a street — Bill Wattenbarger described it as "two ruts." And his house was the first in the neighborhood to get telephone service, which he needed because he was on call for National Cash Register. Everyone else had to use a pay phone at a nearby grocery store.

"Housing was limited. We felt quite fortunate," Phyllis Wattenbarger said.

They paid $12,000 for what was then a three-bedroom, one-bath house, and paid $60 a month on the mortgage.

"Let me tell you, that was a lot of money back then," she said.

Discussion of adding Westleigh to the historic register had gone on for several years, but the push gathered steam a couple of years ago when the neighborhood association decided to organize a push for the designation, said association President Tiffany Hesser, who moved into the neighborhood six years ago.

"We bought because of the historic nature of the neighborhood," Hesser said. "It’s different. It’s not a neighborhood where you have to know the color of your garage door to figure out which house is yours."

Architecturally, houses in the neighborhood represent a transitional period between the Minimal Traditional style of the 1940s and the Ranch style home of the 1950s and ’60s. Most of the homes were 1,000 to 1,100 square feet.

A listing on the historic property register means that standards will be developed for the exteriors of homes, and major changes — such as an addition or work that requires a permit from the city — would be reviewed by historic preservation officials to ensure compliance.

Some residents are concerned about that extra layer of review and oppose the designation. Of the comment postcards the city received, 46 property owners support the listing and 17 oppose it.

Those same concerns existed when the John S. Park neighborhood was put on the registry, said Bob Bellis, a commission member and property owner in that neighborhood, which encompasses an eight-street area on the southeast side of Charleston and Las Vegas boulevards. But the designation helps improve and maintain an area, he said, and at least helps keep property values stable.

"They want to keep the whole feel of the neighborhood," Bellis said.

Wattenbarger said most people probably won’t have to worry about approval for add-ons because in the half-century since the original houses were built, most of them have already been expanded. Her house had a family room, dining room, half bath and back patio and front porch tacked on, while retaining the original windows, inside doors and hardwood floors (which are currently covered by carpet).

"I feel it will help the area," she said. "You’re not going to have the guy putting the car in the yard and fixing the car. There will be some control."

Contact reporter Alan Choate at or 702-229-6435.

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