Located in North New Town Las Vegas, the residential neighborhood of the 7th and 8th Street Historic District reflects the suburbanization of America that accompanied the larger national shift from agricultural to modern, industrialized economies in the late nineteenth century. It is also New Mexico’s most fully realized and best preserved example of the City Beautiful Movement, whose aesthetic values were popularized by the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Because of the economic decline of Las Vegas in the twentieth century, development of this neighborhood stopped in the 1930s and its historic suburban streetscape remains largely intact.
North New Town Las Vegas was platted in 1879 in conjunction with the arrival of the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad. The railroad drove the transformation of Las Vegas from a frontier town on the Santa Fe Trail into a modern mercantile center that was integrated economically with the rest of the United States. Previously, the Plaza of Las Vegas had housed the community’s civic, religious, commercial, and residential identities in the same urban space. But the creation of a New Town—distinct from what now became, by default, the Old Town—segregated Las Vegas into public areas for civic business and commerce, and private residential neighborhoods for a growing middle class.
Though Las Vegas had once been largely Catholic, it was now heterogeneous; Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopal churches, along with New Mexico’s first Jewish synagogue, were erected between 1879 and 1886 around the intersection of Eighth and National Streets. This area came to be known as Zion Hill, and its growing importance in the community led to the residential development of North New Town.
The New Town of Las Vegas exemplifies the suburban planning type of detached, single family homes built on individual plots of land within a gridded system of paved streets lined with sidewalks and trees. The first houses, concentrated in low-lying South New Town, were simple wood structures made possible by the increasing availability of milled dimension lumber and mass-produced nails. These houses were generally small, unadorned, and built on closely-spaced plots of land, occupying one or two standard lots measuring 25 x 147.5 feet, with setbacks ranging from 25 to 30 feet.
The houses built in North New Town from 1890 onward were larger. They stood on more generous lots, with the houses usually set back forty feet from the street and occupying between two and six standard lots for total frontages ranging between 50 and 150 feet. Their architecture combined local materials, including sandstone, brick, lumber and wood shingles, with such mass-produced fixtures and ornamental fittings as lathe-turned columns, wood spindle friezes, and machine-carved panels. This material and formal shift reflected the growing prosperity of the community’s inhabitants, who now included merchants, lawyers, bankers and politicians. It also represented the new ideas and stylistic priorities that came with the increasing number of people migrating to New Mexico from the eastern United States and Europe.
The firm of Rapp and Rapp, based in Colorado but active in Las Vegas from 1892, designed houses for many of the town’s leading citizens. Earlier houses were often in mixed versions of the Queen Anne and Shingle Styles, two compositionally picturesque idioms whose varied material palettes and multiple historical sources allowed nearly infinite variations; the Taichert House and the Stern House are two examples. In the late 1890s, the classically inspired Colonial Revival began to compete with these styles; the Herman Ilfeld House is a stately example. The Mills House shows a contemporary tendency to combine elements of the Colonial Revival with the picturesque irregularity of the still vibrant Queen Anne and Shingle Styles, producing a locally-termed “Free Classic” style.
The Colonial Revival was joined by other historical styles, including the California Mission style applied to the Gehring House, and the Tudor Revival applied to the Danziger House and the Johnsen House. Alongside these revivals, the Queen Anne and Shingle Styles led to the more progressive investigations of Arts and Crafts and even the Prairie Style, as seen in the Raynolds and Arthur Ilfeld Houses.
Even after Las Vegas lost its economic importance in the 1930s, residents continued to import styles from back east. In 1938, the International Style reached Las Vegas when a design by Edward Durrell Stone was copied for what is known locally as the “Edward Durrell Stone House.”
The privately owned houses along 7th and 8th Streets can be viewed from the street.
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