Bridge Street: Las Vegas, New Mexico


Located in the finest example of New Mexico's territorial-era commercial districts, Bridge Street blends its "Wild West" origins as a crossroads along the Santa Fe Trail with a heterogeneous mix of restored Greek Revival, Italianate, Georgian Revival, Queen Anne, Neoclassical, and Colonial Revival architecture constructed after the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad arrived in 1879 and unleashed a building boom.

Designated Area

Two blocks between the Las Vegas town Plaza and the Gallinas River.

The Roughrider Motorcycle Rally attracts more than 10,000 bikers to Bridge Street every summer. Photo courtesy Virginia Marrujo.

Planning Excellence

Las Vegas was first settled in 1835 by 29 Mexican subsistence farmers who obtained a land grant from the Mexican government to an area west of the Gallinas River. They organized their town following the 16th century Spanish Laws of the Indies, which called for communities to be planned around a central plaza. This plaza later anchored the west end of Bridge Street when it was built.

The arrival of the railroad, besides spurring a building boom along Bridge Street and attracting a kaleidoscope of residents, merchants and cultures including Spanish, Mexican, American, German Jewish, and French Canadian, precipitated development of a new town — named East Las Vegas — on the opposite side of the Gallinas River. A bridge was built in 1909 connecting the original town of West Las Vegas with East Las Vegas, but long-standing social, ethnic and historical differences kept the towns estranged from each other until the majority of the population of both towns voted for consolidation in February 1968.

Preservation of Bridge Street and eight other historic districts in Las Vegas has spanned several decades and involved several generations of residents and local leaders. Fidel "Chief" Gonzales, the first mayor of the consolidated city, initiated a historic preservation program suggested by resident Rheua Pearce. A survey of the city's 900 historic properties was done by the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division (HPD) during the 1970s.

Following the survey in 1978 the city created the Bridge Street Historic District, established a local Design Review Board, and adopted various ordinances aimed at protecting the street's historic character. Architect and New Mexico Highlands University professor, Robert Mishler, was among the founding members serving on the local design review board and an early leader and advocate of historic preservation in the city.

During this same period, the Las Vegas Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation (CCHP) was founded to protect and promote the town's historic, cultural, and architectural heritage. Local business owners also played a key role in helping restore several of the street's historic buildings in need of repair. Texas entrepreneur William Slick, who fell in love with Las Vegas during a trip here in the late 1970s, returned in 1982 and formed Plaza Vieja Partnership, Ltd., involving owners of historic buildings on Bridge Street. The Plaza Vieja Partnership has since restored 15 buildings and tripled the downtown occupancy rate.

Others contributing to Bridge Street's revitalization has been local artist Roy Montibon who purchased two vacant buildings from CCHP (referred to as the "Chapman Hall/Winternitz Building Block" 125 and 127 Bridge Street). The buildings were first acquired by CCHP in 1986 and were partially restored by the organization. Montibon purchased the buildings around 2008, completed the restoration, and created a gallery space for local artists to showcase their work and help jump-start creative activity throughout the city. Since 2005, Bridge Street proprietors have participated in the state's "Main Street" program designed to improve and expand locally owned businesses.

Las Vegas's historic districts have more than 900 contributing properties, many located along Bridge Street. Photo courtesy Andy Kingsbury.

Defining Characteristics, Features

History and Culture

  • Las Vegas founded in 1835 on west side of Gallinas River by Mexican settlers who follow 16th century Spanish Laws of the Indies; original town added to National Register of Historic Places (1983)
  • Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad (AT&SF) laid out one mile from town plaza on July 4, 1874; European influences resulted in new construction materials, planning practices, and architecture along the street
  •  "New Town" (located east of Gallinas River bridge) designed with a grid system and founded in 1881; The first masonry building constructed here
  • In 1884, New Town and Old Town officially divided; West Las Vegas (Old Town) incorporated 1888; East Las Vegas (New Town) incorporated 1903; bridge connects the two towns (1909)
  • Great Depression, severe drought during the 1950s, and closing of the AT&SF headquarters in 1959 causes Las Vegas's economic downturn; population declines
  • West Las Vegas and East Las Vegas remain separate and distinct towns until consolidation (1970); Fidel Gonzales elected first mayor of consolidated city
  • Story of Las Vegas's history and residents chronicled in the book Learning Las Vegas by New York City landscape designer Elizabeth Barlow Rogers (2013)

Planning Milestones

  • Bridge Street and the town plaza are among first surveyed by the New Mexico Historic Preservation Division in the 1970s
  • Historic preservation ordinance adopted in 1972; First Cultural Historic Districts established by ordinance in 1976; Las Vegas Design Review Board established (1978)
  • Las Vegas Citizens Committee for Historic Preservation founded ( 1977); main office located at 116 Bridge Street; collaborates with city to develop historic walking tours
  • University of New Mexico publishes Architecture & Preservation in Las Vegas, Volume I (1977),Volume II (1982), Volume III (1984); each publication focuses on Bridge Street and Plaza
  • Plaza Vieja Partnership, Ltd., economic development project, raises $2.3 million in 1985 to rehabilitate about 15 buildings along Bridge Street and town plaza
  • Las Vegas designated state "Main Street" town in 2005; Las Vegas receives $90,000 in 2012 to renovate "Breezeway" providing access from Bridge Street to off-street parking
  • Over 50 films have been shot in Las Vegas, many of which use Bridge Street and town plaza; Las Vegas celebrating 101 years of filmmaking in 2013
  • City was designated one of two pilot New Mexico Arts and Cultural Districts (2008)
  • Downtown Action Plan adopted (September 2010); focuses on Bridge Street, plaza parking, vegetation, economic vitality, preservation
  • Main Street de Las Vegas installs street furniture and paints facades of vacant buildings along Bridge and throughout plaza; surveillance coverage also implemented (2010)
  • Las Vegas is served by Amtrak; train stops at historic Las Vegas Railroad Depot (opened 1899)

Architecture and Historic Structures

  • More than 900 Las Vegas buildings listed on National Register of Historic Places, including Bridge Street locations
  • Plaza Hotel, 230 Plaza (1882); Italianate-style structure center of commerce and provided lodging for affluent travelers; notable guests included Jesse James and Doc Holiday
  • Romero Block, 174-178 Bridge Street (1919), built by local political leader and member of wealthy Romero family, Secundino Romero; two-story, Mission Revival brick building
  • First National Bank, 181 Bridge Street (1880); two-story, Italianate-style structure with light brown sandstone and elegant, pressed-metal cornices
  • Charles Ilfeld Building, 224 North Plaza (1890); designed in Italianate style and built by prominent Jewish Ilfeld family; building served as headquarters for Charlie Ilfeld's company
  • Campus Kiva Theater, 107 Bridge Street (1913); theater has notable Art Deco facade with projecting marquee and pressed metal center detail with neon accents
  • Baca Building, 144 Bridge Street (1884); two-story Italianate building has sandstone side walls and brick veneer front; originally housed Houghton Hardware and Segura's Confectionary
  • Demarias House — Our Lady of Sorrows Parish, 1810 East Plaza (1882); Territorial-Southwest vernacular style; constructed from adobe and stucco
  • E. Romero House and Fire Company, 155 Bridge Street (1909); built in World's Fair Classic style; large folding door with pressed metal cornice in a dental pattern

Some of Bridge Street's unique local businesses and well-preserved facades at the Christmas season. Photo courtesy Andy Kingsbury.