Thinking outside the box
How a determined community fought successfully to end the closure of F Street.
BY KIMBERLY BAILEY-TUREAUD
When one of the main arteries to Historic West Las Vegas was closed six years ago, it seemed like history was repeating itself on F Street.
Forty years earlier, community leaders blocked a similar plan to box in one of the city’s historically black neighborhoods with a brick wall, a barrier that would allow only two main entrances into its perimeters. The 2008 closure was part of a controversial freeway widening project, but the history did not escape Trish Geran — an author and activist who was raised on the Westside and initially took the lead in vocally opposing the closure.
“My mother, who doesn’t live far from F Street, was very disturbed by its closing and expressed it to me,” said Geran. “Initially, we saw a bulldozer and a pile of dirt on F Street, and didn’t realize it was the beginning stages of a permanent road closing. I was very bothered by my findings after I went to NDOT [Nevada Department of Transportation] and discovered that F Street would be permanently closed,” shutting off direct access from the Historic Westside to the newly-developed Smith Center, the Cleveland Clinic Ruvo Bain Center and a future Las Vegas events stadium.
Geran added: “Many in the community thought it was temporary. My first thought was, ‘This is history repeating itself from the days when the Westside would be closed off from the rest of Las Vegas.’ I spoke to community activist Gene Collins about it, and he agreed that something needed to be done. I had to find out about the required community meetings and notifications to surrounding residents. After speaking to residents in a 400-foot radius, I found that none of the residents were notified about the F Street closing — even though NDOT and the city indicated that they had. Coming from an engineering and architect work background, I knew this was a violation.”
Geran is emphatic that it was the collective efforts of her advisory team and Mayor Carolyn Goodman that resulted in the end of the F Street closure. “I organized our first community meeting at Doolittle Community Center, [and] only 18 people attended,” she recalled. “These first 18 people eventually became our advisory committee. We met every Monday for around two years, and eventually it was standing-room-only with community residents united along with our community pastors. It was really great, and we all agreed that we should go for it and protest the closure until it is opened.”
With millions of dollars already invested or allocated to the closure, Geran knew that it would be a tough fight to reverse the closure. “We were introduced to attorney Matthew McAllister by Gene Collins, and our research proved that laws had been broken with the closure of F Street,” she said. “And because of my research of Las Vegas’ civil rights era — and the efforts of [former Las Vegas NAACP president] Dr. James McMillan, who threatened a protest on the Las Vegas Strip in the 1960s for discrimination practices of Las Vegas hotel properties — I knew that the Las Vegas Strip was Nevada’s Achilles Heel. So … we decided to take a protest for its opening to the Las Vegas Strip during the same time President Obama was being sworn in as the first black president of the United States. Yes, it was embarrassing moment for Las Vegas, but it was the turnaround moment for our efforts.”
The tactic worked. It wasn’t long before a determination was made that laws were broken in the closure. Soon, political leaders rode to the rescue — and legislation was introduced, and eventually passed, to support the opening of F Street.
“There are very few people in decision making positions who didn’t do a 180 degree turn during this entire ordeal,” said Geran. “I would like to say that Mayor Carolyn Goodman was one. She said she would help us when she was running for mayor in 2010, and she kept her promise until it was reopened in 2014. Assemblyman Harvey Mumford has remained humble throughout the project. Burt he showed a tremendous amount of passion when he eloquently introduced the bill to the legislature and has been involved since the beginning.”
On December 11, 2014, the City of Las Vegas held a public ceremony to offi cially reopen F Street. The entrance sign reads, “Historic Westside” — and beneath the underpass are 12 breathtaking murals designed by Geoffrey Schafler.
In fact, the civic art tells a story that correlates to the years-long fight to arrive at that historic day: On one side are panels depicting various phases of the civil rights movement, and the people who played a key role in it; the other side features pictures of historic landmarks in the community. It is a truly remarkable piece of art, reflecting how residents want their community to be perceived. In the end, say supporters, that sense of selfdetermination is what the quest to reopen F Street has always been about.