Tuesday, May 28, 2024

HISTORIC BLACK VEGAS | George Simmons / The Golden West Shopping Center / Joseph Agosto

November 13, 2023 by  
Filed under Conversation

Claytee D. White

BY CLAYTEE D. WHITE

In September, I attended the homegoing service of George Simmons and discovered that he was the architect who designed the Golden West Shopping Center! I should have remembered because I interviewed Simmons many years ago. When I looked back at the interview, I discovered he did not mention the shopping center but concentrated on his design work for Sproul Homes in Charleston Heights and Winterwood on Desert Rose Golf Course. When I asked, “Were those integrated neighborhoods?” Simmons replied, “No, they were not integrated. In fact, I worked for Sproul Homes and they wouldn’t sell me a house, until they built the homes where we lived in over on Veronica Street.” 

Aw yes, Veronica Street became known as “Teacher Row.” Educators, teachers, politicians, and businesspeople lived in this area that operated like a village. As a matter of fact, when I interviewed Theron and Naomi Goynes, both educators, they talked about the time they considered moving out to one of the suburban areas. One of their children pulled Naomi aside as Theron hesitated at every turn in the process of purchasing another home and moving away from Veronica. Their daughter, Kim, said: “Mom, I don’t think Daddy wants to move. Mom, whatever you do, don’t move my dad because it may kill him if you take him off Veronica Avenue.” This was a special place. 

As George Simmons continued to talk about his career trajectory, he talked about Holmes and Narver that concentrated in engineering construction: “Of course, everywhere I went I was the only minority. When I worked for Holmes and Narver, I was the only one in the engineering department. That was an issue, as well, because the people downtown — it was really interesting. They sent me out to interview with the head of the engineering department at the Test Site. A couple of the guys that I had worked with at Sproul — they looked to me for advice in terms of how to design — they had gone to Holmes and Narver before me because they were still laying off and they had gotten jobs as designers, which was pretty high up. When I went, the same guy that hired them told me the best he could do for me was give me a junior draftsman position, which was like I knew nothing. But the key was he wasn’t the one — he thought they had sent me out there for him to hire or to interview, but I wasn’t. They hired me downtown. It was a different breed of cat downtown for whatever reason. So that was kind of an experience.” And even today, architecture is still thought of as a career for whites. Architecture pays well. 

I don’t know what Simmons would have told me about the Golden West Shopping Center (Nucleus Plaza) so I did some digging. I discovered a possible connection with the center and organized crime. 

Well after the designs were approved and Simmons moved on to other projects, the property fell into the hands of Joe Agosto. 

Many of the early mobsters had the desire to become legitimate businessmen especially since they could continue their gambling enterprises that had been illegal in other cities. Joe Agosto may have been such a person. He was the entertainment director, an authentic employee, of the Tropicana Hotel but was also assigned the job of coordinating the skimming activities for the Kansas City mob family. Under the direction of Carl Thomas, the casino’s manager, the assistant manager removed the money from the playing area and handed it to Agosto. The skimmed money was then given to Carl Caruso, a courier, who transported it to Kansas City. 

Was Agosto’s way of exiting this life of crime tied to the shopping center? The Teamsters Union formed in 1903 and counted a membership of 1.3 million in 2015. Jimmy Hoffa served as president of the union from 1957 to 1971 and used the assets of the Teamsters pension plan to support Mafia projects. Agosto used this well-funded source to build the center, leased out the spaces, took the leases to First Western, and borrowed money to repay the Teamsters. The center was constructed in 1964. Agosto was arrested for skimming in 1979. While serving a 20-year sentence for skimming gambling profits, he died in prison in April 1983 at the age of 61. Crime does not pay.

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