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African American History Month Feature 2011

Berkley Square, Las Vegas, Nevada

Representative homes from Berkley Square
Photo by Diana Painter, courtesy of the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office

The Berkley Square subdivision, which is located in the area historically known as Las Vegas’ Westside, consists of 148 Contemporary Ranch-style homes designed by internationally-known African American architect Paul R. Williams. It was built between 1954 and 1955 and was the first minority (African American) built subdivision in Nevada. Berkley Square, bounded by Byrnes Ave, D Street, Leonard Ave and G Street, was built to provide adequate housing for a growing African American community prior to the Civil Rights movement. The development was financed in part by Thomas L. Berkley, a prominent African American attorney, media owner, developer and civil rights advocate in Oakland, California.  Prior to the 1930s, racism was not a problem in Las Vegas simply because there were so few African American residents, but as the African American presence grew, segregation set in.  Housing conditions on the Westside, where the African American population was located, were horrible, but planning between the City of Las Vegas and the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) began in 1947 to build a community of affordable modern housing, which resulted in the creation of Berkley Square.

Advertisement for Berkley Square development, courtesy of the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office.

The houses of Berkley Square are Contemporary Style Ranch Houses—one-story houses with low-pitched, gabled or hipped roofs and wide eves, designed by architect Paul R. Williams (1894-1980). Williams was the first African American to become a member of the American Institute of Architects; he had studied at the Los Angles School of Art and the Los Angeles Beaux-Arts Institute of Design and the engineering school at the University of Southern California, and in Las Vegas designed the Royal Nevada (1951), remolded the Flamingo Hotel (1959), and among other projects designed the Las Vegas Hotel Casino & Shopping Center (1957). He was the author of two books on small houses, The Small House of Tomorrow published in 1945 and New Houses for Today published in 1946.  Berkley Square represents the strides made by the African-American community in the period of activism leading up to the Civil Rights era, by providing quality housing and services to Las Vegas’ historically neglected Westside. It is still a predominately African American community, and many homes have been kept within the families that originally purchased them when they were constructed in the 1950s.  Berkley Square was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on October 23, 2009.

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