It was in the early 1950s when then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower pushed through an act that created our Interstate Highway System.
With any new construction there are fears — usually economic — that whatever project is being undertaken, things will change. Not convinced? Read out-of-town newspapers that frequently contain articles of this group, or that group opposing the construction of a new Wal-Mart.
Fifty years ago, this newspaper published a full-page ad with the bold letters: What Would A Bypass Mean to You?” And an even bigger font used the word “Think,” followed by “About What A Bypass Would Do To Las Vegas’ Economy.”
That was in 1963.
To be sure, other communities trembled as well. Tucumcari, with its prime location where U.S. Highway 66 met U.S. Highway 54, used to boast 5,000 motel rooms, practically one for each resident. Today, the main drag in that Quay County seat features a number of payday loan companies where gas stations and motels used to be.
Part of this bypass conundrum can be explained by the very names of advertisers whose group advertisement in the Optic existed then.
The “Think” ad continues, “These Grand Ave. merchants are our customers . . . Their loss is our loss and we are concerned. Are you protecting your investment in Las Vegas?” And the bold font that spans the bottom of the page reads: “The First National Bank is against a bypass. What about you?”
How many of the businesses chipped in for the ad, and how many participants remain today? Let’s take a look:
Thunderbird Lodge, S&S Bar, Hiway General Market, Marquez Grocery and Liquor, Quality Chevrolet Company, El Fidel Hotel and Lounge, Alfonso Martinez Grocery, The White Adobe, Arcadia Motel, The Bottle Shop, Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Las Vegas, La Loma Motel, Parisian Cleaners, Hi-Country Sporting Goods,
Hilton Motors, Jimmy’s Grocery and Meat Market, Wagon Wheel Club, Joe’s Ringside, Boni’s Liquor Store, Town House Motel, Palomino Motel, Sunshine Motel, 85 Coffee Shop, O.K. Rubber Welders, Southwestern Oil Company, Walker’s Chevron Station, Louie’s Auto Service, Home Cafe, Hurley’s 66 Service Station, Alexander’s Gulf Station, Gus’ Service Station, Sportsman Bar, Hilltop Texaco Service, Juarros 66 Service Station, Las Vegas Furniture Co., Deluxe Cafe, Elliott’s Model Service and J.S. Torres Furniture and Appliance Co.
There were other businesses as well, perhaps some opting not to participate in the full-page ad, such as Doc Izzard’s Service Station, Gaussoin’s Texaco, the Hillcrest, the Creamery, Santa Clara Grocery and B.M. Werley Auto Co.
There is some folklore regarding the finishing touches to I-25, which hooks up a number of states and goes through Las Vegas. One report — could it have been mythical? — is that for years, there was one stop sign along the hundreds of miles of I-25, from Texas to the northern states.
And where was that stop sign? At University and Grand. Part of that report was that on the same day Prince Charles arrived in Las Vegas, the final link of the super highway was completed in the Meadow City.
The numbering scheme for Interstates is logical: east-west routes end with an even number, north-south routes end with an odd number; generally, routes that span the length and breadth of the country end in a zero or a five. For example, I-10 goes from Los Angeles to Jacksonville; I-35 takes you from Laredo to Duluth; and I-95 goes from Miami to a town called Houlton, Maine.
Did Eisenhower’s Interstate dream hurt small towns? And does any town have the right to force all motorists through its business district?
One scholarly study on the effect of bypasses calls them a mixed blessing. The report says that while a bypass might force the closing of some businesses, the it might also create new opportunities for commerce. And it adds that one advantage of bypassing downtowns is that it clears the main thoroughfares from excessive big truck traffic along the main street.
Today, as we drive through some stretches of Grand Avenue and observe areas devoid of business or fraught with long-abandoned buildings, we might wonder whether those are the result of the Interstate, or competition, the buying public’s fickleness, or simply “the economy.”
It’s interesting to listen to local historian Jesus Lopez on radio, as he sometimes goes into considerable detail in walking us through business districts in East and West Las Vegas. A pastime is recalling the names of businesses that used to populate what is now called the Safeway Parking Lot. Or they spend time discussing the quite common mixing of residential and business zoning.
A historian like Lopez might be able to inform readers as to whether the bypass affected businesses — on Grand Avenue especially.
In the early ‘60s, when I worked in western New Mexico, I hated the speed trap-bottleneck in a village called Budville. Some locals began calling it “Bloodville,” given the fact that about the largest business in that burg was a wrecker service, and that the accident rate was high, thanks to the loops and turns in the road. And quite coincidentally, the number of flat tires motorists incurred was considerable.
As for me, Interstates — whether they bypass towns or not — are crucial, and great for business as well. If there had been too many bottlenecks in people’s paths, there’s a chance that travelers would bypass the community entirely.