Living in “The Lakes” (Las Vegas) — A Narrative History and Photo Tour
[Writer’s Note: See more photos of “The Lakes, Nevada” below]
When people ask me where I live — I answer “Las Vegas.”
However, when asked this same question by someone local, that calls for a more specific answer. My reply is that I live in a section of Las Vegas called “The Lakes.”
The Lakes seems like an odd name for a residential community anchored in the middle of the desert. I can’t blame people when they get confused, hearing about “lakes.” Some misunderstand the reference and think I live way out near Lake Mead. Others associate the name with “Lake Las Vegas” — a ritzy golf course development with million-dollar homes located on the eastern edge of the city.
Actually, The Lakes is located right smack in the middle of town on the west side. It’s about seven miles away from the Las Vegas Strip (a.k.a. Las Vegas Blvd.). It’s bordered by Durango to the east, and Hualapai to the west — then Sahara to the north, and Desert Inn to the south. If you keep on heading west from where I live, the next development towards the mountains is called Summerlin, which most people have at least heard of. Not so, with The Lakes.
The Lakes has an interesting history. In today’s column, I’m going to tell you more about The Lakes and convey its uniqueness as a desert paradise, and a really nice place to live.
About 30 years ago, the west side of Las Vegas extended only as far as Decatur Blvd., about two miles off The Strip. Since then, as Las Vegas’ population doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled, roads inched steadily westward, moving closer and closer to the steep mountains. Now, the city has reached all the way out to the base of a state park known as Red Rock Canyon, which is as far as development can grow without invading an environmentally-protected area.
Three decades ago, the City the Las Vegas was eager to diversify its economy. Whenever anyone mentioned “Las Vegas,” all that came to mind were casinos and gambling. Such debauchery later prompted ridiculous monikers that I refuse to repeat, including “S– City” and the appalling convention bureau slogan, “What happens in Vegas….”
City leaders wanted to shed Las Vegas of its one-dimensional image and ramp up its more obvious attributes, including nice weather almost year around, relative affordability, diverse leisure activities, and world-class entertainment. And so when banking giant Citicorp announced they were seeking a new home base for their credit card processing division, Las Vegas rolled out the red carpet to attract a mainstream corporation. Mind you, back then Las Vegas didn’t have any other corporate headquarters — other than companies connected to tourism. Trouble was, the folks at Citi were concerned that moving offices to Las Vegas would be risky. How would it look to mainstream consumers and customers elsewhere, particularly those who lived in more conservative regions that a major American bank was moving its operations to Las Vegas? Would their deposits be safe? Would all the funds end up on the pass line at the craps table? Would Americans living in the heartland feel comfortable mailing their checks to Las Vegas each month?
Ridiculous as it sounds now, that really was the prevailing attitude of many people a generation ago. Long before Las Vegas became just another city with plenty of normal jobs and schools and law-abiding families, it had a far shadier image.
Citi cut a deal with the city. They agreed to move their credit card processing headquarters to Las Vegas, provided some demands were met. Concerned they might actually lose customers, the company secretly applied for a postal exemption that allowed a small area of the city to be carved out and given a new name. That became “The Lakes, Nevada.” The zip code is 89117, which is here I now live.
Why is this place called — The Lakes?
Back in 1985, there wasn’t any fresh water around here, let alone a “lake.”
All what existed was a slopping desert with sagebrush. The sole single-lane road heading from The Strip out to Red Rock Canyon was paved over and then widened. That became and extension of Sahara Blvd., now one of the busiest streets in the city. Seven miles out of town, a huge pit about a quarter mile wide and a half mile long was dug out and filled with fresh water. Then, several home developers came in and purchased the land around the lake, in order to build nice new homes. People eventually moved in. Pretty soon, docks and boats appeared on the lake.
Citicorp was given a huge plot of land nearby and began construction of its new credit card processing division, which would ultimately hire more than a thousand workers.
The Lakes, Nevada was not longer just a zip code. It was now a real place, with homes and at least one major business.
Over the years, that inner ring of new homes expanded outward. More homes were built. Condos were added. A shopping center moved in. Parks were put in place. Planners were determined to make this new development unlike anything else in Las Vegas. More small lakes were carved out of the desert landscape and waterfowl were even brought in. Hundreds of pine trees were planted. As they grew, the area began to look like a oasis in the middle of the desert.
The success of The Lakes as a major development spawned a similar construction project about five miles to the north, later called Desert Shores. This similar development became even bigger. The lake was twice the size and included several thousand new homes and condos, along with parks and commercial development. After that, “Lake Las Vegas” was built, a similar project on the east side of town, adjacent to Lake Mead.
Unfortunately, as Las Vegas’ population exploded and we became the fastest-growing city in the nation for eight out of ten years, water became a serious issue. Concerned that building artificial lakes were wasteful (due to steady evaporation), a moratorium on such developments was passed. No new lakes would be permitted. This is the reason why, even though we are called “The Lakes,” only one huge man-made body of water exists. The second lake which was planned never happened. So, we really should be called “The Lake,” instead.
Of course, all the moratorium did was make The Lakes and Desert Shores more attractive as places to live. Pretty soon, the areas around the parameters began to fill in with more homes and businesses. Summerlin, once owned by Howard Hughes and intended as a airfield, became the hottest new development in the nation. Sun City was built nearby. Several golf course communities sprang up, oddly enough — needing even more water than any lake in order sustain greenness. But the genie was already outside the bottle. Growth couldn’t be stopped. Not when developers run the city and there’s money to be made.
Another reason why the far western side of Las Vegas became so popular was — temperature. Because the plateau near the base of Red Rock Canyon is more than 1,000 feet higher than the rest of the Las Vegas valley, temperatures can be as much as ten degrees cooler in the summertime. That means it’s “only” 96 degrees for some Summerlin residents, while the tourists down on The Strip swelter in 106-degree heat. Moreover, the air quality was much better up near the mountains. Haze had become a problem in Las Vegas, and from the vantage point of the far west side, one could see the brown cloud of pollutants blanketing the rest of the city. People who lived on the far west side were above all that.
By the mid-1990s, the barren arid wasteland between Las Vegas and The Lakes had been filled in completely. Now, the Citicorp headquarters and surrounding area is completely engulfed into a giant urban zone. Yet today, this mature development which turns 30 years old this month, remains very much apart from the rest of the city with its signature lake and tall pine trees all around.
Here’s a collection of pictures I shot today, which reveal more about the attractiveness of The Lakes, Nevada:
Postscript: Sometime around 2005, Citicorp moved its credit card processing division elsewhere. Then, it made The Lakes the center of its national mortgage banking division. However, the economic crash of 2008 resulted in hundreds of layoffs and shutting down much of the building. In 2014, Citicorp finally vacated its offices. The building and parking lot now sit vacant, awaiting new ownership and tenants.
The Lakes is built amidst an oval road, which is four miles to travel around — Lake South, Lake North, Lake East, Lake West. There are four small parks with lots of water fowl — including ducks, geese, swans, and other birds. Many residents enjoy feeding them.
Here’s one of the parks along Lake North Drive. Each park is different. The birds occupy them year around.
This view was taken today from one of the inlet waterways, connected to the main lake. Many residents keep boats docked along the water. However, due to noise and pollution, the motors must be electric. No gas motors are permitted. The keeps things very quiet.
The most expensive homes in The Lakes are on the water, and these are protected within gated communities. This entrance is typical.
I mentioned that Citicorp is now gone. Here’s the former headquarters and parking lot, now vacant.
What I really love about The Lakes are the wide streets. This is great for runners and cyclists. Like I said, it’s four miles to make the complete round. This view is from the far west side. As you can see, there’s not much traffic.
Our most famous resident is comedian Marty Allen, now in his 80s. He still performs occasionally in Las Vegas. Mr. Allen was even on the same Ed Sullivan Show as The Beatles, on their American debut in 1964. He lives here, about a block away from me. His home is really nice.
Here’s the view from the south side of the lake, which has a large park, with picnic area.
Like I said, we have some neighbors who need some special care. We often have ducks wandering out on the roads. Another reason why you have to drive slowly in this area.
We have several European-style traffic circles. I prefer these to stop signs. I don’t know why we don’t have more traffic circles in America. They are much better for traffic flow.
This is my favorite area of The Lakes for running and cycling. It’s along Crystal Water Drive, which has a bike and running path. Also, those houses on the left up the embankment have some of the best views of the city.
Coming Up: More photos coming next time of my actual daily running path.