The neighborhood is one of the most quaint in Las Vegas, seemingly lifted from a Norman Rockwell scene. Children can be imagined playing beneath old trees, with their parents grilling on barbecues. These are old homes, in old Vegas, just a couple of blocks off Las Vegas Boulevard and its wedding chapels, pawnshops and government buildings.
In fact, though, most of the homes, which date to at least the 1920s, are occupied only during the day, and then by some of the city’s most prominent lawyers, their paralegals and secretaries. The area is known as “Lawyers Row.”
The offices are perfectly situated for lawyers who makes frequent appearances in downtown courthouses.
“You’ve got only two courthouses that do trials in town, and they’re right down here,” said attorney Robert Langford, who has worked at 616 S. 8th St. since the early 2000s. “On a nice day, when I have a little bit of time, I can walk to court.”
Lawyers Row, though, also happens to be in a section of the city that more residents are beginning to value as a place to live. Downtowns in general are becoming more trendy and desirable.
In 2011, “for the first time in nearly a hundred years, the rate of urban population growth outpaced suburban growth, reversing a trend that held steady for every decade since the invention of the automobile,” Time magazine reported last year.
Downtown Las Vegas’ attractiveness has been enhanced by recent redevelopment in the area. Local real estate agents say homes in Lawyers Row, if available as residences, would be the most sought after in the valley.
“It’s really too bad, because they’re completely unaffordable now for residential use,” realtor Steve Franklin said. “They’re more bungalow, cottage designs, and they are even more rare than the ’50s and ’60s mid-modern type homes.”
People “would be fighting to buy those homes,” said “Uncle” Jack Levine, who, like Franklin, specializes in downtown real estate.
Erica Washington, a local journalist, has rented a 75-year-old house on 9th Street for about two years. She fell in love with its built-in curio cabinet, antique fixtures and charm.
Originally from Detroit, Washington said she likes downtown’s vibe.
“The area is unique, and I love that each house is different. Everything isn’t beige or taupe or tan,” she said. “My only complaint is that it’s too dark at night. There aren’t enough street lights. By 5:30 p.m., the street is clear and all the cars are gone.”
Very few residents live in the houses now. If someone wanted to turn a law office back into a home, they’d have to have a gob of cash. Langford’s 1,800 square-foot building on 0.16 acres sold for $415,000 in 2001, according to county records.
Having grown up in Las Vegas, attorney Dayvid Figler remembers the area as always being known for its homes-turned-law dens. By the early 1990s, many already had been converted into law offices.
“It’s sort of a tradition, part of the justice corridor,” said Figler, who lives in the John S. Park neighborhood, about a mile south of his Lawyers Row office at 615 S. 6th St. “You’re right there where your clients can easily find you, and most of the lawyers here practice day-in, day-out in the courthouse.”
Some of the homes have kept their old charm — steeply slanted roofs, rounded porticos and small footprints. Others have been enlarged and some demolished and replaced by gleaming metal, Roman-columned entries or vault-like concrete and brick structures.
Preservation efforts that began 20 years ago helped prevent demolition of the buildings and destruction of their early-20th century feel. In the late 1980s, historic preservationists fought for and won federal historic designation for the area.
In 1991, about 150 parcels plus Las Vegas High School, now known as Las Vegas Academy, were listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Preservationists also sought a local historic designation in the hopes of giving the city more oversight on how property owners could remodel their homes. But after many years of fighting, the preservationists lost.
“Now we have properties that are overbuilt or have parking lots in the front,” said Dorothy Wright, head of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission.
Las Vegas’ only locally designated historic district is the John S. Park neighborhood, which includes several blocks south of Charleston and east of Las Vegas Boulevard. When that fight began more than a decade ago, some argued the designation was needed to keep the neighborhood from being turned into a second Lawyers Row.
Most of the area, however, is zoned residential so commercial activity is limited. Lawyers Row, on the other hand, is zoned professional, which made it ripe for the lawyer takeover.