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Video Vault | 'Henderson Speaks' looks at state's Second City

Reported by: Tom Hawley
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Updated: 4/30/2014 9:07 am

HENDERSON (KSNV — The second-largest city in Nevada is often overshadowed by its glitzier neighbor in national media coverage.

The sprawl that includes Henderson, North Las Vegas and urban unincorporated Clark County is often referred to collectively as the "Las Vegas Valley." But before they grew together, each developed its own distinct character.

"Henderson was built for the war effort. And everything here was temporary," says longtimer Jack Jeffrey. "Henderson was a small town for a long time, basically a blue-collar town."

Jeffrey arrived here as a toddler with his family when titanium and magnesium processing were located here for the World War II effort, and a town developed around them.

"My dad came here to help build the plants in Henderson. And the majority of the people were involved with the plants. Had a very small business community."

The original housing was temporary, and the feds could have just shut it down after the war ended. Instead, there were enough families who had put down roots, that they decided to repurpose the plants and incorporate in 1953, naming the city after former U.S. Sen. Charles B. Henderson.

"We were really struggling in those days,” says Jeffrey. "We had a high unemployment rate. We did about anything we could to bring more people and jobs to Henderson. The business failure rate was pretty high out here."

Even one of the core reasons for Henderson's creation was in an ironic struggle.

"We were buying Russian titanium sponge if you can imagine, in the middle of the Cold War," chuckles Jeffrey. "In fact, we had the help of our congressional delegation to keep Titanium Metals open."

But he didn't just watch from the sidelines. As an adult, Jack Jeffrey successfully ran for the Henderson City Council, where he served from 1969 to 1974.

"I think the major turning point though for where the city went -- and we got a lot of criticism for it -- we sold a lot of land to Hank Greenspun," remembers Jeffrey. "And he had a development plan. There were a lot of people wanting us to sell small lots."

That land became Green Valley, and the then-controversial decision has stood the test of time. Green Valley was eventually successful and created the template for other master-planned communities in the valley such as Summerlin, Desert Shores and Aliante.

By then, Henderson had also acquired the Black Mountain Golf Course. It had been developed by Henderson entrepreneur Herschel Trumbo, who owned the local telephone company.

The new course attained some popularity but was still having trouble making ends meet and falling far behind on its water bill.

Trumbo wanted to turn the course over to the city, but Jeffrey wasn't sure that Henderson wanted to go into the golf course business. He suggested a compromise: "You continue to do what you're doing and we'll make a quasi-municipal golf course if you agree. And give the local residents a break on green fees, and we'll wipe out the water debt."

The golf course's new status was noted in a civic ceremony, where the local face of the Catholic Church posed for pictures that included members of Henderson city government and local business leaders.

"Several of them were members of Father Peter V. Moran's parish over here at St. Peter's," says Rick Watson. "And they talked him into getting on all his religious garb and holy water tank. He went up there and blessed the golf course."

Watson is one of the directors of the Henderson Historical Society. He's been accumulating countless pictures of Henderson throughout the decades from a variety of sources.

"Some of them, we're not sure who is in the picture, or where the picture was taken," says Watson. "But we know that there's got to be a good story tied to all of these."

Watson is one of the directors of the Henderson Historical Society and is looking for help in identifying the people and the places in many of the photos. He's working with more than one organization with the goal of keeping modern Henderson growth in perspective, "So that we don't tear down old facilities that we should keep that remind us of where we came from and where we're headed."

It's all part of the long journey from a wartime factory town, to the booming city that has dubbed itself "A Place to Call Home."

"The business community that was here was fairly solid and small," sums up Jeffrey. "But everybody did their part, and it all worked out."

This particular story contains only the barest of thumbnail sketches of Henderson history. We've had — and will have more — stories on individual Henderson subjects in the Video Vault. We've got links to sources for more information on the upper left side of this page.


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