Reviews of Learning Las Vegas

Santa Fe New Mexican

One hundred and seventy-five years ago, 154 people from the San Miguel del Bado land grant and neighboring communities east of Santa Fe established Las Vegas. In 1878, after four decades of enterprising growth centered around the plaza, the town’s progress was interrupted – or rather split – by an interloper: the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad.

The company chose to build its own town on the other side of the Gallinas River, rather than cozying up to Las Vegas, which already boasted the stone Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic Church and the adobe Presbyterian Mission as well as many handsome houses – including the Maese, Rheua Pearce, Esquibel-Gallegos, Lorenzo Valdez, Jack Johnson, Benigno Romero, and Vicente Silva homes that remain today.

A wonderful portrait of Las Vegas, which is still divided by many residents into
 Old Town and New Town, is offered by author and photographer Elizabeth Barlow 
Rogers in Learning Las Vegas: Portrait of a Northern New Mexican Place (published by Museum of New Mexico Press). It will impress the reader for its democratic portrayal.

Rogers spends 40 pages or so laying out the town’s history, geography, and economic and demographic mix, and then for the remainder probes its residents to fill out the story. “This book records both in words and photographs my walks in Las Vegas, field trips throughout San Miguel and Mora counties, research in local archives, and conversations with the many Las Vegans who have graciously invited me into their homes and places of business,” she writes in the introduction.

Among the scores of people she interviewed, and whose voices she brings into her text, are rancher Luis Martinez; historic preservationist Elmo Baca; United World College graduate Sara Parcero Leites; Christina Padilla, a Memorial Middle School student; graffiti artist Zak Lujan; activists Miguel Angel and Georgina Ortega; Luna Community College president Pete Campos; and Mickey Dowling, a manager of the Richards Drop In Center of the Mental Health Association on Bridge Street.

San Antonio native Rogers, a resident of New York City and Santa Fe, has a 
bachelor’s degree in art history from Wellesley College and a master’s degree in 
city planning from Yale University. She is a life trustee of the Central Park Conser
vancy and is the president of the Foundation for Landscape Studies, New York. She is the author of The Central Park Book, Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History, and other books. After a short introduction, Learning Las Vegas opens with a gallery of 26 color photographs. They sport a handsomely glossy finish – “spot-varnish,” according to book designer David Skolkin – which works well with Rogers’ cloudy skies.

— Paul Weideman


Las Vegas Optic

Divided into 10 chapters, Learning Las Vegas provides an overview of everything Las Vegas, from its founding in 1835, to contemporary social mores and traditions, and everything in between. Whether music, food, religion, dance, politics, education, festivities, folklore and art, or everyday musings, they will be found in Learning Las Vegas, which is simultaneously resplendent with an abundance of color photographs taken by Rogers herself – many of the people with whom she had conversations during her research.

— Jesus L. Lopez



“The other Las Vegas” is seven hundred miles from the one in Nevada, but they might as well be on different planets. It is a small town that the author, the founding president of the Central Park Conservancy and the Foundation for Landscape Studies, has chosen in order to examine “the meaning of place in human life.” You surely do not have to be from this town to appreciate its streetscape, its architecture, and public places, such as the plaza that is a venue for numerous events. Her text is enhanced by her many photos. The town’s location made it an important stop on the Santa Fe Trail and today it is on the National Register of Historic Places. Anyone with an interest in architecture, landscapes, and how location leaves its mark on those who live in a particular place will thoroughly enjoy “learning” that Las Vegas was a Wild West outlaw Mecca, a major trading center, a railroad hub and a film location that epitomizes a vanished America, which remains home to its residents to this day.

— Alan Caruba


Midwest Book Review

Before there was a gambling mecca in Nevada called Las Vegas, there was an ethnic community in New Mexico called Las Vegas. “Learning Las Vegas: Portrait of a Northern New Mexican Place” by landscape historian Elizabeth Barlow Rogers (founding president of New York City’s Central Park Conservancy and Foundation for Landscape Studies) is a 284 page compendium showcasing the cultural legacy, history, and people of this New Mexican community. Beautifully illustrated with full color photography, this is a case study in how the town’s history can be viewed as two combined and yet distinctive populations: Hispanic and Anglo. Of special note is that this community located in the southernmost range of the Rocky Mountains is home to some 900 buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. A unique and seminal work, “Learning Las Vegas: Portrait of a Northern New Mexican Place” would well serve as a template for similar studies of other distinctive American communities. Informed and informative, “Learning Las Vegas: Portrait of a Northern New Mexican Place” is especially recommended for academic library reference collections in general, and the supplemental reading lists for students of Urban Community Conservancy and Restoration Studies.

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