When the sun goes down and the lights go on, the glittering thirty-story towers of the Las Vegas hotels can seem alien colossi from a neighborhood only a mile away, where shabby, single-story bungalows, storefront churches, and empty lots dominate the terrain. A clear- cut boundary--marked today by two elevated freeways, as well as the old Union Pacific railroad tracks and a vast tract of unused railway land alongside them--separates this neighborhood from the Las Vegas known to millions of tourists and moviegoers. The pulse and flicker of the visible hotel signs--"Lady Luck," "Golden Nugget," "Stardust," "Stratosphere," "Mirage"--Seem to mock the people scratching out a living in the 3.5 square miles north of Bonanza Road and south of Lake Mead Boulevard, between I-15 and Rancho Drive.
West Las Vegas, as it is respectfully called nowadays (the historic label "Westside" has taken on a pejorative taint, which leads some residents, planners, and journalists to avoid it) is actually northwest of Downtown, adjacent to the original city center. The name makes it sound like an independent city, but unlike North Las Vegas, which adjoins it but is in fact autonomous, West Las Vegas is very much a part of Las Vegas itself.
Though open-housing laws have helped disperse black families to other regions of Clark County, West Las Vegas remained (as of the 1990 census) home to 41 percent of African Americans in the city of Las Vegas itself, and