If Las Vegas ever had a Central Park, Lorenzi was it. I visited it regularly as a child, and my mother has numerous photos of the family picnicking under huge Mesquite trees, feeding the ducks and swinging on the giant “kite swing” that the park had in the 1970s.
Lorenzi Park’s 60 acres are some of the most storied in Las Vegas history, born of the desert dreams of immigrant Frenchman David G. Lorenzi, who purchased the land in 1911, just six years after Las Vegas was founded. At the time, the land—located near what is today Washington Avenue and Rancho Drive—was a distant 2-mile desert trek from the fledgling town.
Initially, Lorenzi imagined the space as a farm. Within the first 10 years, he dug an artesian well, dredged two ponds to capture the water flow and started cultivating grapes. He also built islands in the ponds—one featured a band shell, the other a speakeasy. By 1926, Lorenzi figured the property would be more successful as a socializing center for Las Vegas residents rather than a vineyard—which brings us to the pool. Opened that same year, the spring-fed, 9,000-square-foot rectangle featured a gravel bottom and a central fountain.
Operated as a resort with an admission fee, locals flocked to the property. But that success was short-lived, and after a few legal run-ins—an illegal beer-brewing operation was discovered, and gaming licenses were later denied—Lorenzi unsuccessfully tried to convince the City of Las Vegas to buy the acreage and use it as a park. Instead, it was sold and fell into disrepair until 1947, when it was leased to an operator who built a small motel and successfully turned the property into the Twin Lakes Lodge. Once again the place to be, Twin Lakes served as a destination Western ranch for curious East Coasters, a playground and civic celebration center for locals, and—much like Tule Springs to the north—a “divorce ranch.”
The City of Las Vegas ultimately bought the property in 1966, fulfilling Lorenzi’s vision by turning 60 of his original 80 acres into a public park. In 1986, the pool was filled in and later became the Sammy Davis Jr. Festival Plaza. But the ponds remain, connected to form a single lake. Today, the park has tennis and basketball courts, a fitness trail, dog runs, baseball fields and picnic areas.
Lorenzi is in the midst of a massive, multiyear, multimillion-dollar renovation project. Once finished later this year, it will hardly resemble the old park—except for some renovated historic structures dating from the lodge era. Old Vegas is dead; long live old Vegas!