Dawn of the Master Plan

More than 40 years ago, Spring Valley set the tone for Las Vegas’ future

From Hank Greenspun to Jim Rhodes, Las Vegas developers have always had a gift for looking at raw desert and seeing visions of suburban paradise. Such was the case for the Pardee brothers—Doug, Hoyt and George—who in 1969 started Southern Nevada’s master-planned community craze.

That year, Pardee Construction bought the Stardust International Raceway—then home to road racer Mark Donohue and drag-racing legends “Big Daddy” Don Garlits and Don “The Snake” Prudhomme—way out in barren southwest Las Vegas. The plan: Convert the racetrack and the surrounding 1,180 acres of desert into a community—one that must have seemed as close to Death Valley as the Strip.

The Pardees christened their new development Spring Valley. At the time, most any name would’ve worked, considering that other than auto racing, the area had no real identity. In fact, Spring Valley was so far out in the desert that treks to the old raceway seemed like a true road trip. An orange Union 76 ball propped atop a high post on grounds west of Rainbow Boulevard between Flamingo and Tropicana served as a landmark for those who got lost.

Bordered by Tropicana Avenue to the south, Flamingo Road to the north Torrey Pines Boulevard to the east and Hualapai Avenue to the west, Spring Valley promised a mix of residential, professional and commercial development. However, before the first two-by-fours could be nailed together, Pardee was presented with a $1 million tab to bring water and sewer lines west from the Strip. The lines were run west up Tropicana Avenue for 4½ miles in what seemed like a monumental task.

Jack Wightman, now 79 and living in Springville, Utah, remembers the experience well. Then Pardee’s general sales manager, Wightman recalls that Joe Blasco, who would ultimately build Spanish Trail, brought the sewer line up from Decatur to Jones. He also recalls that Hoyt Pardee wasn’t entirely on board with Spring Valley, fearing the land was way too far removed from civilization. “Hoyt Pardee wasn’t excited about the project at all,” Wightman says. “[But] George and Doug outvoted Hoyt and said they were going to continue to close escrow on the land.”

The endeavor was one of the biggest leaps of faith any developer had ever taken in Southern Nevada. And Hoyt Pardee was hardly the only skeptic associated with the project. Bob Ruppert whose company, Hynds Plumbing, was responsible for plumbing the first homes in Spring Valley, once said that when the project began it was so far from any other housing that he thought the Pardee brothers had lost their minds.

Yet by 1971, Pardee had opened its first community of Forest Park near Rainbow and Spring Valley Parkway. “We just kept going,” Wightman recalls. “I wasn’t scared, but the Pardees were probably a little worried. Spring Valley definitely changed Las Vegas. I don’t think anyone had any problem with the development back then.”

When the build-out was complete, Spring Valley provided housing for about 6,000 families in 15 neighborhoods. It also provided a blueprint for Spanish Trail and The Lakes and Green Valley and Summerlin and all the other master-planned neighborhoods responsible for putting Clark County on all those “fastest growing” lists from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s—and for sinking us to the bottom of every “worst housing market” list during the ensuing Great Recession. And while developers have reported a real estate bounce in the last 12 months, the road to recovery remains long—and nobody knows if a “Dead End” sign is lurking around the bend.

Meanwhile, in what is now considered the center of town, Spring Valley displays the wrinkles and graying temples associated with encroaching middle age. But for those who remember the early days of the Valley’s suburbanization, it will forever serve as a symbol of Las Vegas sprawl—for better and for worse.