Some call it Hendertucky. They mock its gated communities, its staid entertainment scene, the soccer moms who pack its Starbucks drive-thrus and strip mall parking lots. But from its historic role in World War II to its Tree City status to some damn good sushi, there’s plenty to love about this famous ’burb. In honor of its 60th birthday, here are 60 things you should know about Henderson, Nevada.
1 Henderson was born out of the American war effort in the 1940s. America needed magnesium to match Germany’s lighter planes and more powerful bombs, and the Basic Magnesium Plant (BMI) in Henderson supplied much of the “miracle metal” that helped the Allies win World War II.
2The City of Henderson was officially incorporated on April 16, 1953. At the time it was 13 square miles and had a population of 7,410.
3 Henderson’s industrial past was once the topic of an April Fool’s Day joke by former morning DJs Johnson and Tofte, who urgently told all Henderson residents to stay indoors that day (without ever saying why).
4 Amid the seemingly random businesses that have popped up in undeveloped areas of Henderson was Ron Lee’s World of Clowns. The clown factory that Lee (of Hobo Joe fame) set up in the 1990s included free self-guided tours of the factory, where visitors could view his employees painting the decorative clown statues and pass through exhibits of circus-clown paraphernalia, including old outfits, padded shoes, traveling trunks and 600 trademark clown faces painted on goose eggs.
5 Forget Rosie the Riveter. Henderson had its own blue-collar, wartime bombshell. Known in the 1940s as Magnesium Maggie (aka Irene Rostine), she worked at BMI.
6 Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid played high school football at Basic High.
7 Architect Paul Revere Williams, who designed the La Concha Motel on the Strip and the Guardian Angel Cathedral (just off the Strip), also designed the Basic Townsite housing development that later became the segregated Carver Park.
8 The original townsite in Henderson was known by a secret code name, Plancor 201H.
9 The 16 vintage automobiles and model WWII airplanes on display at the Nevada Vintage Race Car Museum in Henderson are pretty slick, but the real gem in the collection is curator Ed Rachanski. The old pilot is full of stories and love for machines that inspire our imaginations, including a replica of the cargo plane he flew in the Korean War. 250 Sun Pac Ave., 564-6214.
10 When you build a private, 320-acre, man-made lake surrounded by lavish homes, golf courses and hotels, you’ve got to add fish, right? Among the schools swimming in the waters of Lake Las Vegas are large-mouth bass, great basin bonefish, bluegill and trout.
11 And Lake Las Vegas? Yeah, it’s in Henderson.
12 The first city council meeting was held at the home of Lou LaPorta, who has lived in Henderson since leaving the Air Force in 1945. LaPorta is now the president and CEO of the Henderson Historical Society.
13 Henderson is the home to many former professional athletes: Pro Hall of Famer Tom Mack, 500 home run club-member Frank Thomas, big leaguer Jason Giambi, former major leaguers Rollie Fingers and Tyler Houston, and strongman competitor Mark Philippi, among others.
14 CNN Money’s annual list of the 100 best small cities to live in ranked Henderson at No. 66 in 2012. The No. 1 spot went to that beacon of livability, Carmel, Indiana.
15 For years, Henderson optometrist Dr. M.J. Bagley collected eyeglasses from celebrities and international dignitaries for The Famous People’s Eye Glasses Museum. Anwar Sadat, Walter Cronkite, Peggy Lee, Leni Reifenstahl and Benny Goodman were among those who mailed their glasses to the Henderson office on East Lake Mead Drive with letters of authentication. The glasses were displayed in a case in the waiting room.
16 Casinos need not have all the fun. A handful of schools in the Clark County School District have themes that are the central focus of the schools. In Henderson, McCaw School has recreated a large mine on its campus, and students give tours. Vanderburg Elementary School has a rainforest biosphere on campus that students use for studying.
17 The Green Valley High girls golf team won 144 straight matches from 1992 to 2004, a national record for consecutive victories.
18 The suburban city’s motto is “A Place to Call Home” and, with no less than 27 master-planned communities, it certainly is. A few examples: Ascaya, Black Mountain Vistas, Cadence, Cornerstone, Del Webb Anthem, Del Webb MacDonald Ranch, Green Valley, Green Valley Ranch, Inspirada, MacDonald Highlands, Old Vegas, Palm Hills, Seven Hills, Southfork, South Valley Ranch, Sunridge at MacDonald Ranch and Whitney Ranch.
19 Looking for the Henderson version of a classic, friendly neighborhood restaurant? It’s called Weiss, and it serves up some of the best Jewish deli food you can find in Southern Nevada. Matzo ball soup for the win. 2744 Green Valley Parkway, 454-0565.
20 Country music superstar Tanya Tucker first heard her hit song “Delta Dawn” on the radio when she was living in Henderson. She was only 13 at the time.
21 Green Valley High received its third Grammy award in 2012. The Grammy Signature Schools are recognized for their quality music programs.
22 Everybody knows Las Vegas means “the meadows” in Spanish, but do you know the namesake of the Valley’s second city? Neither did we. Turns out Henderson was named for former U.S. Senator Charles B. Henderson, who served the Silver State from 1918 to 1921. But who cares about that when he served as a lieutenant in the Rough Riders cavalry in the Spanish-American War? Badass, Hendo.
23 “Rudy” Ruettiger, of Notre Dame football fame, lives in Henderson.
24 That mid-rise castle/fortress at 650 W. Sunset Road (with the locksmith sign on it) has been a number of things, including a music venue. It was also, at one point, an elephant-themed museum featuring 2,000 elephant knick-knacks, art, sculptures and furniture that a woman spent 40 years collecting.
25 Artist Robert Beckmann painted the five-panel mural on the Sprint Building at 104 S. Water St. that features historic events, including the 1943 arrival of Rosie Lee Williams, a member of the first family to move into the segregated Carver Park.
26 A 2011 Forbes list of America’s safest cities named Henderson No. 2. On the list of America’s most dangerous cities, Las Vegas is No. 9.
27 In 2010, Bryce Harper batted .443 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs to lead CSN to the Junior College World Series.
28 Weeks later, the 17-year-old Harper was selected No. 1 overall in the draft by the Washington Nationals. Harper won the Golden Spikes award at CSN, becoming just the second JUCO player to win the award as baseball’s top amateur player.
29 On May 4, 1988, a chemical fire and explosions at the Pacific Engineering Production Company of Nevada (PEPCON) in Henderson killed two, injured more than 300 and caused an estimated $100 million of damage. The plant produced ammonium perchlorate, a chemical used in rocket fuel.
30 Three years after the incident, Pioneer Chlor Alkali at the BMI complex suffered a 42-ton chlorine leak that sickened hundreds and resulted in mass evacuations.
31 The how-to signage at Acacia Demonstration Gardens is great if you want to plant your own paradise, but we’d rather just move into the demo gardens. Using green things that thrive in our hell-hot landscape, the gardens teach you to go native, ethnobotanical, allergy- and wildlife-friendly, all cactus all the time and so much more. Whether you’re in an urban loft or a house with a tiny yard, Mother Nature can be your roommate. 50 Casa Del Fuego, 267-4000.
32 Henderson’s southernmost point is a stretch of uninhabited desert along the I-15, 23 miles from City Hall.
33 Historian Mark Hall Patton’s book, Asphalt Memories, on street name origins, includes the famous Water Street (“this street ran along the route of the water main to the Basic Magnesium Plant”) and Stephanie Street (“named for Stephanie Page Wurzer, the oldest daughter of Harold J. Wurzer” a plant manager at Stauffer Chemicals who was friends with the man who named the street).
34 Henderson also includes Greyhound Lane, named for the “short-lived Las Vegas Downs racetrack.”
35 Motocross racer Carey Hart and BMX Olympian Connor Fields both went to Green Valley High.
36 Former Henderson mayor James Gibson’s grandfather was one of the engineers sent to England during WWII to learn the secrets of creating magnesium from plans the British stole from the Germans. Gibson brought the knowledge back to Nevada, where it was implemented at BMI.
37 The Clark County Museum off Boulder Highway doubles as a quaint neighborhood with a nod to Southern Nevada’s past, thanks to its repository of old homes that flank a tree-lined gravel road on its campus. Five homes dating to the 1910s were relocated to Heritage Street and decorated for visitors. They share the limelight with an old railroad depot and the old Candle Light Wedding Chapel. 1830 S. Boulder Highway.
38 Hooray for popping corn and dressing it fancy, whether in dill pickle, caramel and cheese (at the same time!) or a flavor-storm of white chocolate, raspberry, Pop Rocks and Nerds. Popped already has a Dirty Vegas flavor that mixes a little of everything, and we think there should be a special Hendo Blendo, too. 9480 S. Eastern Ave. #110, 998-9234.
39 The Green Valley High forensics team (aka debate) won its 12th state championship last year and has seen students qualify for the national tournament every year since 1994. The school’s newspaper is called the InvestiGator, which is also pretty cool.
40 Whatever we envy when it comes to dining in other parts of town, Henderson has one of the truly great sushi restaurants in the Valley. From the hot towel at the beginning to the sculpted orange at the end, the I Love Sushi experience is down to a science. And the sushi? Nothing made so fast ever tasted so much like love. 11041 S. Eastern Ave. #117, 990-4055.
41 The CSN baseball team, which is housed at the Henderson campus, won the 2003 national championship.
42 In 2010, Money magazine named Henderson one of the best places to retire if you hate taxes as part of its 100 best money moves you make list.
43 Many of the city’s 25 elementary and seven junior high and middle schools are named after notable residents. The list includes two former Henderson mayors, Estes M. McDoniel and Lorna J. Kesterson, former Nevada governor Bob Miller and longtime Las Vegas Sun editor and publisher Hank Greenspun and his wife Barbara.
44 Kesterson is also the only woman ever to hold the office of mayor in Henderson. Jan Jones and Carolyn Goodman are the only women to hold the office of mayor in Las Vegas.
45 The Ironman 70.3 World Championship has been held for the last two years in Henderson, where more than 1,800 elite athletes take on the Southern Nevada terrain. After a 1.2-mile swim in Lake Las Vegas, they hop on their bikes for 56 miles through Lake Mead National Recreation Area and finish things off with a half-marathon that ends at the Henderson Pavilion. Starting in 2014, the race location will rotate globally.
46 Last year’s Ironman 70.3 World Champion, Sebastian Kienle of Germany, polished off the whole thing in 3 hours, 54 minutes and 35 seconds—not bad for a day that hit 99 degrees.
47 In 2008, Forbes named Henderson one of the 10 most boring cities in America, along with Chandler, Arizona; Bakersfield, California; and—look at that—North Las Vegas.
48 Longtime residents tell stories of “the Hermit,” a lone man who had a camp in the Henderson “swamp.” He apparently had a dog and may have lived in a cave.
49 Henderson has kept up a stellar environmental reputation as a “Tree City USA” for 21 years. To earn the designation, cities must meet the Arbor Day Foundation’s four standards: a tree board or department, a tree ordinance, a community forestry program with an annual budget of $2 per capita and an Arbor Day observance and proclamation.
50 The city contains more than 80 linear miles of trails, including the new 8-mile McCullough Hills Trail, which connects Anthem to Mission Drive and Horizon Parkway and opened earlier this year.
51 Henderson was the fastest-growing city in the country from 1990-’98.
52 Bright, tidy and begging you to take a knee among the stacks, the Book Boutique throws its small but mighty weight behind local talent, carrying their new works along with gently used favorites. At a recent book signing, author Maer Wilson read from her latest, Relics: “All I could tell myself was to breathe easy and try not to swallow. There was nothing but silence for long minutes, as both sides continued to wait. No one moved. Even the dead were frozen with fear. Now there’s a scary thought.” 19 Pacific Ave., 697-0001.
53 There are some amazing ethnic eateries around these parts: Penn’s Thai House (724 Sunset Road, 564-0162), Shabu Shabu Paradise (1716 Horizon Ridge Parkway, 385-4567) and the Great Greek (1275 Warm Springs Road, 547-2377) just to name a few.
54 During the month of May, Henderson is hosting its first-ever Discover Our Trails bicycle scavenger hunt, an interactive game with clues located along three local trails and one special mountain biking route. Ride, crack the clues and snap photos to prove it. Prizes await the victors, so hurry up and hit the trail. bikehenderson.org
55 The area was originally known as Midway City when BMI was built in 1941. Essentially a federal government installation, it was renamed Henderson in 1942 and sold by the government in 1947.
56 Henderson once had its own school district, but was later incorporated into the Clark County School District, the fifth largest in the country.
57 Just down the street from the Clark County Museum on Boulder Highway sits the El Torito Café, a true hole-in-the-wall serving up authentic Mexican food since 1975. Its owners and many regulars are graduates of Basic High School. 2126 S. Boulder Highway, 564-2309.
58 Henderson includes the streets Rich Flavor Place, Doubleshot Lane, House Blend Lane, Coffee Bean Place, Smooth Blend Place and French Roast Place.
59 The projected population for 2035 is 441,085. (Current population is around 270,000.)
60 Cowabunga Bay Water Park—a $23 million project scheduled to open in 2014—will be ’60s-themed and feature a lazy river, slides and a wave pool near the Galleria Mall.