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Photo by Juan R. Govea
If you exit Las Vegas Trail from I-30 and head south, you’ll see many low-income apartment complexes and housing for those below the poverty line. During the day, the street isn’t as busy as it is at night with a mix of primarily Black and Latino adults and teens hanging out in front of convenience stores, vacant parking lots, or neighboring apartment breezeways.
Photo by Juan R. Govea

Though Las Vegas Trail itself is only about a mile long, it looms large in the history of Fort Worth and in most of our psyches. In a 2017 series of stories, the Star-Telegram summed up the Westside area with the simple phrase “drugs, guns, abuse — and a sliver of hope.”

Once you pass Drummers Inn, heading farther west on the Hwy. 80 strip, a giant 1960s neon sign lights up Landmark Lodge Motel. The motel remains private property, and photography is not welcome on the premises. Most Yelp reviews describe it as roach-infested, dirty, and not well kept, but they’re not all necessarily negative.
Photo by Juan R. Govea

LVT, or simply “The Trail,” as it’s come to be known, hasn’t always been this way. The first homes were built in 1956, and through the mid-1980s, this part of the West Side was almost exclusively white and white collar, drawn by the promise of living in Western Hills. That’s what this LVT-adjacent neighborhood was called when it was drawn up and master-planned. A 1957 ad in the Star-Telegram reads, “You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the prices after you see the exceptional added qualities you’ll enjoy in … Western Hills Homes.” The ad goes on to say that Western Hills residents would play an important part in the development of community life in the new addition. As the area grew, many Western Hills residents did watch their community grow but not always for the best.

Reyna Terra describes her two years spent at Drummers Inn as not the best time of her life. The average weekly rate is $130.
Photo by Juan R. Govea

Most of the original inhabitants worked at nearby General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin), and many of the homeowners in the area are retirees from GD or the Naval Air Station (formerly Carswell Air Force Base). The area fell into disrepair after GD closed. In the area past Alta Mere Drive heading west, the nice homes stretch along and neighbor a cluster of low-income apartments that went up over an 18-year period between 1967 and 1985. A few convenience stores advertising food stamps, calling cards, and alternate brand cigarettes line the streets on this side of the tracks. Along Hwy. 80, the relics of Western Hills are held together by old motels and inns. The Landmark Lodge Motel’s bright, retro sign lights up the strip along with cabarets catering to the local motel guests and others passing through. Many nonprofits see the area as where they are needed most. Food Not Bombs is just one charity group whose volunteers regularly attempt to brighten up the Trail, handing out food every Friday at the LVT Laundromat.

Like Sydnee Dunagan, Reyna Terra said she has roots off Hwy. 80 and spent most of her early years in the area. In 2013, she found herself living at Drummers Inn, paying a weekly fee with her boyfriend at the time. Terra said the experience of living at the inn is something she never wants to go through again. She gives back to her community by passing out food to the needy on Friday afternoons with charities like Food Not Bombs. Photo by Juan R. Govea
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The area became depressed through neglect, changing demographics, and a stark lack of investment in infrastructure, such as parks and community centers. The cheap motels and deteriorating apartments attracted transients, and over time the neighborhood became a haven for gangs, drug dealers, and pervasive crime.

Reyna Terra volunteers every Friday at the Laundromat on the corner of the Trail and Cimmaron, where Sydnee Dunagan stands.
Photo by Juan R. Govea

Taking a closer look at LVT reveals that even among all of the problems, there are glimmers of hope. There are still many people who care about their community and even more who see the light amid the darkness. There’s also the intriguing period architecture, which in its density is unlike anything else in Fort Worth.

Behind Sydnee Dunagan’s home, a creek divides her backyard and her surrounding neighbors. Dunagan says many homeless visit the low-running creek to sleep or share illegal substances. Dunagan said there have been a few instances when she felt unsafe and called the police.
Photo by Juan R. Govea

Since the Star-Telegram’s series, which exposed myriad problems along LVT — especially many malnourished and unsupervised single-parent children, high unemployment, and drugs — city officials have begun to pay attention. Two years ago, the city purchased the Westside YMCA and turned it into the Rise Community Center. Just a mile east of the Trail and a short walk from Western Hills elementary and primary schools, the building sits across from a public library in a nearby apartment complex and a chapter of the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Fort Worth. The center provides a food bank, job training, after-school child care, and health living resources through LVT Rise, a nonprofit created to consolidate services for the struggling Las Vegas Trail area.

 

Sydnee Dunagan lives one street down from Las Vegas Trail and grew up a few blocks away, near Cimmaron Trail. Dunagan describes the area as a place where she had to watch her back throughout her life, which became more of an instilled trait. She currently lives with her family and a housemate and said the area is nothing new, but seeing crime happening in the poor and underserved areas with families living in broken homes is disheartening.
Photo by Juan R. Govea

 

 

Amid the clusters of motels and inns within walking distance from one another, the Golden Gate Motel is one of the smaller operations. Most of the motels look alike because most of them were built in the 1950s and early ’60s, back when the Western Hills master-planned community was under construction.
Photo by Juan R. Govea
Adult lounges like Corsets Cabaret welcome customers and clients from the nearby motels. Terra said that many of the guests at Drummers Inn were traveling construction workers who would rent a room for the weekend and usually spend their nights at the lounges.
Photo by Juan R. Govea

 

Along the Hwy. 80 strip, the first of many adult lounges, Stars Cabaret (formerly Illusions), sits across from Drummers Inn.
Photo by Juan R. Govea

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