Maryland Square: Not Gone Or Forgotten

One of the surviving sections of the original Maryland Square.
Photo by Osie Turner

What could compare to Maryland Square? This jingle will be instantly recognizable to any long-time Las Vegas resident, and especially to those that grew up here in Las Vegas during the 1980s and 90s. Maryland Square was one of the only shopping centers to have its own commercial, and the catchy song certainly brings back nostalgia for simpler times. As the commercial showed us, the strip mall was full of happy people doing their shopping, kids ordering towering ice cream cones, and everyone casually strolling by the shop-fronts of Maryland Square, your friendly shopping center! They had high fashion, shoes, jewelry, dry cleaning, and much more! Because whatever you need, you know you’ll find it there, as the song assured us. But there was a dark side to the plaza…

Maryland Square was built in 1968, making it one of the first such shopping centers in Las Vegas constructed by Herman Kishner (12/17/1900 – 1/2/1972). The sprawling complex was home to sixty different stores and businesses, making it almost an extension of the Boulevard Mall that was built directly across the street and opened the same year.

The strip mall operated until the early 2000s, but its heyday was undoubtedly the mid-80s to the early 90s. In 2001, there were still about twenty stores open and operating in Maryland Square but even then many believed the entire thing was already closed down because the parcel was placed on sale by the owners, according to a story from The Las Vegas Sun.

The Clark County School District purchased the land in 2002, and the vast majority of the long-vacant stores were torn down. The school ended up using only a small portion of the land, and many of the buildings were left untouched. Nonetheless, this was essentially the end of Maryland Square as a strip mall, but not the end of the story.

In 2008 homeowners in the area surrounding Maryland Square filed a motion in the local courts (Voggenthaler v Maryland Square, LLC) against the owners of the center due to environmental contamination. A dry cleaner that operated in Maryland Square from 1968 to 2000 contaminated the land underneath them with a chemical called tetrachloroethylene or “PCE” for short. Apparently, in 1982 roughly 100 gallons of PCE accidentally spilled at the site and seeped into the ground and groundwater. The contamination was spread far and wide underground, and there’s a good possibility it spread all the way to Lake Mead. No effort was made to remove the hazardous chemical until 2005, when the CCSD sold the used land to the current owner.

The dry cleaner building was demolished in 2006 and the contaminated concrete was removed, but nothing was done about the soil contamination until 2011. The courts initially ruled in favor of the homeowners, but later the judgement was altered after the case went to the Supreme Court.

The popular commercial has stopped playing quite some time ago, the environmental contamination has been cleaned up, and most of what was Maryland Square has long since been demolished. The sign, albeit mostly concealed by overgrown trees, still stands, although it no longer lights up. A small section of the original store fronts remain, all boarded up, one of which I remember being a Bank of America on the street corner. It seems an El Pollo Loco was active in the mall fairly recently, but it too is now but a memory.

The Bank of America building.
Photo by Osie Turner

Shockingly, one business still operates at Maryland Square. The Adelson Clinic, a non-profit organization, treats opiate addiction in adults and teens and is the only clinic in Las Vegas where teenage heroin addicts can get methadone treatment.

Besides the clinic, Maryland Square is mostly an empty lot. Nothing but dirt, a few homeless people, and memories of a happier past remain. The entire lot has a ghostly quality to it; once you pull off the busy street and park behind the large shrubbery you get a feel of having entered an alternate realm where the spirits of the old stores still await customers. But can a site be haunted by the buildings that once stood there? Standing in Maryland Square at night, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

Who knows what the future holds for the friendly shopping center. The Boulevard Mall once seemed on the verge of closing down for good, but after extensive renovations seems to have found new life. It is doubtful Maryland Square will enjoy a similar revival, but anything is possible. My bet is that it will eventually be leveled, and something entirely new will spring up in its place.

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