In the early 1990s, UNLV-adjacent thoroughfare Maryland Parkway was the thriving center of cultural activity in Las Vegas, where college students and the creative class of the city came to study, socialize, dine and shop. Independently owned coffee shops filled with academics and intellectuals. Multiple record stores, including a massive Tower Records, served as premier destinations for local musicologists. Bars and clubs buzzed with live music, flowing taps and warm bodies. At night, people casually walked from retail stores to cafes to bars. And UNLV’s own student-run radio station, KUNV, provided the soundtrack and connective tissue for the whole scene, through its innovative and award-winning “Rock Avenue” programming.
By the dawn of the 2000s, however, that scene almost entirely disappeared. Rock Avenue was cancelled. Record stores went under. Coffeehouses shuttered. The art and music scene, for the most part, moved downtown, and Maryland Parkway today looks very different: rising new UNLV construction projects mixed with a collection of decades-old shopping centers and proliferation of chain restaurants. Those walking the sidewalks at night are less likely to be students than residents of the surrounding neighborhoods, bus riders biding time between routes, or individuals living on the streets.
For many people, that scene that rose up out of the 1980s and blew up in the 1990s–paralleling the national mainstreaming of alternative music and coffeehouse culture–serves not just as a high-point in Las Vegas’ cultural history, but as the “big bang” for almost everything to come after that. Nightlife pioneers got their start putting on after-hours events in tiny cafes and bars. Rock Avenue DJs became music industry powerhouses. An Emmy-award winning TV writer honed his skills over cheap cups of coffee. Everyone from future Saturday Night Live stars to members of The Killers owe at least part of their creative lives to the opportunities afforded them from the inclusive, come-as-you-are nature of the Maryland Parkway cultural scene.
How did Maryland Parkway go from cultural center to cultural wasteland in such a short time, and can the redevelopment envisioned by UNLV’s administration really bring it back to life? Through archival footage and interviews with business owners, journalists, musicians, artists and scenesters from that era, PARKWAY OF BROKEN DREAMS tells the story of how alternative culture on Maryland Parkway was born, thrived, and, eventually, faded away.