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The Lasting Legacy of Lied

Ernst Lied and his namesake library continue to play an important part in the everyday lives of UNLV students.

People  |  Aug 29, 2017  |  By Stacy Willis
entrance to library

Make sure you pronounce Lied Library correctly: "leed." (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

Editor's Note: 

This is part of our occasional Namesakes series about the people who are memorialized around our campus. 

When Ernst Lied left Nebraska and motored west to buy some land in Las Vegas, he had no idea the family name would eventually headline multiple institutions — including UNLV's largest building, the library.

With its soaring ceiling and airy glass design, the five-story, 302,000-square-foot Lied Library is one of UNLV’s — and the state’s — most impressive buildings. Designed by Leo A. Daly and opened in 1998, the building was funded in part by a donation from the Lied Foundation Trust.

Ernst Lied (pronounced "leed") owned a Buick dealership in Omaha, Nebraska, in the early 1950s. His family had been in the auto business for decades; his father Ernst Sr. had worked for Willys Overland, showing cars in New York’s Central Park prior to World War II. But in 1958 the younger Lied decided to switch gears, leave the Midwest, move to the growing gambling town in Nevada, and invest in real estate. At the time, Las Vegas’ population was about 70,000 people, but Lied had a hunch that it would boom like retirement towns in Florida.

Lied was accompanied in his new adventure by coworker Christina Hixson, who initially served as secretary, and then business manager and general manager, as he invested in land near the burgeoning Strip. Initially Lied built 79 houses, a shopping center, and a 100-unit motel, but he would go on to own more than 1,000 acres of prime Las Vegas real estate.

The real estate developer reportedly was not an ostentatious man, and didn’t spend on fancy houses and cars for himself. In fact, he lived in the Tropicana Hotel for more than 15 years. He did not marry nor have any children, so in 1972 he established the Lied Foundation Trust to honor his parents, Ernst M. and Ida K. Lied. He made Hixson the sole trustee of the foundation.

When Lied died in 1980 at the age of 74, his estate was valued at $100 million. He left no specific instructions on how to spend the money, and so it was Hixson who decided to invest widely in charitable interests.

Hixson had a modest upbringing in Iowa and had to borrow money to attend just one business college course in Omaha, but she proved to be an extremely smart and generous investor. One of her first priorities was to invest in education. She provided scholarship money so that students who otherwise couldn’t afford school could get an education. 

In time, she invested in communities in Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Utah, California, and Washington as well as Nevada, providing support for everything from medical centers to animal shelters to community centers. Las Vegas, and in particular UNLV, have been the frequent beneficiaries of Lied’s estate and Hixson's’s investment acumen. She has given to the Lied Ambulatory Care Center at UMC, the Lied Animal Shelter, and the Lied Children’s Museum, among others.

Furthermore, the UNLV campus is teeming with her contributions: the Hixson-Lied Success Scholars Program, the Lied Athletic Complex, the Lied Institute for Real Estate Studies, and, of course, the Lied Library, which stands as a monument to education, to building and architecture, and to the Lied-Hixson business and philanthropic success.