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Las Vegas Beginnings – Part One

The first European to pass through the land that is now Las Vegas was Rafael Rivera. He discovered the valley and its supply of fresh spring water which was south of the original route while on a trading expedition in the winter of 1829. The expedition was organized by a New Mexico merchant by the name of Antonio Armiji. The name Las Vegas is translated from the Spanish name of “The Meadows”. Sometime after 1855, a 150 sq foot fort was erected in the Las Vegas Valley that was a place for Mormon’s traveling from Salt Lake, Utah, to California to rest. By 1858, numerous Indian raids drove the Mormons out of the valley abandoning the fort. Today a remnant of the original fort can be visited by tourists in the “Old Vegas Mormon State Historic Park” at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Washington Avenue, downtown Las Vegas. The park is open year round, and the visitor center is home to many historic exhibits and artifacts.

Founding of the City:

The next settlers to the area were railroad tycoons. By the turn of the twentieth century, the valley was selected as a perfect location for a new town. Work began on the new Union Pacific railroad in the summer of 1904, which would connect California with the eastern states of the time. The original rail station was located at Fremont and Main streets downtown and was located inside a hotel where The Plaza Hotel and Casino stands today. Las Vegas was founded on May 15th, 1905 after Montana Senator Williams Andrews Clark sold off 110 acres, and later on March 16th, 1911 it became an incorporated city.

From Railroads to Gambling:

On October 1st, 1910 an anti-gambling law was passed in the state of Nevada which prompted illegal gambling in underground clubs. Underground gambling continued until a legalized gambling bill was passed by the Nevada Legislature on March 19th, 1931. The bill was a rancher named Phil Tobin’s answer to raise money for the local public school system. Today, gambling tax revenue funds 43% of the state fund and of that 34 % is given to public education.

First Casinos:

Once the Hoover Dam was completed on October 9th, 1936 it became a major tourist attraction bringing people from all over the country to Las Vegas. It also brought the American Mafia to town with big dreams of gambling, girls, and money. The first Casino-hotel to open on December 26th, 1946, was Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel’s Flamingo Hotel located at the Las Vegas Strip. Today the Flamingo is owned by the Hilton Hotel Group and the last building of the original 1940’s structure, The Oregon Building where Bugsy’s suite was located was bulldozed to make room for construction of the last tower addition which was finished and opened in 1995.

Early Life On The Strip:

The opening of the Desert Inn built by Wilbur Clark in 1950 started a boom in construction of new Hotels and Casinos on the Vegas Strip. 1952 saw the opening of the Sahara Hotel built by Milton Prell, followed by The Sands Hotel which opened on December 15th, 1952 and was the 7th resort on the strip. The Sands was founded by Jakie Freedman and was bought in the 1960’s by billionaire Howard Hughes who lived his life til death in one of the suites. MGM bought the hotel in 1988 only to sell it a year later to The Interface Group. Although the Sands was the first casino to allow Africian-Americans to stay in the hotel and gamble in the 1960’s and was home to the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford) and the filming location for both Ocean’s Eleven, and later scenes of Con Air, by the 1990’s it couldn’t compete with the newer megaresorts being built on the strip. The hotel was ultimately demolished on November 26th, 1996. The movie “The Cooler” shows footage of the demolition in its closing credits.


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