Saturday, May 14, 2005

Happy Birthday to us...

Tomorrow, May 15, is the 100th anniversary of the founding of Las Vegas.

There are many towns in Nevada that rose and fell with gold, silver and copper mining. One such town is Rhyolite to our northwest, that was a boom town of about 5000 people in 1895 only to be totally vacant within 5 years. One attraction of Rhyolite is the reamins of a 'beer bottle' house which was constructed entirely, or nearly so, by beer bottles.

Las Vegas wasn't one of those towns. The first settlers to Las Vegas were Mormons in the mid to late nineteenth century, but without air conditioning, Las Vegas can feel like its hell on earth, which is probably one reason why the Mormons did not stay. Las Vegas is known for constitantly re-inventing itself and not known for preserving its history. This is slowly changing, as the city has designated the Mormon fort downtown and at least one downtown neighborhood to be a historical preservation area.

Las Vegas was able to survive as a result of being blessed by having an underground aquifer which provided water to the settlement. Without water, you cannot survive in the desert. But it was by virture of being a stop on a California bound railroad (can't remember the name) which added a sense of permanance to the town. There were enough people here in 1905 to justify the settlement being called a town, and both the city's newspaer and its power company were started at the same time.

Totally ignored for decades, Bugsy Siegal had a 'vision' of a gambling playground and he established the Flamingo Hotel in the 1950s with organized crime funding and when it opened in the early 50's it promptly went bankrupt, only to re-open again a year later. The Flamingo wasn't the first casino in town, but it was one of the first to provide entertainment and food for gamblers, and thus 'modern' Las Vegas was born.

As a result of massive new residents, Las Vegas is today a thoroughly modern, world class metropolis that has little resemblance to what it was when I moved here in 1991 when my house was in the middle of the desert, never mind having any resemblance to what it was in 1905 or 1955. Very few buildings have been preserved from this period, such as the Moulin Rouge, the first casino built for African Americans who, like Sammy Davis Jr, who could perform at a Strip hotel but could not get a room there. Despite a devastating fire, the shell of the Moulin Rouge has been preserved and is now an aprtment complex. Another is the former Holsum Bakery that was gutted, turned into an apartment complex and they kept the neon sign outside.

So tomorrow is the actual birthday and they will be having the world's largest birthday cake (indoors) at Cashman Field. Guinness Book of World Records will be on hand to verify this, and several bands are performing for free including Paul Revere and the Raiders, Red Hot Chili Peppers and some others.

Today was the Helldorado Parade, a old west themed parade with a few western themed things going on downtown. And, befitting its age, tomorrow's temperature is expected to be 98. The heat is on, and I put on my AC for the first time last night for an hour or two.

Happy Centennial, Las Vegas!


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