Las Vegas Sun

July 25, 2014

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Las Vegas Centennial: LV: 100 years, 21 sites

Las Vegas is a city more often concerned with its present than its past, as made evident by the hoopla surrounding the opening of Wynn Las Vegas.

Still, you turn 100 only once.

In conjunction with the city's blowout centennial celebration, the Historical Marker Initiative has selected 21 sites that best reflect the formation and evolution of Las Vegas.

As part of the yearlong process, each designated site will receive a historical marker.

Following is list of the 21 Historical Marker Sites, along with a brief history of the landmark, as provided by the Centennial Historical Working Group:

1. First Train Depot and Auction Site: The first train depot was built by the San Pedro-Los Angeles-Salt Lake Railroad in 1905. Sen. William A. Clark of Montana and his brother, J. Ross Clark, were co-founders of the railroad. The brothers sold their interest to Union Pacific in 1921. The depot was demolished in 1970 to make way for the Union Plaza Hotel, which was built in 1971.

At this site on May 15, 1905, the San Pedro-Los Angeles-Salt Lake Railroad auctioned off lots. About 3,000 people are reported to have gathered to bid on the prime lots, many of which sold for up to $1,750 each. A tent city sprang almost instantly to life and soon permanent buildings marked the emergence of Las Vegas, a city that began as a railroad town.

2. Neon and Atomic Testing: The first Las Vegas neon sign was built in 1929, most likely for the Oasis Cafe at 123 Fremont St. With the birth of the Strip and downtown in the 1940s and '50s, the hotels soon raced each other for the biggest, tallest and brightest casino sign.

The site also recognizes atomic testing. The decision to move above-ground atomic testing from the South Pacific, where it had been conducted after World War II, to Nevada was made primarily for national security reasons: The area had a small population and was already owned by the federal government.

The first test at the Nevada Test Site was conducted on Jan. 27, 1951. Testing was moved underground in 1963 after a treaty was signed by the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union.

Years later, health problems arose for those exposed to the radiation, including the soldiers who participated in the tests as well as the "Downwinders," who were exposed to radiation in fallout patterns.

3. Block 16: Beginning in 1905 the notorious Block 16 -- North First Street between Ogden and Stewart avenues -- was the only area in the Las Vegas townsite (outside of hotels) where liquor could be sold. The block quickly changed from its original liquor and gambling activities to feature prostitution. Bowing to the Army's demands, in 1942 Las Vegas ordered prostitution on Block 16 to end.

4. Post Office: In the midst of the Depression, the federal government completed the Post Office and Courthouse in 1933. The courtroom was the site of the 1950 Kefauver hearings into organized crime, which brought national attention to Nevada's gaming laws.

The significance of the neoclassical building is listed on the local and National Register of Historic Places. Last year the building was donated to Las Vegas to be used for cultural purposes.

5. Federal Government in Las Vegas: The marker is dedicated to the role the federal government has played in the development of Las Vegas.

6. Gaming and Helldorado: From its inception in 1905, Las Vegans tolerated gambling. While some games of chance were already legal, Nevada legalized "wide open" gambling in 1931. That year the first local gaming license was issued to Mayme Stocker of the Northern Club near First and Fremont streets. For several decades, Fremont Street was the center of gambling in Las Vegas.

The site also recognizes the first Helldorado celebration, which took place in 1925. Led by the Las Vegas Elks Club, the four-day event featured parades on Fremont Street, rodeos, carnivals, frontier-style clothing, beard-growing contests and a "kangaroo court."

Helldorado created a Wild West atmosphere for Las Vegas and was one of the first special events aimed at attracting tourists. Ending in the late 1990s, Helldorado was the longest-running civic celebration in Las Vegas history.

7. Fremont Street: Named after explorer John C. Fremont, Fremont Street has remained the heart of downtown Las Vegas and for many years was one of the city's hubs. Fremont Street has undergone many aesthetic changes, including a "Wild West" theme, the bright, glittery appeal of neon, high-rise towers and its current look with the LED canopy Viva Vision as the centerpiece of the Fremont Street Experience.

8. Las Vegas High School-Las Vegas High School Neighborhood: As the population of Las Vegas increased throughout the 1920s and the construction of Hoover Dam was assured, many Las Vegans saw the need for a new high school. Las Vegas High School was completed in 1930 for $350,000. The Las Vegas Academy now occupies the former Las Vegas High School, and the building is listed on the local and National Register of Historic Places. With the start of Hoover Dam construction in 1931, Las Vegas began to spread in all directions. The area around the high school emerged as a significant residential neighborhood. Most of the single-family residences were built between 1928 and the beginning of World War II. The houses featured many different architectural styles, notably Tudor revival, Mission and Ranch.

9. Fifth Street School: This graceful mission-style complex was built by the federal government in 1936 to replace the Las Vegas elementary school that burned down in 1934. In 1973, Clark County remodeled the building as an annex to the nearby courthouse. Owned by Las Vegas, the Fifth Street School is listed on the local and National Register of Historic Places.

10. Civic Buildings: This marker is dedicated to the idea of historic preservation in Las Vegas, and speaks of the buildings that have been lost and to the importance of preservation.

11. Railroad Cottages: To provide housing for its workers, the San Pedro-Los Angeles-Salt Lake Railroad built the city's first housing development from Second (now Casino Center) to Fourth and Garces to Clark. Between 1909 and 1910, 64 bungalow-style cottages were constructed from concrete block, a feature that helped insulate the interiors from the harsh climate.

To preserve the remaining pieces of the city's railroad heritage, several of the cottages are now at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, and one is housed at the Clark County Museum. The buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places prior to the move.

12. Old Besty: "Old Betsy" was Las Vegas' first electric generator and serviced the power needs of the new town. The generator, operated by the Consolidated Power and Telephone Co., supplied electricity from 1906 to 1916. The company evolved into the Southern Nevada Power Co. in 1930 before Hoover Dam was built and changed its name to Nevada Power in 1961.

13. Von Tobel's Hardware Store: As a founder of one of the pioneer families of Las Vegas, Ed Von Tobel Sr. came to the 1905 Las Vegas land auction and purchased a lot. He established a lumber company on Main Street in 1905 and moved to the east side of First Street, between Carson and Bridger, in 1906, and Von Tobel's became the longest-lasting family business in town. When Las Vegas incorporated in 1911, he served as one of the first city councilmen. In 1967 Von Tobel's moved to a more modern facility on Maryland Parkway.

14. Old Mormon Fort/Gass & Stewart's: After founding Salt Lake City in 1847, the Mormon Church expanded its settlement westward. The Las Vegas Mission was established in June 1855 as an outpost roughly halfway between Salt Lake City and Southern California.

Built alongside the Las Vegas Creek, 30 missionaries constructed a 150 square-foot adobe fort. This was the first non-native building and settlement in the Las Vegas Valley. A part of the original 1855 wall remains and is the oldest building remnant in Nevada.

By 1857 the mission was abandoned because of dissension among the leaders, the summer climate and a deteriorating relationship with the local Paiutes. In 1865 Octavius D. Gass developed a ranch on the site and provided food for travelers and nearby mining communities. By 1881 the property passed to Archibald and Helen J. Stewart. Although Archibald was killed in a gunfight in 1884, Helen continued to operate the ranch, raising five children and providing rest and comfort for travelers.

In 1902 she sold the ranch, the surrounding land and the water rights to the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad. On her former land in 1905 Las Vegas was born.

15. Huntridge and Post World War II Housing: The Huntridge neighborhood was built in part to help with the post WWII housing shortage. Today, several of the original residents continue to live in the Huntridge neighborhood, known for its generous lots, curving tree-lined streets and front porches.

16. Twin Lakes Resort: Believing in the growth of Las Vegas, David F. Lorenzi purchased 80 acres two miles northwest of town. Throughout the 1920s and '30s Lorenzi developed the land as a resort and provided Las Vegans with a swimming pool, concert venue, dance hall, Fourth of July celebrations, horse races, rodeos and twin lakes for boating and fishing. In 1947 new owners Lloyd St. John and son Richard built eight motel buildings in the northwest section of the park. In the 1950s Twin Lakes Lodge was a complete dude ranch for the thriving marriage and divorce business. In 1965 Las Vegas purchased the 80 acres for $750,000 for park and recreational purposes.

17. First Airport: Anderson Field, Clark County's first airport, opened on Thanksgiving Day 1920. In 1925 Las Vegans Earl and Leon Rockwell bought the field, renaming it after themselves. In 1926 Western Air Express became the first airline to deliver mail and passengers to and from Las Vegas. In 1929 Western Air Express moved its operations to a new location four miles east of Las Vegas, the site of today's Nellis Air Force Base.

18. Alamo/McCarran Airport: The first McCarran Airport was named in honor of longtime Nevada Sen. Patrick McCarran in 1941. This field, currently the site of Nellis Air Force Base, was shared by commercial aviation and the military during World War II. McCarran International Airport originated on the site of Alamo Airport, built by George Crockett in 1942. Naming his field for the Alamo in Texas, Crockett operated the field until 1948, when Clark County built the new airport.

19. Water Co.: The San Pedro-Los Angeles-Salt Lake Railroad bought Helen Stewart's Las Vegas Ranch in 1902, giving it control of the Las Vegas Springs and the water supply needed for the creation of Las Vegas in 1905. The railroad's subsidiary, the Las Vegas Land and Water Co., regulated water use.

Early water delivery was inconsistent, often because of the use of redwood pipes. Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, built in the early 1930s, eventually provided a permanent, stable water supply in the valley. The Las Vegas Land and Water Co. sold the facilities and rights to the Las Vegas Water District in 1954

20. Green Shack: The Green Shack was renowned for its fried chicken dinners and high-powered political patrons.

21. Mount Charleston: Constructed in 1953 as an A-frame house at the end of SR 157 by Doc and Judy Bailey, then owners of the Hacienda Casino, the structure is now a lodge and restaurant. Mount Charleston has long served as a "getaway" for Las Vegas residents -- to escape the heat and enjoy recreational activities.