Las Vegas Sun

October 25, 2014

DAILY MEMO: HISTORY:

In Las Vegas, the past tends to disappear fast

Catch these signs of our time before they’re gone

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To celebrate Archaeology Awareness and Historic Preservation Month, the Nevada State Historic Preservation Office encourages residents to take historic walking tours and visit archaeological sites throughout the state.

Getting Southern Nevadans, particularly newcomers, to care about area history, be it prehistoric or midcentury modern, is no easy task, even though we have the Neon Boneyard, Heritage Street at the Clark County Museum, the Las Vegas High School Historic District, the Morelli House and the St. Thomas Historic ruins.

Some preservationists attribute the problem to the disconnect between new residents and history, a history often diminished because it isn’t really history. It’s just stuff that happened a few years ago — the buildings are 50 years old, not 300.

But that’s all the more reason to take note. In no other city can one experience the making of history at the rate that Las Vegans can.

With all the rapacious growth in the valley, the biggest problem in remembering the past is keeping track of it. Ginger Bruner, a tuba player and lifelong resident, describes life in Las Vegas as akin to “moving every year without having to go anyplace.”

Pay attention today because it’s going to be gone tomorrow.

Here are some notes to help. Didactic placards could someday follow. Or not. Hard to say. One person’s memory is another person’s ambivalence.

Highway 159

This stretch of road was a beautiful scenic route, popular among bicyclists and recreation seekers, as well as locals just looking to get away. Within minutes locals were out of the city and traveling on a long and winding road through the desert seeking Red Rock Canyon. The journey was as enticing as the destination. The desire to live near the rocks, rather than visit them, called for structured roads, strip malls and traffic lights.

Planned communities

As settlers continued moving west, the need for housing skyrocketed. Planned suburban communities erupted in the desert. To protect strangers from one another, fortress elements — gates and walls — enveloped the homes and segregated the communities. These communities spread like wildfire through the valley’s outskirts, booming during the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Las Vegas Art Museum

This cavernous gallery, flanked by two smaller galleries, once held ideas, conversations and visual concepts presented for contemplation and inspiration. Such environments, common in modern societies, were rare in Las Vegas. This one thrived for 50 years. Its demise is attributed to the global financial crisis of early 2009, but arguments ranged from mismanagement of funds, disconnect with locals and an uneducated populace.

Strip relics

These reproductions of Egyptian relics, donated by an Egyptian-themed hotel named the Luxor, to the local natural history museum to use as an educational tool, represent Las Vegas’ need to create unique and ephemeral experiences to keep the tourism doors revolving.

Outlandishly themed hotels, which came to fruition in the 1990s, were based on re-creating global attractions, particularly cities and countries — New York, Paris and Egypt among them.

Lake Mead

Lake levels at this vast man-made reservoir, used to store water from the Colorado River, dropped significantly throughout the early 21st century. More than 90 percent of the water came from snowfall in four other states. But when runoff into the Colorado River decreased, water use in the dependent cities remained the same. Conservation proved difficult in a community where grass was a luxury preferred by those who wanted Las Vegas to look exactly like their old home. Mimicking other environments was a theme not limited to the Strip.

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