Happy Birthday Las Vegas - you've come a long way baby! by Joan Ewart
Las Vegas is celebrating its 100th Birthday this year.
What would it take to entice people to an arid, dusty, brown spot of the country? A land auction started it off, in May of 1905 you could buy a parcel of Clark's Las Vegas Town site for $200.00, these were exceptionally far-sighted people if you ask me. First of all can you imagine being in Las Vegas in the early 1900's without air conditioning? This was not a deterrent to these "hardy" pioneers. Just one-year later Miller's Hotel was built and the rush was on, because after all now people had a place to stay. Miller's was on the corner of Fremont and Main. Today, renamed The Golden Gate Hotel, in deference to the earthquake that nearly destroyed San Francisco in 1906 still stands on the corner of Fremont and Main and they still serve their signature "99 cent shrimp cocktail", which is a much better bet that it was in those days.
Las Vegas was incorporated in 1911, gambling, drinking and prostitution were declared illegal...but divorce was not and in the 1920's dude ranches started popping up around Reno, the rich and famous could establish residency for six weeks and get "unhitched" from whatever mate they may have had. This was the publicity that started to put Nevada into the limelight.
Another big attraction occurred when gambling was legalized in the early 1930s. The government started work on Hoover Dan and brought thousands of workers to the area. Just think about being stuck in the middle of the desert with nothing to do with your money, so bars and casinos were thoughtfully provided.
In the early 1940s, what would become know as "The Strip" was a 3 mile stretch of Highway 91, on the new road to and from California. El Rancho was the very first casino to open in 1941 on what would later become know as "The Strip". Their address was Highway 91, Las Vegas Nevada with their "Opera House" theater restaurant, and "Monte Carlo" casino...and also in 1941, El Cortez opened in what is today downtown Las Vegas. El Cortez advertised that they were "Big enough to serve you - Small enough to want to". How's that for an advertising slogan? They also touted a Coffee Shop, Casino, Cocktail Lounge and Bar, and Complete Dinners from $2.95 In the meantime, back on "The Strip", the New Frontier opened in 1942 and The Flamingo, Bugsy Siegel's dream opened in 1946. Las Vegas was on its way.
The next major milestone for Nevada was Atom Bomb Testing, this brought scads of tourists to Vegas in the 1950s, they also discovered Las Vegas, along with the mushroom clouds. Vegas Vic, the neon cowboy on Fremont Street would just wave them on in.
The 1960s were the glamour days in Las Vegas, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis and the Rat Pack ruled supreme. The days of cigarettes and martinis (not the glorified watered down ones of today) but the real stuff, where even a drop of vermouth might be too much! Everybody dressed in beautiful clothes; it was the order of the day, no jeans, no shorts, just elegance and sophistication. No kids either! Sinning was in full gear, maybe not out and out, as it was to become in the 1970s, but perhaps more exciting than even today. The lounge lizards were out in force as well, nothing could top sitting in the lounges after the last headliner show and watching the likes of Louis Prima, Keeley Smith or Sam Buterra. It was truly a special time in Las Vegas history. Before the mega hotels or resorts, before the corporations. Great deals on food and rooms.
The 1970s ushered in the "new era" of Vegas. Circus Circus opened in 1968, built a 15-story, 400-room hotel tower and 850-seat showroom that opened in 1972. The International Hotel with 1500 rooms opened in 1971, only to be sold to Hilton. It re-opened in 1973 as the MGM Grand Hotel. The MGM Grand had a newly built 26 story tower that housed 2,084 rooms and with 2.5 million square feet and a 2,000-seat showroom set the new standard in defining mega-resort. Nothing was as thrilling as arriving under the marquee with thousands of lights beaming down. Corporate money had entered the scene. The 70s also ushered in the days of Elvis and his long-term performances.
In the 1980s, a new name came on the scene in the guise of Steve Wynn who ushered in a wave of luxurious hotels and casinos, as the world had never seen. The Mirage opened in 1989 and Steve Wynn's name went down in history.
Baby Boomers who had kids in tow by the 1990s thought it would be great fun to take their kids to Vegas. The hotels responded and built "kid friendly" attractions. Wet n Wild water slides, cartoon characters, humongous swimming pools and video arcades ushered in the "kiddies era". Hello, what was everyone thinking? If you're pushing baby strollers you sure aren't gambling and you've changed the atmosphere from exciting and different to old hometown. The Bellagio Hotel (another Steve Wynn masterpiece) opened in 1998 (with the distinction of being the most expensive hotel - at the time) banned any persons under age 18 who were not registered guests of the hotel. The Stratosphere hotel (tallest building west of the Mississippi) opened in 1996. 1997 brought New York, New York with its roller coaster. Mandalay Bay opened in 1999 with 3,300 rooms. In 1999, phase one of the Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino opened with 3,036 suites. And in 1999 Paris Las Vegas Casino opened.
Rod Stewart, Bette Middler and Tina Turner, Las Vegas "Boy Wonder" Wayne Newton and other notable stars ushered in the millennium.
With the long awaited opening of Wynn Las Vegas, Steve Wynn scores once again with a new level of opulence, this may not be the biggest hotel in town, but it's the only one with a full-service Ferrari and Maserati dealership and it's own museum and art collection. Wynn also features a 100-foot mountain overlooking a 3-acre lake, what must Howard Hughes be thinking?
The turn of the century has brought Las Vegas back to its senses, once again sin is in, the main attraction is alive and well! Who knows what the next hundred years will bring?
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About the Author
Joan Ewart, an artist, a writer and world travler, devotes many hours to authoring and maintaining major travel web sites. Publishes many articles on travel spots around the world. You'll find this and much more Las Vegas Information at www.lasvegas-wow.com