Have you ever wondered how Las Vegas, once a settlement of Mormon missionaries, became a “sin city” best known for its 700 night clubs, 122 casinos and three dozen strip clubs? Or have you ever wondered why the Mohave Desert – a dry, barren stretch of land in the middle of no where – was the location developers picked to build what would become “the entertainment capital of the world”?
Though the history of Las Vegas is a short one (Las Vegas didn’t earn its official city-hood until 1910), it’s also a colorful one; a-washed in neon-bright tales of sex, corruption and violence.
Read on to discover the whys and hows of Vegas’s transformation from Mormon pit-stop to decadent resort metropolis.
1. The First Las Vegas “Locals”
Photo by D Flam.
Though Las Vegas is located in a desert, it is near the Colorado River and numerous natural “artesian wells”. Photo by Stan Shebs.
Las Vegas, which means “the meadows” in Spanish, may seem like an odd name for a city smack dab in the middle of the Mojave desert, but back in 1829, Las Vegas had numerous natural water wells that created “meadow-like” pockets of lush vegetation.
Because of the wells, Las Vegas became a known “water stop” for those traveling by wagon (and later by train) from Los Angeles to Albuquerque. In 1855, shortly after the US won Nevada from Mexico during the Mexican-American war, Mormons migrated from Utah and settled around the desert wetlands, becoming the first non-native American peoples to live in the area.
2. The Hoover DamPhoto by U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Las Vegas’s population remained small, however, until President Hoover signed an order to create the “Boulder Dam” (later renamed the Hoover Dam) in 1930. Construction began and men from across the country relocated to the Vegas valley in search of work. In just a year’s time, the population ballooned to 5 times its earlier size; from a mere 5,000 people to 25,000.
3. Showgirls and Slot Machines
Photo by James Vaughan.
Most of these new residents, however, were male construction workers. Many of them had left families behind in order to migrate to Vegas alone and live in makeshift camps while they worked on the dam. The mafia saw an untapped market in these young men and thus, gambling halls and clubs featuring nearly-nude dancing “showgirls” began crop up across the valley.
4. Las Vegas: Then and Now
Las Vegas has been a gambling mecca for North Americans since gambing was legalized in 1931. Though most of the original casinos have been torn down and buit over (like The Sands or The Desert Inn casinos, for example), a few of the first casinos remain. The Golden Nugget (on Fremont Street) is one and the Flamingo (on Las Vegas Boulevard) is another. Below are photo comparisons of how the casinos appeared when they were first built and what they look like today.
Fremont Street, Las Vegas, Nevada, 1971
Fremont Street, Las Vegas, Nevada, 2012
Photo by Thomas Hawk.
The Flamingo Hotel and Casino in the 1940s and 50s
Photo by UNLV Libraries Digital Collection. The neon sign was added in 1953, when the Flamingo hotel was remodeled. Photo by UNLV Libraries Digital Collection.
The Flamingo Hotel and Casino in 2012
Much has changed in Las Vegas since its humble beginnings as a Mormon missionary fort. The greater Las Vegas metropolitan area now has a population of 1,951,269 people, making it the 28th most populous city in the United States, according to Wikipedia.
What do you think of the changes that have occurred over the years? Do you miss the Vegas of old or do you prefer the more modern look of newer casinos like The Wynn or The Cosmopolitan?
Let us know in the comments below!At Holiday Royale, we’re big fans of vintage Vegas. Our furnished apartments and suite-style hotel rooms are designed in true, “uniquely Vegas” vintage style. Our hotel has been apart of Las Vegas history for decades and we hope that we’ll be bringing “hotel living at apartment prices” to Vegas visitors for decades still to come.