13 – Los Angeles, CA

Episode 13: When We Live Our Best Truth and Speak Our Minds

Episode 13. Vana Thiero describes a Great America where the kids of today become leaders who speak their minds and seek what is best for the greater good ALL humanity for the long term.

Vana Thiero is a single mom of two sons diagnosed with autism. She is a producer, writer, public speaker, Emmy winning editor, activist and comedian, who goes by the letter V.

Vana grew up in Pontiac, during the time in the 60s when black people were migrating to the north for great jobs. It was a time of positivity and great opportunities. Her family was the first black family to buy a house in her neighborhood, so she was friends with white and black children alike growing up. Their house was featured in Ebony Magazine.

Los Angeles, CA: THE GREAT AMERICA OF 1900-1950

The first half of the 20th century was arguably the heyday of Los Angeles. This was the era when what was once considered a secondary city at best, first surpassed rival San Francisco as the largest city in California, and then became one of the largest cities in the country. Where economic expansion was once restrained by a modest supply of fresh water and the lack of a natural harbor, massive projects pushed by city leadership addressed these limitations, and Los Angeles became a center for trade and petroleum production, well prepared for the industrial boom to come. Los Angeles in this era seemed to embody the dream of opportunity, economic and otherwise, which had been associated with California in the American imagination since the days of the Gold Rush.

More than anything, however, what elevated Los Angeles to the status of great American city was the outsized place that it would hold in popular culture thanks to it having become a center of the burgeoning motion picture industry. Echoing previous generations of emigrants who came west to escape the constraints of the east, film pioneers settled in Los Angeles starting in 1910 to evade legal entanglements in the Atlantic states and to take advantage of year-round sunshine. By the 1930s, six Los Angeles based film studios, all started by Jewish immigrant entrepreneurs who had come from the East coast, would dominate the industry and the local economy. As an extension of filmmaking, Los Angeles quickly became a focus for the arts in general, and a vision of a lifestyle driven by Southern California’s sunny climate influenced American notions of fashion and leisure.

But this lifestyle was not easy to achieve or maintain. Much of what Los Angeles became could be credited to one man, William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant and self-taught engineer who first arrived in the 1870s when the city’s population was less than ten thousand. By 1902, he was head of the city’s water department and quickly recognized that Los Angeles simply did not have enough water to accommodate the growth that city fathers envisioned. Mulholland and a clique of Los Angeles businessmen reached out to communities far removed from the city and through a combination of legal maneuvers and engineering rerouted distant rivers. Mulholland’s career effectively ended in 1928, when a dam collapse in the adjacent San Fernando Valley that killed over 400 people was blamed on him, but Los Angeles would continue to reach further and further away to sate its need for water, turning once productive farmland into wasteland and even sparking disputes with adjacent states. For residents of Los Angeles proper, however, there was little discussion of this cost, and the problems of distant people without the political or economic wherewithal to resist were far from their minds.

Civic boosters likewise found certain communities inconvenient to their vision of what they wanted the city to become and found them all too easy to set them aside in the name of progress. At the beginning of the century, African-Americans saw Los Angeles as a haven from the discrimination they faced in the East, but by the 1920s, they found themselves increasingly segregated by language in deeds, euphemistically referred to as “restrictions,” which limited their choice of neighborhoods. A thriving and well-established Chinatown was forced to move as a result of railroad expansion in 1938.

Nowhere does this seem more ironic than in the case of the Mexican-Americans community, once the city’s majority, but now less than ten percent of the population. Though Los Angeles embraced architectural elements like Spanish tile and promoted an admittedly antiseptic version of its Spanish and Mexican past, the people who represented that heritage were marginalized and had little voice in the City’s future. Restrictions kept Mexicans, immigrants from Japan and certain parts of Europe, in neighborhoods like Boyle Heights. Eventually, the sense of solidarity that emerged in these communities would provide them with some political clout, but this would be in the future.

Los Angeles continued to thrive after World War Two, but as it reached two million people, it became increasingly difficult to simply engineer its way out of problems or to ignore its issues. Growing suburbs in places like Orange County now competed for resources and political power. Emerging African-American and Mexican-American political leaders challenged the cliquish leadership at city hall. More than anything, this city that emerged largely during the era of the automobile was becoming too spread out and difficult to manage. The city is now more diverse and more representative than it was in those days, and retains its special place in our popular culture, but there is still a sentimental attachment to the era when it seemed that anything was possible there.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

12 – Caliente, NV

Episode 12: When We Care About People, Do Our Best and Stay in the Moment with Mary Love

Mary Love describes a Great America where there are jobs and our financial future is upbeat and positive.

Mary Love is a widowed mother of one, entrepreneur and realtor. She has had several businesses and loves to be creative.

Mary grew up in rural Utah and when she was six, moved to Caliente, NV with her parents so they could work as school teachers. The family farmed in the summer and went to school the rest of the year. She learned fundamentals of working hard and being frugal.

Link to Mary’s restaurant: https://www.facebook.com/sidetrackrestaurant

Caliente, NV: THE GREAT AMERICA OF 1923-1948

Though it was never a large community, Caliente, Nevada briefly boomed in the interwar years as a headquarters for the railroad. Much smaller now, the town still lives on the foundation established in those days even as local leadership pursues new economic opportunities.

The valley formed by the junction of Meadow Valley Wash and Clover Creek had attracted ranchers since the 1860s. The town of Caliente was established in 1901, when the Union Pacific Railroad’s new branch line north to Salt Lake City was built through the valley and built a station there. The town was designated a “division point” for the railroad, where crews and engines would be switched out. It also served as a headquarters for maintenance workers and administrative staff. An estimated ninety percent of the jobs in town were with the railroad.

The town reached a population of nearly 5000 by the 1930s. It had an active social life, with an Elks Lodge for the professional men in town, and an Odd Fellows Lodge for the working class, as well as a number of women’s clubs.

The hot springs that gave the town its name attracted additional attention. A large hotel was built to accommodate tourists. The railroad also did its part to make the place more appealing to travelers by constructing an elegant new depot in 1923 to replace a previous utilitarian building that was gutted by a fire. Like a lot of public buildings in the west during that era, the new depot was built to evoke a Spanish past by emulating the missions of California, though the actual Mexican-American population of Southern Nevada was declining in terms of real numbers in those days. In addition to offices and dormitories, the new building had a second floor which was set aside as a hotel.

Though the railroad attracted an ethnically diverse workforce, largely of European immigrants, African-Americans were considered unwelcome, which seems ironic given that the two original American settlers in the valley in the 1860s were escaped slaves. Reformers dubbed Nevada the “Mississippi of the West” because political leaders actively pursued Jim Crow-style segregation. In Caliente and surrounding Lincoln County, the Black population remained quite small, but witnessing the mistreatment of an African-American family friend during his depression-era boyhood in the town helped inspire a man named Ralph Denton to work for change. During his long career as a lawyer, activist, and elected official, Denton championed civil rights and transformed both the Democratic Party and Nevada politics in general.

With the transition to diesel engines, the division point at Caliente was no longer necessary, and operations were moved to Las Vegas in 1948. The population quickly declined, though the railroad would remain an active element of the town’s economy. Local leadership continues to pursue development of a tourist industry related to the area’s natural beauty, though a shortage of hotel space presents a challenge, as does concern about retaining the town’s character. The depot, one of the few such buildings from its era which still stands, would become a city hall, museum and community center and serves as a symbol for the town.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian

11 – Las Vegas, NV

Episode 11: Respectful of Ourselves, of Others and of the Planet with Johnn Jones

Johnn Jones describes a Great America that is compassionate, loving, respectful of ourselves, of others and of the planet.

Johnn Jones is a husband, brother, friend and petter/feeder of two shelter dogs. He is also a musician and media content producer in Las Vegas.

Johnn grew up in Des Moines, Iowa. His parents practiced unconditional love and taught him the value of self respect and respect and consideration for others. He learned to play the piano as a young child and brought his love of music and performing into adulthood. This has served him well in every aspect of his life and career as a musician, performer and media producer.

Link to Johnn Jones about me page:


Las Vegas, NV: THE GREAT AMERICA OF 1946-1980

The usual consensus is that the “golden age” of Las Vegas occurred between 1946 and 1980, as the desert city became known as the “entertainment capital of the world” and assumed a unique place in the popular imagination. Though the bright lights gave the city a surreal aspect that seemed removed from the prosaic day-to-day concerns of mainstream America, Las Vegas would confront issues similar to those that faced the country as a whole.

Las Vegas’ reputation as a haven for vice go back to its earliest days as an incorporated municipality, the term “sin city” dating back to 1906. Nearby federal projects in the form of the construction camp at Boulder Dam (1931-1936) and the Las Vegas Army Airfield (1925, later Nellis Air Force Base), each with an almost entirely male workforce, were a ready market for gambling (legalized in 1931), liquor (illegal during prohibition) and prostitution, all of which were readily available in the city. Efforts by officials to crack down on or otherwise control vice merely provided an opportunity for organized crime, which arrived in the form of gangs from the East Coast.

Famously, Benjamin “Bugsy” Seigel, a New York mobster who arrived in Las Vegas via California, seeking an opportunity to invest in legitimate business, financed the construction of the Flamingo Hotel in 1946. This began an era of organized crime involvement in the casino business, this new capital funding its expansion just as the booming postwar economy created a rapidly swelling middle class eager for recreation.

There was a nugget of truth to the popular notion that the mob ran Las Vegas. Local government was weak and decentralized, something which left space for organized crime to exert influence. This led to a free-wheeling, almost libertine vibe. For most Americans, the city quickly came to represent a special sort of freedom, a place that seemed built just for a certain notion of leisure that allowed for an escape from the responsibilities and expectations of working life in the United States. By the same token, investors similarly saw opportunity in a place where they could build a business without some of the constraints seen elsewhere, and created a gaudy and ostentatious cityscape.

Beyond gambling (soon rebranded as more respectable “gaming”), entertainment options were generally affordable and accessible, with middle-class people able to see performers like Liberace and Frank Sinatra in the relative intimacy of a lounge. Significantly, these performers were often people past their heyday, and Las Vegas provided an opportunity for them to find new relevance in an era when rock-and-roll was ascendant in the rest of the country. The lounges helped preserve a swaggering, cigarette-smoking notion of cool made obsolete by the social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s.

Behind the glamour was a real city with real problems, and the sort of permissiveness that made the city so attractive to tourists sometimes proved problematic to residents. Local government was weak and corrupt, and the interests behind the casino industry were content to keep it that way. While some casino developers found a local leadership responsive when they wanted lucrative capital projects like freeway interchanges, infrastructure and basic services needs were often neglected. Many streets in the largely African-American western portion of the city, were not even paved. Additionally, the police force functioned at times as a criminal gang, and city leaders seemed complicit at best.

Segregation was an issue as well, though the city’s unique political dynamics made the struggle play out differently than it did in other places. The mob, largely Jewish and Italian, were at best ambivalent about segregation, and saw it as bad for business. They defied the hidebound elected city leadership, who continued to champion southern-style segregation through the 1950s and 60s. Additionally, entertainers like Frank Sinatra refused to perform at segregated clubs, further pressuring the city to integrate. Segregation was brought down by a series of dramatic protest actions starting through the 1960s and 70s by a coalition that included the NAACP and an increasingly powerful (and integrated) Culinary Workers Union.

Aviation mogul Howard Hughes purchased the Desert Inn in 1966. His investment in the city started to break the hold of the mob. The city increasingly became attractive to corporate money. Oran Gragson, a reform-minded Republican prompted to enter politics by constant police harassment of his business, served as mayor from 1959-1975 and worked to professionalize local government and end segregation. While the “Golden Age” of Las Vegas was not yet over, it should have been clear that the free-wheeling days of yore were coming to an end.

In 1980, a fire at the MGM Grand Hotel killed 87 people and injured nearly 700 more. A subsequent inquiry found that the death toll was due in large part to a lack of sprinklers, something that was allowed by city officials. The resulting outrage led to reforms as it became clear that the city’s permissiveness could not continue. By this time, most of the old organized crime figures who once held sway in Las Vegas were no longer in the picture, and federal law enforcement had broken the power of the mobs nationally. Increasingly, the resort industry in Las Vegas would become a well-marketed corporate venture.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian