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:

https://about.me/johnn

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

10 – Salt Lake City, UT

Episode 10: Unified Through Listening, Caring and Understanding with Jewel Cummings

Jewel Cummings describes a Great America that is a unified country through listening, caring and understanding each other.

She is a college student studying accounting and is a return missionary from southern Germany and Salzburg, Austria. She loves the warm weather of Southern Utah.

Jewel grew up in Mill Creek neighborhood in Salt Lake City, Utah with five younger sisters. She enjoyed the diversity and amenities of Salt Lake City. Her mission to Europe during the COVID virus was an exceptional experience. These foundational experiences of family and her faith taught her the value of listening to people and hard work.

Links to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:

https://www.comeuntochrist.org/

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/?lang=eng

Salt Lake City, UT: THE GREAT AMERICA OF 1847-1857

Salt Lake City was great from 1847-1857, its founding decade. Though the city, which serves as a financial, political and spiritual center of the Inland West, has long been prosperous and known for its livability as a community, it was in those earliest years that the utopian dreams of its founders came closest to being fully realized. Left more or less alone, adherents of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS or “Mormons”) were allowed to build a new society in the Great Basin, and this period of relative autonomy would continue to shape the sect’s relationship with its neighbors.

Fleeing bigotry and mob violence in Missouri, LDS President Brigham Young led a band of followers across the Great Plains, eventually arriving, on July 24, 1847, at the shores of the Great Salt Lake in what was nominally Mexican territory, where Young famously declared “this is the right place” (or “this is the place” in some accounts). The surrounding valley reminded Young of accounts of the geography of the Holy Land, with the brackish water of the lake evoking the Dead Sea. An adjacent river was dubbed the Jordan to complete the biblical analogy.

Like many religious groups that emerged out of the “Great Awakening” of the early 19th Century, the Mormons practiced what we would now call “intentional community.” The new settlement, initially called “Great Salt Lake City” would be laid out in keeping with previous neatly planned Mormon communities in Illinois and Missouri, with some modifications by Young. Large blocks of 660 feet on a side were laid out to accommodate the new settlers’ farms and gardens. The streets would be 130 feet wide, reportedly to allow farmers to turn ox-driven wagons “without having to resort to profanity.” At the center of the city a square was set aside for a temple. Though the actual building would not be completed for decades, this prominent location symbolized the church’s central role in the life of the community

Like other new religious communities of the era, the Mormons in the Midwest lived under a collectivist model. Though this was never fully emplaced in Utah, resources were largely shared through the church, which reinforced a sense of common purpose. An elaborate and well-maintained system of canals kept the farms and gardens irrigated and green. All of this required a level of central planning which was largely unknown elsewhere in the country.

The settlement of the war with Mexico in 1848 put the town in the United States. Federal officials, perhaps wanting to avoid the violence that had occurred in Missouri, tended to accommodate the Mormons as a government was organized in the new territory. Young was appointed Territorial Governor, and most of the elected and appointed political leaders also held positions of leadership in the church, creating what in some ways was a theocratic governing model. Under this relative autonomy, the Mormons hoped that they could finally live in peace.

This utopian dream, however, was meant to include only church adherents. Upon arrival, the Mormons saw what they believed to be an unpopulated valley, but this was because a smallpox epidemic had devastated the native Shoshone months before. Future interactions with native tribes were largely friendly, church leadership recognizing that these were potential allies, but they were marginalized and even converts could not hope for more than second-class status at best. Non-Mormon settlers, who became more plentiful as Salt Lake City became a key stop on an important route to California, also found themselves regarded as outsiders, and were regarded with indifference or hostility by church members. Their grievances would bring unwelcome attention to the Mormon experiment in Salt Lake City.

This era of relative autonomy would come to an end in the summer of 1857. A year before, the platform of the new Republican Party opposed the “twin evils of polygamy and slavery,” reflecting a growing national distrust of the Mormons, with particular suspicion focused on the unusual practice of plural marriage, though their communitarianism were also a source of mistrust as well. Responding to public pressure, newly elected Democratic President James Buchanan sent a new slate of appointed officials with an escort of some 2500 soldiers, about a sixth of the regular army. The subsequent “Utah War,” which consisted mostly of Mormon guerrillas harassing federal troops by destroying supplies and blocking roads, would finally be settled in April, 1858, when the Mormon leadership agreed to accept the authority of non-Mormon federal appointees.

The historical memory of the early years of hostility and oppression from the American mainstream has contributed to a sense of common cause among Mormons. This solidarity has assured their continued prominence as a political and cultural force in the western states. Likewise the legacy of what they accomplished in the Salt Lake Valley during the decade when they had a degree of self-determination, remains an inspiration as well and a reminder of what they could achieve as a community.

-Tom Prezelski, Resident Historian