The Grit beneath the Glitter: Tales from the Real Las Vegas

By Hal K. Rothman; Mike Davis | Go to book overview

Introduction
The Many Faces of Las Vegas
HAL ROTHMAN AND MIKE DAVIS

THE NEON OASIS

No city in American history has ever changed its clothes as frequently or as rapidly as Las Vegas. No place has grown so fast in so many ways without allegiance to any of the forms of identity its past fostered. Nowhere has each incarnation of existence been more fleeting, more transitory, less based in anything but the human imagination. Reinvention has been the essence of the place, but what can you expect from a town with no compelling natural reason to be where it is? Malleability is the watchword of Las Vegas, a supple response to the changing cultural, intellectual, economic, and social trends of the nation and the world.

In the beginning, there were the first people of the Mojave Desert, the Paiute, and the miraculous, life-saving springs that the Spanish called Las Vegas, “the meadows. ” In the mid nineteenth century, Manifest Destiny made this natural oasis a pivot of competition between Brigham Young's Nation of Deseret and Gold Rush California. At the beginning of the next century, the Union Pacific Railroad built a town to repair trains en route between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. When the railroad closed its shop to punish the city for its support of the national railroad strike of 1922, Las Vegas was left to die in the desert, to sink back into the sands from which it had sprung.

California's thirst for water and the federal dollars it brought saved the hamlet from withering into another Nevada ghost town. In the late

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