Much LAZIER than your average blogger  
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2.29.2008 - 26 comments 

You know for some reason I looked at the photos on the template of my blog today and realized that there is a photo up there of a place that I have yet to post on this blog about. As I have posted that photo right here on this post, you more than likely have already broken the code and figured it out. But what about this town of gambling, showgirls, cards, dice, and even dreams and diasters. How did it all get to where it is today? Well... the exact date is unknown, but Rafael Rivera became the first known non-Indian to set foot in the oasis-like Las Vegas Valley.

The abundant artesian spring water discovered at Las Vegas shortened the Spanish Trail to Los Angeles, eased rigors for Spanish traders and hastened the rush west for California gold. Between 1830 and 1848, the name "Vegas," as shown on maps of that day, was changed to Las Vegas which means "The Meadows" in Spanish. Some 14 years after Rivera's discovery, John C. Fremont led an overland expedition west and camped at Las Vegas Springs on May 13, 1844.His name is remembered today in neon as well as museums and history books. The Fremont Hotel-Casino in Downtown Las Vegas bears his name as does Fremont Street -- the main thoroughfare through the heart of casino-lined Glitter Gulch.

Mormon settlers from Salt Lake City traveled to Las Vegas to protect the Los Angeles-Salt Lake City mail route and in 1855 began building a 150-square-foot fort of sun-dried bricks made of clay soil and grass, a substance known as adobe. The Mormons planted fruit trees, cultivated vegetables and mined lead for bullets at Potosi Mountain. Mormon pioneers abandoned the settlement in 1858, partly because of Indian raids. A portion of the "Mormon Fort" has withstood the ravages of time and is an historic site today near the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard North and Washington Avenue. Scientists began an archeological dig on the site in November 1999.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) currently make up about 12 percent of the Southern Nevada population and in December 1989 dedicated a Mormon Temple in Las Vegas. The temple spires are visible in the foothills of Sunrise Mountain to the east of the city.

By 1890 railroad developers had determined the water-rich Las Vegas Valley would be a prime location for a stop facility and town. More than a quarter century earlier, Nevada, known as the Battle Born State, had been admitted to the Union in 1864 during the Civil War.

Work on the first railroad grade into Las Vegas began the summer of 1904. The tent town called Las Vegas sprouted saloons, stores and boarding houses. Rails were connected with the eastern segment of track in October 1904. The San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, later absorbed by its parent the Union Pacific, made its inaugural run from California to points east on Jan. 20, 1905.

The railroad yards were located at the birthplace of a partially paved, dusty Fremont Street. Jackie Gaughan's Plaza Hotel, located at Main and Fremont streets in Downtown Las Vegas, today stands on the site of the original Union Pacific Railroad depot. Freight and passenger trains still use the depot site at the hotel as a terminal -- the only railroad station in the world located inside a hotel-casino.

Advent of the railroad led to the founding of Las Vegas on May 15, 1905. The SanPedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad, owned by Montana Senator Williams Andrews Clark, auctioned off 1,200 lots in a single day in an area which today is casino-lined Glitter Gulch.

Nevada was the first state to legalize casino-style gambling, but not before it reluctantly was the last western state to outlaw gaming in the first decade of the 20th Century. At midnight, Oct. 1, 1910, a strict anti-gambling law became effective in Nevada. It even forbid the western custom of flipping a coin for the price of a drink.The Nevada State Journal newspaper in Reno reported: "Stilled forever is the click of the roulette wheel, the rattle of dice and the swish of cards."Forever" in this case, lasted less than three weeks in Las Vegas.

Gamblers quickly set up underground games where patrons who knew the proper password again jousted day and night with Lady Luck. Illegal but accepted gambling flourished until 1931 when the Nevada Legislature approved a legalized gambling bill authored by Phil Tobin, a Northern Nevada rancher. Tobin had never visited Las Vegas and had no interest in gambling.

He said the legalized gambling legislation was designed to raise needed taxes for public schools. Today, more than 43 percent of the state general fund is fed by gambling tax revenue and more than 34 percent of the state's general fund is pumped into public education.

Legalized gambling returned to Nevada during the Great Depression. It legitimized a small but lucrative industry. That same year construction started on the Hoover Dam Project which, at its peak, employed 5,128 people.

The young town of Las Vegas virtually was insulated from economic hardships that wracked most Americans in the 1930s. Jobs and money were prevalent because of Union Pacific Railroad development, legal gambling and construction of Hoover Dam 34 miles away in Black Canyon on the Colorado River.

World War II stalled major resort growth in Las Vegas. But the seeds for future expansion had been planted in 1941 when hotelman Tommy Hull built the El Rancho Vegas Hotel-Casino on what is now vacant land opposite the current Sahara Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.

During World War II, nearby Nellis Air Force Base grew into a key military installation. Originally built to train B-29 gunners, it later became the training ground for the nation's ace fighter pilots. Many key military personnel assigned to Nellis during World War II later returned as civilians to take up permanent residency in Las Vegas. Today thousands of people are connected to Nellis in the form of active duty personnel, civilian employees, military dependents and military retirees.

The success of the El Rancho Vegas triggered a small building boom in the late 1940s including construction of several hotel- casinos fronting on a two-lane highway leading into Las Vegas from Los Angeles. The stretch of road evolved into today's Las Vegas Strip. Early hotels included the Last Frontier, Thunderbird (Still standing as the Arubu Hotel & Spa) and Club Bingo. The El Rancho Vegas was razed by fire on June 17, 1960. As time passed, many other first-generation Strip resorts lost their identity through absorption by new owners, demolition, extensive renovation and name changes.

By far the most celebrated of the early resorts was the Flamingo Hotel, built by mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, a member of the Meyer Lansky crime organization. The Flamingo with a giant pink neon sign and replicas of pink flamingos on the lawn, opened on New Year's Eve 1946. Six months later, Siegel was murdered by an unknown gunman who fired a shotgun blast as Siegel sat in the living room of the Beverly Hills, Calif., home of his girlfriend, Virginia Hill.

Siegel's life was the subject of a 1992 movie entitled "Bugsy." Although the historic accuracy of the movie is questionable, the movie prompted the Flamingo to open the "Bugsy Celebrity Theater" in November 1992. The Flamingo, after numerous ownership changes, is now owned and operated by the Hilton Hotel Group. Its proper name is the Flamingo Hilton.

While the El Rancho Vegas and other 1940s resorts followed a western ranch-styled theme, the Flamingo was what Siegel called a "carpet joint." It was modeled after resort hotels in Miami. Only the Flamingo Hotel name has survived the 1940s era of Las Vegas Strip development. The final end of the Flamingo as Bugsy knew it was announced early in 1993 when Hilton Corp. revealed plans to construct a $104 million tower addition at the Strip resort -- the last of a six tower master plan. The addition opened in the spring of 1995.

Architectural plans included razing the outmoded, motel-style buildings at the rear of the property, dooming the fortress-like "Bugsy Suite" and bullet proof office used by the gangster before his death in 1946. In December 1993, the last remnants of Bugsy Siegel and his residence were destroyed when the hotel bulldozed the Oregon Building that held the suite in which the gangster once lived.

Well... I have gone on and on so much about the history of this place, that I may have to do multiple posts in order to cover not only my photos, but also to cover what Mrs. LZ and I actually did during our trip here.

“People who invite trouble always complain when it accepts." ~ Lane Olinghouse

2.22.2008 - 21 comments 

While heading North and East back on our way back across the Missouri River and on our way back into Illinois we came across a lot more of the small towns of Iowa. One such town had a Court House building that truly reminded me of the city center in the 1985 movie “Back To The Future” which starred Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd.

In fact the picture that I have posted here, is from the county seat courthouse building in this city. Check out the clock on the top of it. Can’t you just picture the De Lorean DMC-12 with its jumper cables being hooked up there and waiting for the lightning to strike the lightning rod?

The building was actually about the coolest thing in the town and we decided to go inside and wander around and find out all about it. Well… until we found out it was actually still a working county seat building (which in some ways) actually made it even more exciting.

According to sources there, the two story, stone faced building with a mansard roof. It has dimensions that are roughly 97 x 87 feet with 16 inch brick walls faced with Bedford Stone. The foundation is 4 foot thick. There were over 42 rooms, all originally with 20 foot ceilings. The bell in the tower was made in Troy, New York by Kimberly Bell Works in 1876, and as of now still works. The Seth Thomas Clock is dated 1876 and works thanks to many folks.

The entrances to the courthouse are on the east and west sides. Like I said before, the original courtroom is still in use today, and has walnut seats and benches throughout it. The original jail, with bars, is now the Assessor office. This must be really comforting to those that have to work there. I could see where it might be able to force folks to work “mandatory over-time” fairly easy though. (Just lock the doors)!

The style of the courthouse is along the lines of the French 2nd Empire Style. The highlight of this style is the mansard roof, named after the 17th century French architect Francois Mansard. The Mansard roof is characteristically double pitched with a steep lower slope cut by dormer windows. Other 2nd empire details on display in the Bloomfield Structure are receding and projecting surfaces, sculptured window hoods, quoins, and a decorative cornice. Crowning the tower is a statue of Blind Justice holding sword and scales and overlooking Bloomfield's town square. This could also be a nice place to start a De Lorean from.

This county seat and courthouse building were actually located in a small but busy little town named Bloomfield City, Iowa. As you can see from the other pictures I have posted, this is also quite a little place. It was just full of history and perhaps very unique to this particular part of Iowa. Far far away from back to the future! Oh if only we could have stuck around until next Saturday night at 10:04 P.M.

Dr. Emmett Brown:(Christopher Lloyd's character) [reads the "Save the Clock Tower" flyer and reacts with hope] "This is it! This is the answer. It says here... that a bolt of lightning is going to strike the clock tower at precisely 10:04pm, next Saturday night! If we can somehow... *harness* this lightning... *channel* it... into the flux capacitor... it just might work. Next Saturday night, we're sending you back to the future!"

2.15.2008 - 17 comments 

As we departed Fort Madison, Iowa we decided that these Main Street Award winning cities might be nice to check out. That is of course, if they weren't way too far out of our travel path. So we took off from Fort Madison to go check out what is called the Bonaparte Historic Riverfront District which is located on the Des Moines River in Van Buren County Iowa (and not the Mississippi River where we just were). The city of Bonaparte was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989.

It is within this southeast Iowa village that there has been a resurgence of historic restoration which will give you the feeling of stepping back in time. We were however a little disappointed by this quaint little place. It seemed to us as though this place had not done much to improve itself since getting this award in 1989. In fact many of the places were just boarded up and had for rent signs on them. We could however see where in it hay-day (no pun intended) it would have been much more fun that it was when we visited there.

Bonaparte's National Historic Riverfront District offers a unique blend of yesterday's ambience, today's progress, and tomorrow's success, with a pinch of home grown ownership and a dash of community enthusiasm giving downtown a new flavor of potential for those with discriminating tastes.

A feast for the eyes is the sometimes contrary Des Moines River, garnished with a butterfly garden, (which we walked down to). Its historic lock walls, refurbished band shell, and two restored mills were all pretty neat too.

Appetizing teasers were offered with historic street lights downtown, gracious Victorian homes, and charming 1800's cottages. One can't help but enjoy the architecture and shoppes in their beautiful National Historic Riverfront District.

Bonaparte had been named the smallest Main Street Community in the United States and in 1996 and was one of just 5 winners in the entire U.S. of the "Great American Main Street Award" But as you can see from the pictures is was still kind of cute and the Des Moines river (which the town sat right beside) was a quick mover and looked as though it could have seen a lot of trade in the cities early days.

A couple of old farmers were talking about the old days in one of the mercantile type shops that we were in. And the experience was like listening to a couple of Mrs. LZ's great uncles talking back in the day!

In spite of a little disappointing visit here, we did manage to have a great time. We just wished we had been there before so many of the other unique stores seemed to have departed.

“The gift of happiness belongs to those who unwrap it.” ~ Andrew Dunbar

2.08.2008 - 22 comments 

Leaving Burlington, Iowa in our rear view mirror, we decided to follow the Great River Bridge over the Mississippi River and into Illinois. As we got over the bridge toward the town of Gulfport, Illinois, we ventured west on highway 34 almost all the way to Biggsville, Illinois and then went south on highway 94.

This turned out to be a very picturesque drive with many corn fields and quaint little towns like Stronghurst, Terre Haute and Lomax along the way. When highway 94 turned into highway 96 it went back West. This brought us back to the Mississippi River again. As we were starting over the trestled bridge over the river, what did we see coming our way but a train with about 100 cars on it?

Where we were sitting at the time, the traffic was blocked and as you may have already guessed, we and the train did not take the same path. We did however take the same bridge. This bridge also spins so that the barges going up and down the river can get by. Little did I know, but Fort Madison is the Mississippi river crossing and station stop for Amtrak's Southwest Chief.

This Fort Madison bridge is also the last remaining double swing-span bridge on the Mississippi River, a top level for cars and a bottom level for trains; it is also the world's largest. You may be able to tell from the photos, but it really was quiet impressive.

When we got to Fort Madison, we went and checked out the old fort (from which) the city got its name. The original Fort Madison, the Midwest's oldest American military garrison on the upper Mississippi River, was erected shortly after the signing of a treaty in 1804, which ceded lands east of the Mississippi to Americans in exchange for $1,000 per year and the condition that the tribes could continue to reside there until the land was surveyed and sold by the U.S. government. But I was a little disappointed to find out that the original Fort Madison was burned to the ground by its own soldiers as they fled from the Native Americans. A replica of the original fort was erected in 1983 and serves as an interactive museum.

About the time we got done checking out the fort, we saw that there was a large barge going up the Mississippi. We quickly went to the highest point around, which happened to be the third floor of a riverboat casino that was docked on the river. We asked the security guard if we could go up to the top deck for a view and he said; "Sure" and then explained to us how to get up there. Of course I had my camera at the ready and tried to capture the bridge turning on its pivot. It was really a joy to watch, even though it seemed like it took forever for it to happen.

According to the Sauk leader Black Hawk, his people did not understand why a fort was being built, and they were told it was for a trader, who could offer them great provisions. The Sauk, due to a promise from Washington, hoped to receive goods from the trader at Fort Madison on credit, but they were denied. This, Black Hawk says, is the reason the Sauk decided to side with the British during the war.

Well... and who can really blame them? But this trip for us was really fun. We saw corn being harvested, we saw very pretty little farms in both Illinois and Iowa that looked like a picture postcard. And... that bridge was very fun.

“People may or may not say what they mean... but they always say something designed to get what they want.” ~ David Mamet