Early Las Vegas Memories

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Sometimes business can turn into pleasure which was the case for me when I conducted some personal business with Helen Holloway and her son Jason.  Helen was born in 1920 and is currently 90 years old.  She was born Helen Blanding, daughter of Harry and Irene Blanding of Las Vegas, Nevada.  Las Vegas is slightly over 2000 feet in elevation and lies on the eastern edge of the Mojave Desert with stands of the Mojave Desert’s signature tree, the Joshua Tree.  This signature tree of the Mojave Desert is dispersed on the landscape surrounding Las Vegas.  Immediately I thought about how nice it would be to hear a few of Helen’s stories so we could share them with DesertUSA readers.  This is Helen’s account of her childhood in Las Vegas from 1920 to 1937.

Helen is now 90 years old and she was only two years old when her father Harry became the commissioner of Las Vegas in 1922.  Local place names at that time were Old Town, which is not the same old town we know of today, the Stock Yard and the Old Ranch which was originally inhabited by Indians.  The Old Ranch part of town was to eventually become a Mormon missionary and what we call Old Town today, Fremont Street was originally where the railroad stopped from Los Angeles.

Her father’s ranch, Blanding Ranch was purchased in 1915, he bought the ranch and farmed organically, he would grow clover & plow it under then grow corn to feed the cattle.  Helen recalls that In the 1920’s the trees were fully matured so they must have already been pretty old by that time.  She also said that her father’s ranch had a pond on the property and it was a great place to play and have picnics, there were 2 wells on the property and it was like a park.  Her father Harry would send a hay wagon to the school once a year in the fall and pick up the whole class to picnic at the ranch.

Another annual occasion that Helen looked forward too was Mrs. Bracken’s Christmas party, Mrs. Bracken had no children and would throw this annual Christmas party for the children of her friends.  Helen used to go to Mt. Charleston resort before she was 10 years old, the resort had rental cabins, a trout farm and a large social center.  The valleys around the resort seemed to always have snow present.  Helen recalls that In 1929/1930 the resort was washed away by a collapsing glacier.  In her high school years Helen recalls that Las Vegas High School football team was the state champions for four or five years from 1934-1938.

Bridge clubs were a popular form of entertainment and socializing.  Friends would get together for social dinners then play poker afterwards.  Helen’s mother Irene was raised in a convent and wasn’t aware of the social stigma of a single girl going to a dance by herself.  Helen’s childhood girlfriend told her mother about Helen being there by herself so the mother called Irene and told her it wasn’t a good idea for Helen to go alone, so Helen’s mother wouldn’t let her go alone any more.  There was one occasion that Helen and a few friends drove out to the desert after they got a hold of some champagne and drank warm champagne out of paper cups at a picnic.

Las Vegas businessmen would grubstake prospectors, one sample from a prospector was a pitchblende so local businessmen staked a claim on uranium.  Helens father was once given a piece of ore, he decided to treat it with acid and he got $70.00 worth of gold out of it. 

As far as gambling, Helen does remember some illegal gambling and then a few small casino’s popped up .  When The Meadows Casino was built, it was the first fancy casino with air conditioning, and it was considered by everyone that the Meadows was built by gangsters, people were concerned about gangsters in the area.  The casino’s were only tolerated by most of the townspeople.  There was also a 9 hole golf course near current day Henderson, they could not afford to maintain grass so all they did was scrape the sage, oil the sand and put in tees, greens and cottonwood trees.

Helen does recall using swamp coolers in the summer and her memories of Hoover Dam being constructed were vivid, she said that everyone was excited about the Dam and the prospect of all the new jobs.  The Dam was built by a conglomerate of six different companies that merged into one called Six Companies because it was so big that one company could not handle this tremendous construction project.  As a result of the Dam construction what they called Soapbox City popped up.  When it was completed everyone drove out to the Dam for the big ceremony , even President Roosevelt came to visit the new Dam and Helen recalled that The President and his entourage got lost in Lees Canyon.

After leaving Vegas her father sold all the farm equipment and started a very successful business in San Bernardino, she has only returned once over 30 years ago but Las Vegas did not seem like home anymore.

Helen was such a pleasure to talk with and to listen to her stories.  Helen is an avid painter and you can see a sample of her work below, the painting is a representation of her family ranch when she was a child.  I hope that if I live my life past the age of 90 that I can be as attentive as her, thanks for the chat Helen.

Take It Easy – Mojave

Life On The Old Ranch (click on picture to enlarge)

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Mojave About Mojave

For the purposes of this blog I call myself Mojave because of my love for the Mojave Desert. I have lived in the Yucca Valley area of the Hi-Desert since 1976, I have always loved our Mojave Desert. My appreciation for the Mojave has grown even more over the years. I am a Career & Technical Education teacher and coordinator at the high school level as well as a part-time college instructor. I also currently serve on the Town of Yucca Valley Planning Commission. In my spare time I enjoy researching desert facts, exploring the desert, geocaching and enjoying the many animals that keep my wife and I very busy.