Sin City. The Wedding Capital of the USA. The City of Second Chances. Whatever you call Las Vegas, it is definitely a city that evokes certain imagery. From it's early days as a Mormon (yup, you read that correctly) settlement to the city of bright lights and big dreams we see today, where fortunes are won and lost on the roll of a dice, the history of Las Vegas, and those who called it home, is absolutely fascinating.
Las Vegas, meaning The Meadows in Spanish, was first first settled by Mexicans and Mormons looking to build a meeting point between New Mexico and Salt Lake City for those adventuring to California to take advantage of the Gold Rush. The town as it was then, was all but abandoned by the 1860s when the Gold Rush had had its day. When the railway arrived in 1905, the small town saw a resurgence in popularity. A shanty town built up around the new railroad, which provided a link between Los Angeles, San Pedro and Salt Lake City, and soon saloons and boarding houses were the haunts of workers. Gambling was actually made illegal in Nevada in 1910, but under-the-table activities still took place in illicit speakeasies.
It wasn't until 1931 when the Las Vegas we are much more familiar with started to emerge. Whilst prohibition was still in place across the United States, three important events happened in the early 1930s that allowed Las Vegas to flourish whilst the rest of the country was still in the grips of the Great Depression. First, the construction of the Hoover Dam meant there was a huge influx of workers to the area, then Gov. Fred Balzar legalised gambling, as well as loosening marriage necessities. People could now get a marriage licence the same day that they applied for it, and divorce was also made easier. Although alcohol was still illegal in the state, this was the start of the era where the only thing in Las Vegas that was a no-no were limits.
I think it is fair to say that when we think of Las Vegas many of us, especially those who are vintage inclined, imagine the glitz and the glamour of the golden age of Sin City during the 1950s and the 1960s. Can-can kicking show girls, Frank Sinatra and his pals crooning at cocktail parties, and rubbing shoulders with the Hollywood elite at the roulette table. It is one of the places on earth where the super famous can be seen, heard and experienced in super opulent surroundings. Although some say that Vegas is wear showbiz goes to retire, there is no denying the effect residencies have on celebrities. From the founding father of them all, Liberace, to Elvis' famous comeback tour until his death in 1976, to more modern times with Celine Dion, Barry Manilow and Cirque de Soleil, residencies have become one of the things to experience in Las Vegas.
Casinos were big business by the early 1950s, and there were some iconic hotel names beginning to spring up up and down Highway 91 - which we now know as The Strip. The city was still very much mob owned, with infamous mobster Bugsy Siegel starting the trend when he built The Flamingo in 1946. By the 1950s, The Sands, The Sahara and The Riviera were pulling in crowds of tourists to Las Vegas. Initially these hotel and casino projects were funded by racketeering and drug trafficking, but soon they began to be funded by Wall Street investors and the Mormon church.
Some came to risk it all at a game of cards, some to see a show and some to start a brand new life. In 1966 billionaire businessman Howard Hughes enjoyed his stay at The Desert Inn so much he decided to buy the hotel. This was the start of the shift from mob-owned to big corporations taking control of the city. By the early 1990s, old Las Vegas was on it's way out, with a lot of The Strip being transformed into the mega-hotel dominated city we know and love today. However, if you know where to look you can still find some of mid-century Vegas, such as the Little Church of the West, nicknamed The Hitching Post, which is the oldest building left on The Strip.
And that brings us nicely onto Las Vegas' other famous trope...
There is a running joke with many couples that they will shake of the conventional norms of the wedding day, and just elope to Vegas one day, but where does that come from? In 1931, along with the legalisation of gambling, Gov. Fred Balzar also loosened marriage regulations. Las Vegas no longer required blood tests from the betrothed couple, and the wait between applying for the marriage licence and walking down the aisle could be as little as one day. The effect of a nearby military base saw marriage licence applications rise from around 5,000 in 1939 to 21,000 by 1941! It's not just us regular folk who get hitched in Las Vegas either. Some very notable celebrities from yesteryear and today have said 'I do' in the City of Sin including Rita Hayworth and Dick Haymes, Sammy Davis Jnr and Lory White, and Demi Moore and Bruce Willis.
In its short history Las Vegas has made such an impact on our culture, whether you are in the vintage world or not. The glitz, glamour and gambling of the city has made it a bucket list destination as well as an inspiration for fashion. There is no doubt that Las Vegas will continue to illuminate the world, and its stars will continue to shine bright.