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It may seem rather odd that the city of Las Vegas has a name that is Spanish for “Fertile Lands” or “The Meadows” since it is thought of by most Americans as an area marked by desert lands. But, it was once a fertile valley containing Artesian wells and lush meadows. Las Vegas became a settlement with the building of the San Pedro, Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad that linked Salt Lake City, Utah, and Los Angeles, California. Some farmers from Utah were attracted to the area, and fresh water was piped into this growing location that was founded as a city in 1905. With the beginning of World War I, however, the railroad was forced to declare bankruptcy because its government funding was redirected to other areas.


The Emergence of Las Vegas

In 1931 the construction of the Boulder Dam, now known as the Hoover Dam, began, and hundreds of male workers came into the Las Vegas area. It was at this time that casinos and theaters were constructed. Gambling, practiced as early as the 1800s by prospectors passing through the area, was legalized. Mafia boss Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel built the first casino in the Flamingo Hotel. With electricity supplied by the dam, construction of new hotels began along what was known as the Strip, with the Mafia financing most of these. Also, with the completion of the Hoover Dam and the formation of the reservoir, Lake Mead, tourists came to the area. The influx of people sparked the construction of better quality hotels. During the late 1950s, several more such as the famous Tropicana, a hotel-casino, were built. The driving force of this construction was “Dandy” Phil Kastel, who had ties to mobster Frank Costello.


Changes to Las Vegas

In 1966, Howard Hughes invested in the area and transformed much of Las Vegas into a family tourist and resort area. The landmark resorts of Hughes’s period, such as the Dunes, the Frontier and Stardust, have been replaced with new hotels, beginning with the Mirage, a luxury casino and hotel developed by Steve Wynn. Other sites such as The Fremont Street Experience, a $70-million canopy that provides visitors with a spectacular light and sound show, has replaced old hotels and casinos. Nevertheless, some buildings remain, though transformed. One landmark building is the Las Vegas Post Office and Courthouse that is now the Mob Museum where tourists can see the historic courtroom, visit a speakeasy and even book a private event there.