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Transcript of interview with Alice Cowles Brown by Eric M. Cheese, March 31, 1981







Eric M. Cheese interviews University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) librarian Alice Cowles Brown at the UNLV Campus Library. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 10th, 1919, Brown moved to Henderson, Nevada in 1956. This interview offers an overview of life in Las Vegas and Henderson from 1956 to 1981. Brown also discusses road conditions, social structures, the educational system, support for intercollegiate sports and UNLV.

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Alice Cowles Brown oral history interview, 1981 March 31. OH-00260. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 1 Interview with Alice Cowles Brown An Oral History Conducted by Eric M. Cheese Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 2 The Oral History Research Center (OHRC) was formally established by the Board of Regents of the University of Nevada System in September 2003 as an entity of the UNLV University Libraries’ Special Collections Division. The OHRC conducts oral interviews with individuals who are selected for their ability to provide first-hand observations on a variety of historical topics in Las Vegas and Southern Nevada. The OHRC is also home to legacy oral history interviews conducted prior to its establishment including many conducted by UNLV History Professor Ralph Roske and his students. This legacy interview transcript received minimal editing, such as the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader's understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. The interviewee/narrator was not involved in the editing process. UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 3 Abstract Eric M. Cheese interviews University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) librarian Alice Cowles Brown at the UNLV Campus Library. Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on March 10th, 1919, Brown moved to Henderson, Nevada in 1956. This interview offers an overview of life in Las Vegas and Henderson from 1956 to 1981. Brown also discusses road conditions, social structures, the educational system, support for intercollegiate sports and UNLV. UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 4 (Tape begins mid-sentence) Cheese—and I’m interviewing Miss Alice Brown, a librarian, at the University of Nevada- Las Vegas. Miss Brown, where did you live before you came to Las Vegas? And why did you pick this spot to live? I had been living with my family up in Tacoma, Washington, and my five year old son had rheumatic fever. The doctor suggested a drier climate might be better. So, my husband, who was a chemist had been looking for a job, and found one out at the old manganese plant, which has now burned down, but on the road out to Lake Mead from Henderson. What was Las Vegas like when you came? Well, when we arrived it was the first part of June. We came through Death Valley, which was a mistake, of course. We had arranged for, to rent a house in Henderson. But he couldn’t remember where the address was. So, we went out to the plant. Manganese is a black ore, so here we were in 100 degree heat, going out to a place that was all covered with black dirt—was not very appetizing. (Laughs) We did later found a house and then found our furniture hadn’t arrived. So, we spent the first two weeks in Boulder City. What was some of the major attractions—that you saw around the university, when you first came? The university didn’t really exist when we first came. It was a couple years before they had any building at all out here on the campus. In Las Vegas the Dunes was there. The old El Rancho Vegas, the Sahara, the Flamingo, I think the Tropicana was built after we came. We went out to the Strip sometimes and looked around. We didn’t go to too many shows. We used to sample the restaurants, sample the cheesecake in the restaurants. Judge them by their cheesecake. (Laughs) UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 5 Talking about the Strip and all, could you give me a picture of what the Downtown section looked like? Well, the Downtown, there were the old Las Vegas Club—the Fremont Hotel I think was built after that. So, you had the Horseshoe and the Golden Nugget and some of the Las Vegas Club and the older clubs around there, most of which had disappeared. The Fremont and The Mint came much later. The Union Plaza was still a railroad station. Okay. Talking of employment in Las Vegas, how did you come about getting the job at the university? Well, when I came down I had two children. I had two more and as they got about ready to go to school I decided to look around for a job. And I had been a children’s librarian up in Tacoma, where—but I asked around for about a job as a children’s librarian and they didn’t really know what I was talking about. And after inquiring around I found out they didn’t have any professional librarians in the public libraries, and then anywhere in the state. So, if I wanted to be a professional librarian and work in Nevada, I had to go to work for the university. So, I started asking there and happened to be lucky enough to come at a time when the reference librarian wanted to work just half-time, because she was expecting a baby. So, from being a children’s librarian I quickly became a reference and documents librarian. Okay. When you got this job where did you meet? Where was your interview at? At that time we were in the second building, which is Grant Hall. And the library was there, where the art gallery is now. Where the workroom at the north end of the art gallery was, was the librarian’s office. Something about, oh, perhaps it measured 10 by 20. And in that office was the librarian, his secretary, the catalogue librarian, and her desk, and an order librarian at a table. UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 6 And the sink where the coffee pot was and where they washed out the pens or anything else they were using to process the books. Living in Henderson, outside of Las Vegas, did you see any growth or expansion in Las Vegas? Well, when we first, when I first drove up to the university, when we were coming there, the university, the two buildings, well, by that time there were four. Because there was Grant was the second building. The first one of course was Frazier and Grant and the old gym, which is now the museum, and the science building, which is now the geoscience building. But outside of that there was no landscaping. There was nothing in the square block between Tropicana and Flamingo and Maryland Parkway and Paradise, but the library. There was nothing across Maryland Parkway. No buildings. If you wanted—if you didn’t bring your lunch and wanted to eat you went up, the closest place was Sahara, at the corner of Sahara and Maryland Parkway. Where the old, I think there still is a Chinese restaurant there. I’m not sure what the students did. Whether they starved all day or whether they brought their lunches, because there was no, there were no food facilities on campus. There just was no place to eat. Once in a while, if you felt very wealthy, you went over to the Country Club at the Tropicana and ate there. But otherwise, you brought it or you starved. Now knowing that everybody once had a little bit of difficulty, did you suffer though any of this? Well, not really too much. It was different certainly. The weather was certainly different from western Washington, where it’s cool and green all the time. I don’t remember our suffering too much from the heat, because you stayed inside, where you had some either air conditioning or swamp coolers. We had a swamp cooler for several years. They worked until the Valley got UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 7 overpopulated. Between Henderson and Las Vegas, when I first started here, there was almost no building. I’ve seen it grown up since then. Of course, Tropicana was not known as Tropicana, either, then, it was Bond Road. All of the—that was before they renamed all the streets that connect up with the hotels, for the hotels. And they all had different names. Sahara was San Francisco. And I don’t even remember if—whether Desert Inn had always been that or not. And I don’t remember what Flamingo was. (Laughs) But there were no buildings on any of those. There were a few—the houses out close to the airport on Maryland Parkway, south of here, were, are old. They were still there. They were there then. But that was really country. Maryland Parkway, as I remember, it was about two lanes. There was a restaurant that was built across Maryland Parkway, from the university and called Pierre’s College Inn. But they hoped to get a liquor license. The legislature looked at it and decided that the laws which say that there can be no beer or spirits sold within 500 feet of a school applied to the university as well. So, they didn’t get their liquor and beer license. And they only lasted for a year or two and then they folded and the building has been used for a lot of things since then. I think it’s an insurance agency now. Did you experience any of the gambling scene? Well, back in the days, when the first, when The Mint first opened, which was a few years after we’d been here, The Mint and the Fremont. When our children were small, we used to get a babysitter and go down and play the slot machines and earn enough to pay the babysitter, at times. Neither my husband nor I gambled very much, used the crap table or played blackjack much. Part of the reason was that he had lived in California before we moved here and had come over to Las Vegas many times. That was before we were married. And he lost a lot of money, UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 8 then. He decided he couldn’t afford to do it now. (Laughs) So, he didn’t gamble much, except for a few slots and Keno. Living out in Henderson do you feel that Henderson is an outgrowth of Las Vegas? No. Henderson has its own origins and it’s a different kind of community than Las Vegas, because it always has been working man’s community. Henderson was built around the plants that were originally started during the war and which were later—the area was later bought by the state, and then sold or leased to the companies that have them now. So, it’s always been an industrial town. And has, the people have a different kind of focus. It’s just a working man’s town, small town, which it still is. You had, when we came the hospital was there, the Catholic hospital, and attached to it was the Henderson Clinic, which had four doctors in it. And that was about all the doctors there were. So, everybody went to the clinic. You didn’t have to worry about which doctor you were going to. You took whichever doctor was free, although, you usually got the same one. The schools, when we first moved there, there were two schools. Later they added two more elementary schools. Where it was, always been one junior high and one high school. Because of this there has not been, they didn’t have the integration problems that they did in the schools in Las Vegas. Because everybody had to go by junior high, anyway, everybody was going to an integrated school. They couldn’t escape it. However, the housing there was very much sectionalized. It has not been too many years that it’s been possible for any black people to buy a house in Henderson. They were segregated in Pittman and in one of the housing projects that was built during the war, when the town first started. There are a lot of Spanish speaking people there. They did not get along too well with black people. They tried sending them both to the same elementary school one year and I don’t think it lasted a whole year. They didn’t mix very well. UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 9 Could you tell me a little bit more about the school in Henderson? The schools in Henderson were the two of them, on the west side, what I call the west side of the highway. I guess it’s northwest—served the older section of Henderson. The schools on the other side were serving the newer section and the small units, which hadn’t been built, low cost housing units, which had been built during the war. In one of those units were mixture of people. The other one was the one that I mentioned where black children were allowed in. And when they built the new school—that’s the one that my children went to and that’s the one that was across from Carver Park—where they had a mixture of, heavy population from Nellis Air Force Base, because it was low cost housing. That school was always a very good school. The principals went on, moved on up to Las Vegas. I don’t know what more I can say about them there. They are stricter, I think the junior highs and the high schools have always been a little stricter in some things than the schools in Las Vegas have. When you took the—when you went to high school and if you were taking a college preparatory course you were prepared. You had papers which some of the English 101 students here would shudder at. (Laughs) Is that the type of thing you wanted to know? Could you tell me something about this library? Well, this library, I have been digging into the history of it a little bit. The first place that this library was, was in, what would now be a corner of the registrar’s office in Frazier Hall. Then when Grant Hall was built they had one quarter of the first floor of Grant Hall, what is now where the art gallery is. Then in 1961, they finished the first floor our building that we’re in now. Four years later they added the other two stories. When I first came to the library, there was a librarian and a catalogue librarian and a reference librarian and three clerks and some student assistants. Our staff has grown some now, and I’ve sort of moved around with it. I started out as UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 10 reference and documents, half-time. Because I was just working half-time. Then the girl that was working the other half-time stayed for just a year after that. Her husband was out at Nellis Air Force Base and he moved on as the Army personnel do. So, then I took over the job first, full-time. And I was reference, documents, circulation everything like that. Gradually we—as we grew and as the university grew, we needed more staff, so people sort of moved in around me. And I’ve sort of wound up with the documents end of it. How about extracurricular activities? Are there any—were there in the school system back then? Yes. When I first came to the university we did have a basketball team. I think basketball because it takes a smaller number of people is often the first sport to start. I believe for years it was the only intercollegiate program they had. Although, perhaps golf and tennis. But they weren’t as—they didn’t have as much support from the community. But the basketball games have always had. Even when they were played in the old gym, which is now the museum, which was also the only auditorium we had where we had graduation and everything else. But we had a good basketball team even back then. We never quite made it to the NIT, but back in the early days when we almost did, we had some very good teams back there—by our standards, by the standards of the size of the school. The other program, which has always been strong here, has been the theater. They were producing plays in, from the very early days, and have always had a good theater program, with support from the community. Of course, in those days it was the only opportunity to see anything live on the stage, other than some high school presentations. And back in those days there were only four high schools in Las Vegas too. There weren’t as many. (Laughs) Wasn’t football or baseball popular in the UNLV system, school system? UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 11 I think football started about ten years ago, baseball perhaps a little before there, that, as intercollegiate sports. They did have intermural fraternity games and things of that sort. But football takes a larger population then we had up until about ten years ago. How about girls? Weren’t they involved in any of the sports? Not intercollegiate athletics. That has also been only about perhaps less than ten years. I’m not sure. But the program of intercollegiate sports for the girls has been very slow in starting. Who made up the majority of the population of the community around UNLV? Well, there were, of course your hotels and their supporting people, but around here the, as housing began to build up, around in the university area, a lot of it was occupied by people who worked either at the test site or for some of the support companies, Reynold’s Electric, EG&G. And because these were technical people and with college education they were interested in the university, they supported it. They wanted to use the facilities, especially the library. At that time the public library was in the city. There was a city library where they did charge a fee for anybody who did not own property in the city. So, we had all of these people that lived around us, that really did not have any library service. Their library down there was small and it didn’t have the type of materials they were looking for. And when they came around, when somebody started a petition for, to have a county library, believe me, we pushed it. Tell me something about the city systems, the civil systems. How were they conducted, if you know? Well, the county and the city has always been separate. (Laughs) All the entities in Las Vegas Valley have always seemed to be jealous. As in Henderson, the plants are outside the city. So, they don’t have to pay the city taxes. In Las Vegas the hotels, big hotels are mostly outside the city. So, they don’t have to pay city taxes. They would rather be in the county where they figure UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 12 they can control their expenses better, I believe. So, there always been the two separate segments of government, the Las Vegas and the Clark County. The police are merged now. There has been talk for years of merging the city with the county, bringing one area or another in. There also has been talk of merging with North Las Vegas. There has not been the push to merge with Henderson. That’s not quite built up out there. (Laughs) But within about five years you probably won’t be able to tell the difference between Henderson and Las Vegas. So, there may be one government for all of the Valley, soon. Could you tell me about some of the police enforcement back in ’59, ’57? I don’t know much about it, because I didn’t really run into it much. Henderson has always had their own police department and I don’t believe that back in that time there really was very much in the way of county, the county sheriff’s department probably did not have much in the way of law enforcement people. The university I think probably almost from the beginning did have their own security force. Back in those days their security force was one man, I believe, who went around the whole campus and tried to keep it in order. We didn’t really have too much problem. There was during the ‘60s. We had our spell along with a lot of other places, of bomb scares. We had four or five bomb threats in the library. We never, there never were any found. We didn’t have any problems with them. But we had to clear the libraries several times. Another one of the interesting things then was that they were building a lot of the building around in this area. And they kept cutting the electric cables. So, the building would go dark rather frequently. Unfortunately, sometimes it was right before exams. There was no way of getting the lights back on, if they had cut a cable it would be—it was gonna be a day. So, we would ask that everybody clear out. If you’ve ever been in the building when it was dark—the first floor has no windows. So, we had a lot of people there and the only light would be through the doors. Which don’t open UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 13 directly into the reading room. You’d feel your way to one of the outside alarm doors and one of the exit doors and open that, so people could see to get out. And we’ve had students begging us to let them stay and study. Because back in those days there wasn’t any place—there was no place nearby, no student union, no dorm. If they lived in a crowded house on the other side of town, this was their only place to study, the library. The opening of the casinos must’ve brought a lot of people to Las Vegas. I mean, started a lot of construction. Could you tell me about that? Well, of course there were some when we came. There were several of them, of the large hotels. But as they grew, yes. There were more. And the warehousing for the service of the hotels, when we came there was none of that. There was hardly anything in the way of warehouses or industrial buildings west of the railroad. So, all of that was new, since then. Of course the roads were, and the highways, it was a big highway, when you went down the Strip. That was the highway to Los Angeles, all the way down, two lanes. Rather slow, not like the nice freeway that’s there now. And of course in all directions it was that way, out towards the Salt Lake too—course that has not been finished into a four lane freeway for very many years, especially the last segment of it. But people drove the speeds that they did before the speed limit went in there, because there was not much other traffic on the road. It seems like every time, it still seems like, every time you don’t go down a street or don’t go in an area for two or three months all of a sudden there’s five new apartment complexes or a new hotel that you hadn’t even heard about and didn’t even dream was going up in there. The housing is rather a boom or bust situation in Las Vegas. There are spells when they overbuild and they’re empty houses. And then there are spells when they have underbuilt, then they’ll slack off and there won’t be enough houses. I think it’s been a good number of years before they’ve really been overbuilt. They can’t UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 14 keep up with it nowadays. But it used to be that there would be the boom or bust in the housing areas. But everything, a lot of people don’t realize how many bodies it takes to run one of those large hotels. If you look at the figures and that they employ a thousand people and then stop to think that that thousand people has to, each of those has to have a place to live. Some of them, many of them will have families. Then they have to have grocery stores, other stores, department stores, and all the places that they need and so it is a widening, ever widening circle, every time you built it, bring in a new hotel with their many employees. And the schools of course they have grown in number— probably tripled in number and in size or size since I moved here 25 years ago. Many other services, too. We thought it was a big deal when they built the Boulevard Mall. Boulevard Mall is out of fashion now. It’s old hat to most people. It’s just a small one. And that was the first mall, really the first shopping center that was built around here. The coming of the tourists did increase the jobs for a lot of people right? Yes. The tourist business was. Of course— (Tape one ends) Okay. Could you start over again about the tourist? There are tourist attractions besides the hotels. The dam has always been a tourist attraction. Which is perhaps, was one of the big things when you read about some of the attractions they had at the dam before Las Vegas was really a city, how many people came to visit. And then when you read the figures on there million, and people that come to visit it every year you know that is an attraction. Mount Charleston, of course has always been a nice place to go more for the locals, perhaps than for other people. And the shows have been, I know, before we were married, when my husband was living in California, he used to come up to Las Vegas. He came up for the UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 15 opening of the Flamingo. And so, the tourist business has been going on for a long time. I think with the increased airplane travel, that has made a boom out of it. How about other tourist attractions like Death Valley or old Nevada? Course old Nevada is very new. (Laughs) Death Valley, yes—and people going to the Grand Canyon, too. If somebody is going to the Grand Canyon and Death Valley, they will frequently go through Las Vegas, because it’s on the way, if they’re driving. I think there used to be trains, and the train service was stopped for about, oh, 15 years, I think, before they started up again, with their one train a day. I know we went on a train up through, up to Denver, one time. The only problem was you got on and had to change in Ogden, Utah, at 2:00 A.M., which is not very good. But that’s about the way they’re running Amtrak now, too. You don’t get off or get on get a decent hour it seems like. (Laughs) But the improvement of the roads, of course, made a big difference. When they built the freeways, it shortened the time from a lot of places, not only from Los Angeles but from places to the east, too. And that’s been a big boom. And some of the other things that could be tourist attractions—I think the tourist don’t hear about, don’t know about, like Valley of Fire is one of my favorite places. And there are a lot of other interesting and cool little spots around. What would people do for recreation? Well, the lake was, you went out to the lake quite frequently. We took the kids out there, went swimming. Lot of people go out there fishing. In the winter time we would take them because it was closer we wouldn’t go up to Mount Charleston always. We would go up to Mountain Springs, which is out Mountain Pass, up by, on the road over to Pahrump. Where you usually could find snow, if you could see it, if you could see snow on Potosi, if you went up to Mountain Pass, you could find it there, up where there’s a state park, which has picnic tables, and nothing UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 16 else, no other facilities. We used to take them up there to play in the snow. We have had, twice since we’ve been here, twice in the 25 years we’ve been here, we’ve had snow that stayed on the ground long enough for, to get out and really play in it. Has there been any really major tragedies? Not really. There, the floods that have, there have been some of the floods, that if we had lived in Las Vegas, were tragedies in Las Vegas. The last one we had that caused major damage in Henderson was about two years before we came here. It washed out all the lawns and the tract where we happened to live. In Las Vegas there has been besides the ones recently where there were mostly property damage, there have been several tragedies. I know, it was perhaps 10 or 15 years ago that a small boy was playing in a ditch and got drowned in one of the tunnels under the Boulder Highway, got caught up against a—one of the screens there. And just, the water was covering him. And I think there were more of those. As the floods go on, they don’t come very often, but every time, just like fires, they improve something to make them less dangerous the next time. What is your overall opinion of Las Vegas? Well, it’s hard to say, I think I can live practically anywhere. I’m not sure that I, how long I will stay here, after I retire. I may move someplace else. I’m not all that fond of the heat. But it’s not a bad place to live. I might like someplace better that’s all. Could you tell me where you live in Henderson? I live in what used to be called Valley View. It’s on the right hand side of the road going out towards the lake, when you turn at the light, the first main light in Henderson. And it’s changed a little bit since, when we first came there were two types of houses, other than the apartments. There were two main houses, and it was very easy for repairmen, because they knew you either UNLV University Libraries Alice Cowles Brown 17 had a town side house or you had a house that was like tract two house. There were the tract two and the Valley View houses were all built the same. And the old wooden town side houses were all the same. In other words, they may be have been set differently on the lot, a few of them had, some of them may have had two bedrooms and some three, but essentially it was the same house plan, all over the city. There were just those two house plans. Since then, of course, they have built many in many other areas and places where they used to have a gravel pit and mine gravel and sand is now about I think where the new high school is. And it’s built up all around there. There are houses where the dogs used to chase the jackrabbits and—(Laughs) Henderson has grown tremendously, as well as Las Vegas. Well, thank you very much Miss Brown. I have been interviewing Miss Alice Cowles Brown of 104 Beech Street, Henderson. My name is Eric Cheese, I live at 8208 Ducharme. And the date is March 31st, 1981. The interview is taking place in the university library. (Tape ends)