Garrett, Elton Interview, 1981 March 1. OH-02064. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
Standardized Rights Statement
UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett i An Interview with Elton M. Garrett An Oral History Conducted by Alan Gurwitz Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas Special Collections and Archives Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada, Las Vegas UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2017 UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett iii 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 Elton Garrett iv Abstract On March 1, 1981, Alan Gurwitz interviewed Elton Garrett (born 1902 in St. Joseph, Missouri) about his experiences in Southern Nevada and more specifically his work in Boulder City. Garrett first talks about the development of Boulder City from its inception in 1931 and how it has grown throughout nearly fifty years. He also discusses his work in journalism for the Boulder City Journal, the building of Boulder Dam, and atomic testing at the Nevada Test Site. The second part of the interview involves a discussion of the founders of Nevada Southern University, Garrett’s work on legislative committees, and his work as a schoolteacher and school principal. The interview concludes with Garrett’s thoughts on the future of Boulder City and its continued growth. UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 1 You’re Elton Garrett from Boulder City. I live in Boulder City now, that is correct. I’ve been here since the town started. In 1931? 1931. Okay, you were telling me before, I guess one of the things that really interested me was you talked with Howard Hughes; can you tell me about that again? When Howard Hughes crashed in Lake Mead, I learned of the accident and got in on it early as an editor of the Boulder City News, and I learned that he was in a motel in Boulder City. I did go to that motel. When I knocked, a helper of his came to the door; I told him I was with the newspaper and INS. The helper said, “Sorry, he’s indisposed. He’s had an accident.” I said, “I know he’s had an accident; I would like to talk to him about the details of it so that my stories will be correct and not just pick up from hither and yon.” And I think he would probably want to talk with me, if he was famous to him—he went out—Howards Hughes came out shortly with bandages a bit, but able to talk. I interviewed him and wrote the story, a one-column story, in the tabloid-size Boulder City News of those days, and over the wire I sent the story. The other man who did not survive the crash who went to the bottom of the lake with the ship, of course, perished. Howard Hughes and one other man survived the crash. One had been taken from the crash before it sank. Howard Hughes stayed with the plane till the boat that rescued the one man came back and rescued him. The ship sank, and one man, as I say, died in it. Did he mention how come the plane crashed? Was it mechanical, or was it pilot error, or? I don’t remember the details. It was purely an accident, of course. This did not embitter Howard Hughes as yet about newspaper people. There was another problem a few years later that did embitter him and kept him away from the newspaper people, as you probably heard. UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 2 Okay. Let’s see, that was Howard Hughes—was that the Boulder City, the hotel right over here that they’re renovating? It was not at the hotel. It was one of the early motels out on the highway that he was situated in, and I interviewed him. Okay, can you tell me something about, like, what the hotels’ and what some of the motels’ accommodations were like back then? Yes, I can. In the early days of Boulder City, two motels were built out the highway where Nevada Inn still is, is a refinement of what was the original Boulder City Auto Cart. The Lake Auto Cart was built across the street from it—Kevin’s, they have been bulldozed down within the last couple of years and replaced with First Western Plaza. After those two motels, there were no others for a long time. P.S. Webb, commonly known as Jim Webb, built the original Builder’s Supply in Boulder City out the highway and ran that business during the early days while the dam was being built. Jim Webb built, later, the Boulder Dam Hotel. He built the west half of it first. The people who financed it saw the value of the hotel and soon wanted the other half built, which includes the east half with the dining room. When that was built, it was complete as it is today. The hotel was very well-used by people interested in the construction of the dam, and in Lake Mead National Recreation Area as it developed as Boulder City’s hinterland. Famous people came there; Grand Canyon Boulder Dam Tours was organized eventually. Do you remember about what year this is? This would be in the middle or late 1930s. Grand Canyon Boulder Dam Tours had several partners, including G.E. Ruckstell, the inventor of the Ruckstell Axle, which was installed in Ford cars back in those days to give them a better gearshift. Ruckstell poured money into this corporation, along with other people. The corporation had not only the hotel but also daily UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 3 airplane flights from our airstrip here to Grand Canyon. The company built two airports: one at the south rim and one at the north rim. These daily flights used too much gas in proportion to the number of patrons they had, and despite the fact that the corporation had the boat dock and the boats on Lake Mead, and a taxi service, the tourist service that they organized was a head of its time and failed. Eventually, the airline was folded up. Other people took over the boat dock concession with the boats on Lake Mead, operated by the National Park Service. The hotel was continued as a separate operation; for many years, it was successful. The dining rooms operated by various people. As time went on, after the dam was finished, there were times that the hotel was not as successful. Other motels were built eventually, and the traffic finding motels on the highway did not fill up the hotel as well as it had been filled in the past. The hotel has been reactivated recently by Senator McCorkle and others, and during this fifty-year anniversary of the starting of Boulder City, the hotel has blossomed into a good, viable operation again. Okay. You mentioned that it’s your fiftieth anniversary. Of the town, yes. Of the start of the city—that revolved all around the dam, right? Yes. Boulder City was built specifically to house the people building the dam. There were people in Las Vegas who would have liked to have had the population there, the people who were doing the job, but officials of the Department of the Interior decided to build a new town. So they planned it and built it here on the desert. And did you have anything to do with the planning of the town or any of the layouts, or did—? I did the writing and editing of the news stories from before the start of the construction through the first couple of years of the construction of the dam. I was editor of the Boulder City Journal, UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 4 which was the Boulder City edition of the Las Vegas Review Journal. We handled out of this office in Boulder City news, advertising, circulation of the paper to around 1200 homes, and even job hunting. So, you knew, let’s say, most of the town and what happened around here in the early years and still stood it— I knew it by writing the stories of the construction of various buildings as they were built, as the town shaped up. I shaped it up on the typewriter along with the fellows who did the job. What prompted you to come to Nevada—you came from Seattle—what prompted you to come to Las Vegas and the Boulder area from where you came? After graduation at the University of Washington, I spent most of the year as copyreader on the Seattle P.I. I decided I wanted to travel instead of letting my legs atrophy under the desk of a newspaper; at my age at that time, I felt the need for action—I decided to travel the year. At the end of that year, I came to this area specifically to get into newspaper work and writing, knowing that this project was a good magnet for many types of expertise from all around the world—engineering expertise, political, science, even photography and the arts, journalism—I knew this would be a good spot for developing into writing. And it has? And it has. And you blossomed and did pretty well. How about, tell me about some of the big stories that you might have covered or some events you might remember from either covering it in the newspaper or just hearing about it, living through it? Franklin Delano Roosevelt dedicated the dam; that was a good story. When the four diversion tunnels, each fifty feet in diameter— UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 5 On the dam, right? On the dam, were finished, I had stepped over into school administration work in Boulder City and was no longer doing newspaper work. I did have such contact with school authorities that I was asked to do certain chores for the school people of Southern Nevada at times. And one of those was, during a teachers institute—the diversion tunnels had just been finished—we conceived among us the idea that it would be good if all the teachers coming from all over the state of Nevada for the teachers institute could have the privilege of seeing the dam project—how could they see it? Possibly by driving through the tunnel; it had just been finished, we knew it was possible for an automobile to drive through the smoothly surfaced tunnel, smooth concrete. We knew that cars had been forbidden. The general public could not do this before, but I did manage to get permission from the Bureau of Reclamation inspectors in charge and Six Companies, Incorporated. They’re the ones that built it, right? That’s right. Six Companies builders of the dam with Frank Crowe as general superintendent gave permission for this caravan to go through that tunnel. Now, when news stories were published about this permission having been granted, the public in Las Vegas, which was about the same size as Boulder City in those days. A couple, 6,000 or so? Six or 7,000, yes. People in Las Vegas read about this; here, it was their first opportunity to get a mole’s eye view of what Boulder Dam was doing in getting ready to kick the river out of bed and put it through the four diversion tunnels so they could scoop out the rock and muck where the base of the dam would go down to bedrock. So, the trip was made, and the teachers led the UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 6 parade, but many, many more automobiles loaded with the public came along with the teachers, and it was a tremendous caravan. Was it, pose any danger to the spillways, or—? No, it was handled by federal rangers who were in charge of traffic, and no accidents, no problems. Did they get what they—they learn a lot, or get what they came for? Oh, yes. They had a view of the canyon from down in the canyon, and of course, there were other ways to see the project from viewpoints up above, and those who were able to do what were able to do that, too. The spillways, are those the same things that were, were those the thirty-foot in diameters or large enough to hold the train or whatever, or were those— The thirty-foot diameter segments of pipe that you saw were made for the, not for the diversion tunnels—those were fifty feet in diameter—but for the penstocks, the pipes that were fabricated by Babcock and Wilcox, and you saw one in the movie a bit ago— Yeah (unintelligible). Being hauled on a dolly down the highway toward the dam, you saw it dangling out on a cable—those were thirty feet in diameter and were put end to end in the tunnel to take water through the tunnel. Babcock and Wilcox fabricated those. After they finished their job, that building lingered for a long time, but eventually it was torn down. Or the Babcock and Wilcox is no longer there? Yes, that building was located about halfway down to the dam. It’s not standing at all now? UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 7 It is gone, replaced by another structure now. You speak of interesting stories. One interesting story involves, of course, our hinterland, Lake Mead, which is a fisherman’s goal and a lake for water skiing, boating, fishing. We did, at one time, organize and stage the Gold Cup Race on Lake Mead. It took a countywide effort of many organizations collaborating with the National Park Service authorities who have their office across the street here. The superintendent of the National Park Service attended many meeting working with chambers of commerce, sportsman’s associations, and others. And it was a successful race. Was that powerboat, speedboat racing? Oh yes, speedboat. That has been long the kingpin of people racing in America. But the wind came up; the last part of the occasion was not successful, so we never did get to go cup race again. Oh, you never did? A lot of Boulder City’s—especially when I started—was the income and everything was based on the people that lived and worked on the dam project, ‘cause it’s— Entirely, yes. The financing of the town was such that the federal government planned it, built the town, operated it with a city manager named Sim Zeeley. He had charge of everything about running the town, and the money came from Congress appropriations; Congress appropriated the money to build the dam, and the town people who were working for the government paid rent to live in a government house so long as there were enough government houses to take care of them. The rest, others, built some homes on lots that they leased. The company built hundreds of houses and rented those to their workers. You’ve seen those on the movie this afternoon. When the dam was finished and a lot of the people were going home and everything, did the town suffer any kind of setback economically, or? UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 8 Definitely, the town dropped to a population of about 2,500, and the Salt Lake City Newspaper ran a story about Boulder City being razed, R-A-Z-E-D—well, there were people in Boulder City who decided we were going to stay and— Keep the town— Build it back up, especially with tourism, someday probably industry. I am looking through this door at the first anniversary edition of the Boulder City Journal, an eight-page newspaper which I placed on the wall. A copy of that newspaper will give you the details of an editorial that I wrote wherein I predicted that industry would appreciate the electric power that should be available here, that tourism and some types of light industry could enhance the future of this town, along with, of course, the people operating the turbines for the dam. And now, mostly, it’s based on tourism and people passing through on the dam, and— Tourism has helped the town constantly. It’s a hometown with people operating the power turbines, and region three of the Bureau of Reclamation—on other words, this is originally a Bureau of Reclamation town and has continued to be. Added to that, tourism and people who commute to Las Vegas and nearby Henderson, then retired people, have come because they see Boulder City as a quality town. Yeah, I’ve noticed that it’s quiet and it’s a very nice town. It’s very unique—maybe not unique. Yes, it is unique. There has never been a town created exactly as this one was, and there are things about Boulder City that are totally different, although Grand Coulee sampled some of the benefits of knowing about Boulder City. Grand Coulee was created later by the Bureau of Reclamation. Another dam downstream? UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 9 Another dam in the state of Washington, yes. Oh, so they benefited from the knowledge in everything that—and what happened here, they grew out of that. And Page, Arizona later was built upstream above Grand Canyon, similarly by the Bureau of Reclamation. Can you tell me anything, remember anything about—I totally switched subjects, I guess—about the first nuclear or atomic blast that they had here or anything that, when Air Force, Nellis, moved in, or? When the first atomic blasts were planned and took place, many of us went from town to Railroad Pass about dawn and took pictures of some of the first blasts. I remember getting a very good picture of the mushroom cloud over along the first blasts. Many Boulder City men who had run out of work elsewhere committed to the Test Site, worked on the Test Site. From working on the dam, they went out to the Test Site—that was their next job or whatever? Some, yes. Of course, those who built the dam had been long gone, unless they stayed to help with the operation of the dam, or for other reasons. But the Bureau of Mines had come into Boulder City. The Bureau of Mines? The Bureau of Mines set up an experiment station in Boulder City and the National Park Service. These three government agencies all contributed to Boulder City’s economy, plus tourism, plus the retired people. A lot of retired people came here? UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 10 There are more and more; as fast as houses are built, retired people do like to come and move into Boulder City. What is it that you remember best from being here, like, it sticks out most in your mind? Well, one thing that I remember the best continuously and indelibly is the way the people of this town in organizations team up to do jobs, civic jobs—many that the Bureau of Reclamation, federal government, could not do or did not do. We organized the cemetery association and founded a cemetery when Uncle Sam could not do it. We petitioned for a library tax so our inadequate library could be made more fully viable so we could have adequate books and periodicals and a full-time librarian instead of a part-time librarian. We organized the recreation association— What did that do? The recreation association sponsored baseball, many kinds of sports— Like a parks program-type thing for youths and? For youth and somewhat for adults, too. The recreation association still exists, and we had a wonderful membership and still have sponsorship of baseball teams every summer for both youngsters and adults working with the Boulder City Recreation Department, which is also the—now you have asked me what I remember the most. Getting the college started in Las Vegas—we tried to get it started in Boulder City and failed. We tried ten years later and succeeded with the help of a lot of Clark County people in an organization called the Clark County Civic Service Federation. We then succeeded and got the university started; it landed in Vegas instead of Boulder City— [Recording cuts out] UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 11 James Dickinson was the first administrator for the new university, the second institution of higher learning in the state of Nevada, when it was set up in Las Vegas. And schoolrooms in the high school were first used—Jim Dickinson taught English and developed a faculty as fast as the funding and housing were possible. Frazier Hall came later—Maude Frazier was very important in creating the legislation for the founding of the university. You knew these people personally? I knew Maude Frazier very well from 1929 till her death, yes. What about, let’s see, we have a Flora Dungan—did you know her? I have known Flora Dungan; she came later in the legislature. I have not known her as well as I knew Maude Frazier. Oh, you were just personal acquaintances, or business? Well, I did substitute teaching in Maude Frazier’s Las Vegas High School a few times while I was in newspaper work, in Las Vegas waiting for this town of Boulder City to get started. I knew Maude Frazier when we went to Carson City to get legislation passed to set up the teachers’ retirement law for the State of Nevada. This was in the early 1930s before Boulder City was started. Maude Frazier was the author of the idea and the development of it. She invited me to ride to Carson City with her as a newspaperman—I went. I think she needed someone who could help her if she needed a tire change on the way or something of that kind, but— You drove all the way up there? We drove up and back; she drove her car. What were the roads like at all? Well, it took much longer in those days to drive it than it does now. Much of it was paved, but not all. Now, when we were in Carson City, she worked with the legislators, and there were UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 12 lobbyists working to try to get the retirement system set up with private funding, but Maude Frazier won the battle and go the retirement setup established, and it exists yet to this day. Oh. You said you were principal at a local school here, is that where you are? Did you ever doing anything for the school (unintelligible) Southern University, Southern Nevada, or have anything to do with the administration, have anything there? Well, so far as the administration is concerned, no. My work of attempting with other people to get it established in Boulder City, and ten years later working towards the legislation—with Maude Frazier in the legislature, she needed backing, and we supplied that to her as chairman of the education committee of the Nevada State Assembly. She needed backing; we gave her ample backing. We, meaning—? And against the opposition of some people in Reno who did not feel the need for Southern Nevada to have a college. She was able to develop enough strength in the legislature with our backing to get it done. You being, what group where you were? Clark County Civic Service Federation, which had a legislative outgrowth called the Clark County Legislative Council for thee terms of the legislature. This Clark County Legislative Council worked through committees—we had forty or so organizations from all over Southern Nevada meeting every week during the legislature, with committees screening various kinds of legislation. We had a fish and game committee, we had an education committee—right on down the line, each facet of legislation, we had a committee. That committee would see what Clark County people wanted and see what the bills were that were being proposed in that particular field, and we would listen to that committee at one of our weekly meetings, and then we would UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 13 vote yes or no, sometimes amending or proposing an amendment. We would wire or phone or write our Clark County delegation in the state assembly and senate and tell them what we thought. As a legislative council, the whole group—not just the committee—but we did need it to go through the legislative council at a full-fledged meeting of all of those who were attending, which would be anywhere from two dozen to three or four dozen people attending every meeting. That’s the backing that Maude Frazier had. And she got a lot done with your help then? That’s right. If you hadn’t been there, how much of this do you think would have happened? Well, all I can say is— Not you personally, but your group. All I can say is, that group was potent to the extent of about 300 bills that we can say— You passed, or? Were enacted that we had worked on. I have data on them yet. That’s quite an impressive record. It sounds like you’ve done a lot; what other committees have you been, you’re on now, like now or in the past? Well, the Rotary Foundation of the Rotary Club—Rotary International—is one of the most imposing things towards world peace that I know of. Rotary International, situated in 154 countries around the world, has developed a project for sending students from country to another to spend, shall we say, a year or a fraction of a year, studying, living in a home or at least in the other country, learning the language, learning the customs, developing a liaison, a sympathy, an understanding, which can militate after $27 million worth, spent by Rotarians, and militate UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 14 toward increased understanding around growing youth who can point toward greater understanding and appreciation of world conditions instead of simply their own country. And different cultures and everything like that? Different cultures, and work eventually through adult life toward world peace. Now, the Rotary Foundation is one of the most important outgrowths of this seventy-five-year-old Rotary organization. And we have, within the last year-and-a-half, developed an approach which goes down into junior high and elementary schools with a plaque such as this. I’m using stationery such as this sheet that I’m handing you— On to human survival— With a picture of the first peace plaque which was dedicated along with a new junior high school in Boulder City, November 8th, 1979. Do you mind if I read this, what it says there? Do you want to read it aloud? Yeah. Do you mind? Go ahead. Like it says, “On to survival. One vital purpose of every school is to inspire students towards worldwide communication and understanding among peoples and nations for peace in our world. Elton M. Garrett Otarion.” Now, that plaque, three feet by two feet, was placed on the wall in the hallway at the junior high school. Those faculty members and students have initiated organization or an international club, pen pal letters to countries all around the world. When some Canadian people helped to get certain hostages out of Iran—not the full complement later—but the small group. Six or eight of them? UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 15 Yes, that small group. The Canadians gave an assist, and the appreciation of that was expressed by a whole class of our junior high school students—letters written to Canada. On the wall in this next room is a copy of a page of the Boulder City News with copies of the letters spread over the whole page expressing the thanks of the students. What junior high was that? Well, it was named after me— As it says on the bottom of this paper, Elton M. Garrett Junior High? Yes. That must’ve been one of the thrills for you, getting a junior high— It was a genuine thrill, of course. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody that has a school named after him. Is that one of the more gratifying things that you feel you’ve accomplished, with the Rotary Club and then the school following after that? The naming of the school is like a monument; it will survive after I pass on, but the important thing that I see is the growing use of such peace plaques in other schools. Now, our club has since, a year later, sponsored a peace plaque in our high school in Boulder City and one in the Andrew Mitchell Elementary School. During this school year, these other two plaques have been placed, signed the Rotary Club of Boulder City, Nevada, instead of by a single Rotarian sponsored by the Club. Now, the next plaque will be at the Harvey Dondero School in Las Vegas, and the rubbing for that plaque is here: this paper which I will unfold shows you the exact size of that plaque, and you may read at the bottom what the signature of this would be. This one says, “Rotary Club Las Vegas Southwest, in memory of Ida M. Browder, who was,”—was she a member of your Rotary Club? UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 16 Ida M. Browder built the building in which we are now talking. She built the first business building on this block before the street was paved out there, and she opened the first café in Boulder City in this building. It’s about two or three doors up? Is it still here? You are in the back end of the building now. Am I? Oh. The back end of that—you see the bricks there? Yeah. That was originally the back end of our building. The room we are sitting in was added later. But that building was the first one to be finished in this whole block. But the significance of this is that Mrs. Ida M. Browder was a member of the school board at one time. She had much to do with getting the first libraries really going in the school and for the community as well—getting music into the school. Getting self-government into Boulder City required a lot of organization effort, and she was right in there pitching from the start. And she bought the first business lot in Boulder City in 1960 when the town was incorporated. 1960 when it became incorporated? 1960, in January. So, all this time up until then, it was still, like, a government-type city? The government operated the town until January 4th, 1960, and behind you there, you’ll see on the wall in that bulletin board the picture of the signing by Robert Broadbent, the first mayor, of the document when the federal government deeded to Boulder City thirty-three square miles of land and gave us the whole town to run. Bob Broadbent was the first mayor of Boulder City? UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 17 That’s right. Now he’s gone on and he’s— He has gone on to be probably called Commissioner of the Bureau of Reclamation. Is that what he—no, he’s something more than that, isn’t he? He’ll have charge of the Bureau of Reclamation Operations as I understand it. We expect the announcement just about any time now. Also, I see up there, you ran for county commissioner? Well, when our Civic Service Federation and legislative council at last got legislation passed to set a five-man board of county commissioners instead of three, we knew it was deserved by the growth of the population. I had not thought of running until the three communities who were given one of these commissioner seats: Boulder City, Henderson, and North Las Vegas have supplied only six candidates. Three had filed from Henderson and three had filed from North Las Vegas—nobody had filed from Boulder City. We were the smallest of the three cities. I looked at that picture, my thought was this: if Henderson would just divide their vote evenly enough, and if North Las Vegas would divide their vote evenly enough, a lone candidate from little Boulder City— The dark horse. Might be the dark horse and might make it. I didn’t count on it, but I ran, and I got some experience. And you made it? No, no. No, you just got experience running? UNLV University Libraries Elton Garrett 18 Lou La Porta of Henderson was elected and was very good to Boulder City in a number of ways after he got elected, including helping develop a chamber of commerce publicity fund funded by the county and so forth. No—politics, for the sake of getting civic jobs done, I have enjoyed it. For the sake of getting political offices, no, I have not. You’re doing this all for the city, it seems, and for the youth and for everybody else? So that—yes—so we can develop things that the people need. When enough people work on something together, they can achieve it, and this has been the beauty of Boulder City, that a lot of people eventually get on a bandwagon and do something, and the arts are one of the most recent—the art festival up on the lawn and the cultural center building alongside the new chamber of commerce dome, which was built about four or five years ago—these are the result of chamber of commerce and other organizations teaming up to get land and to build buildings on it and build up activities of people. The whole city, it’s like that would seem like to be the model. It’s just all together and it’s like a bandwagon-type effect here. You’re getting ready for your fiftieth anniversary here, and everybody’s showing up and getting things organized. Yes. Our mayor and city manager are included in the committee structure of citizenry who have whipped into shape this stupendous committee—one of the interesting things about this anniversary is going to be the new pa