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Transcript of interview with Rosina Goodwin by Bruce Eubank, March 15, 1978






On March 15, 1978, Bruce Eubank interviewed Rosina Goodwin (born 1918 in Sweet Springs, Missouri) about her life in Las Vegas, Nevada. Goodwin first talks about her family background before discussing the Las Vegas Strip, the Stewart Ranch, and Twin Lakes. She also talks about schools, Boulder Dam, the atomic testing, and her work as a telephone operator. The latter part of the interview includes discussion on changes in Las Vegas, the Helldorado Parade, and changes in weather.

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Goodwin, Rosina Interview, 1978 March 15. OH-00700. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 1 An Interview with Rosina Goodwin An Oral History Conducted by Bruce Eubank 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 Rosina Goodwin 2 © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2018 UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 3 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 Rosina Goodwin 4 Abstract On March 15, 1978, Bruce Eubank interviewed Rosina Goodwin (born 1918 in Sweet Springs, Missouri) about her life in Las Vegas, Nevada. Goodwin first talks about her family background before discussing the Las Vegas Strip, the Stewart Ranch, and Twin Lakes. She also talks about schools, Boulder Dam, the atomic testing, and her work as a telephone operator. The latter part of the interview includes discussion on changes in Las Vegas, the Helldorado Parade, and changes in weather. UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 5 The date is March 15th, 1978, and it’s 11:00 a.m. Place is 1501 Silver Lake Drive, Las Vegas, Nevada. The interviewer is Bruce Eubank of 1020 Silver Lake Drive, Las Vegas. The project is for the Local History Project, Oral Interview: The Life of a Las Vegas Resident. Okay, Mrs. Goodwin, what year did you come to Las Vegas? In 1950. I had been here in 1945 as a visitor, but I moved here in 1950. Why did you come here? We got married here and we just stayed here. Okay. My husband was working in Thunderbird at that time. Where were you born? In Sweet Springs, Missouri, a little town southeast of Kansas City. How long did you live there? Eighteen years. How many people did you have in your family? There was five of us. What sort of work did your father or mother do here? Well, my mother was a housewife, and my father was kind of a farmer at that time. He just did odds and ends—whatever work there was available to make a living on. What origin is your family? More or less German background. German background? Mm-hmm. Okay, what church are you, belong to? UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 6 In Las Vegas? Yes. Good Shepherd Lutheran Church. Okay. When you moved here, you and Mr. Goodwin, how old were you? I was twenty-four, and dad was— Twenty-nine. Twenty-nine. What line of work was he in then? He was a bartender, and I was working for the telephone company here. Do you remember the population when you came? It was about 23,000. 23,000. You knew everybody, almost. Did you? Can you remember what hotels were around on the Strip or Downtown? On the Strip, the Thunderbird Hotel was fairly new. I think it was maybe one, one-and-a-half, maybe two years old in 1950, and of course the El Rancho was the oldest, the first that was here. The Old Frontier, and then the Flamingo, which was way, way out at that time on L.A. Highway. There were very, very few motels in between; it was all desert in between. And Downtown, the Golden Nugget was there, the Apache, the Elwell Hotel, and the old Boulder Club, Las Vegas Club, well, the places like that. This Old Ranch that you were mentioning before the interview, what is the name of that ranch? UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 7 It was the DC4 Ranch, and it was run by the old movie star Hoot Gibson, and it was about, oh, I would say four of five miles out from the Old Frontier Hotel, and it was primarily a place for people to come to spend their six weeks while they were obtaining their divorce. And at that time, the Old Frontier had a stable there, and you could go horseback riding, and you could go hayride, and all this sort of thing. And once or twice a week at night when the last show was over about two o’clock, the entertainers and bartenders and cocktail waitresses and anyone that wanted to go would go horseback riding or hayride for $2.50. And we would ride out to the DC4 Ranch, and when we arrived, they would have a big country-style table with all the fried chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy, and baked biscuits that you could eat. So we would eat and fill up on that, and then we’d dance to the jukebox till about five or six o’clock in the morning and then rode our horses back to the Frontier Hotel and we were on our merry way, this was all the entertainers who ever wanted to go. Do you remember anything about the Twin Lakes—we live in the Twin Lakes area, and do you remember anything about the old Lakes before it turned into Lorenzi Park? Yes, the Twin Lakes area, which is now the Lorenzi Park, at that time was a pasture. They had cows in there, and that was all fenced off where you had the Safeway, the kiddie shoe store, and all that that had cattle and horses in there. And Tex Gates, the old Mr. Tex Gates, had a stable there, and they had horseback riding and things there. Now, in the middle of those lakes, which I think has now been taken down, there was a bandstand in the middle of the lake, and the musicians would ride the boat out to the bandstand, and they played from there and around you danced, around the lake. And at that time, at one point at that time, we could have bought that Twin Lakes area for about $45,000. We didn’t have the money, but it would’ve been nice if we had had it, could have purchased it at that time. UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 8 Do you know what it would be worth now? Probably $15 million. I imagine it would be around $15 million now. Do you remember anything about the Kyle Ranch? Was that still—? I was not really familiar with Kyle Ranch. I didn’t really hear too much about Kyle Ranch at that time. When you moved here, what was Tule Springs mainly used for, out on Tonopah Highway? Tule Springs was a beautiful home, and it was much like the Hoot Gibson Ranch or the DC4 Ranch. It was used for the purpose of people staying here six weeks for divorce. The Bar W. Ranch was the same, and that was out on Paradise Valley. And they were primarily for people who were coming here for six weeks to get a divorce, and they stayed, and then they had someone to account for each day you had to report to someone, a witness each day, to say that you had been here the full six weeks. How many kids do you have in your family now? We have five. Five? Were they all born here in Las Vegas? All except the two oldest ones. Where were they born? They were both born in Santa Ana, California. Can you remember how many high schools were here when you came? When I first came here, Rancho High School was just new. In fact, I’m not sure whether it was open the first year we came here or not, but it was new, and then of course the Las Vegas High School. But there was only the two at that time. UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 9 When did Bishop Gorman—? (Unintelligible) What school did they go to? My children? Yes. They went to, fortunately, Twin Lakes was open when they were ready to go to school, and they went to Twin Lakes School, and then junior high, R.O. Gibson, and Western High—they all graduated from Western High School. Can you remember when the university was being built? I don’t recall what year. Do you remember the size or anything when it first started? It was, they started out in a very, very small building, and I was trying to think of some of—at the time, I knew some of the people who were the first graduates. I think there was only about fifteen or twenty, if that many. But I can’t ever recall any of the names of the people who graduated, who are in the first graduating class right now. When they were building Boulder Dam, do you remember the year they finished that? 1936. That was before you came here? Yes, that was way before. The first time I saw Boulder Dam, it had camouflage netting over it; I saw it in ’45. And when you toured the dam, you met at the gate and you went over the dam in your car, but there was a jeep with machine guns in front of you and a jeep with machine guns behind you. What would be the reason for that? UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 10 It was for the protection—it was right after World War II, and they, because it was, I guess a prime time in the United States, even at that time. Do you remember some of, any of the big names in the casinos, like Bugsy Siegel or anything, can you remember reading about them in the paper and any stories that you would have about them? Yes, I remember reading the story of Bugsy Siegel. I don’t really recall too much of the details except that he was in California, was supposedly to have been shot in his living room, I believe. Other than that, I don’t remember too much about him other than he was the promoter of the Flamingo Hotel. Howard Hughes has supposedly been around Las Vegas a lot. How many hotels do you know of that he’s had influence on or owned, or? Well, there’s the Desert Inn—about five, I guess. About five? Mm-hmm. When they started doing the nuclear testing out at Mercury, could you describe some of that, like the year that they started and, like, if the population really grew from the hiring of the people that worked there? Well, I don’t know exactly what year that Mercury started, but I can remember, I’m sure it drew a lot of people here that worked there. Because primarily at that—when we first moved out here, this was what Twin Lakes was made out of, was people who worked at Mercury, because it was a straight shot to drive to Mercury. And at the high peak of Mercury, Tonopah Highway was known as the widow’s maker because there was so many people got killed on that highway. When we first moved here in 150, they were experimenting with the atomic bomb at that time, UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 11 and I can remember that if the bomb was set off, it could almost throw you out of bed. And it broke out windows and everything in Las Vegas. I worked at the telephone company at that time, and there was many times when I went to work early to set up the lines between Washington and Amargosa and Mexico, and you’d wait for the countdown, and maybe the wind would come up, and then it was all over; they had to wait till the next day, and you was all set and ready to go for the very last minute. And then the weather wasn’t right or something had happened, and then they postponed that to the next time. How long did you work at the telephone company? I worked at the telephone company about two-and-a-half years after I came here. Was it at the same place that it is now? No, it was on the corner of what is now Las Vegas Boulevard; at that time, it was Fifth Street, and it was on the corner of Fifth Street and Carson, and it was a very small building. It didn’t even look like a telephone company, and it was just kind of a rundown shabby looking building, and behind it was a little rundown shabby looking building with a restaurant, and it was the Canary Restaurant, Yellow Canary Restaurant. Of course, that’s all gone and made into beautiful buildings now. Were you an operator? Yes, local and long distance. How many operators were there? There was probably maybe a hundred all told; that’s to take care of all the 425 shift—24-hour shift. UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 12 You were talking about the Twin Lakes area being on the outskirts of town for the Mercury workers. Could you describe the neighborhood, what it was like then and how many houses were around here and how far it was from town? Well, I guess the Twin Lakes park was probably about two miles from the downtown area. And then we moved out here, they were building other houses in the Twin Lakes area, but we were the first of twenty-two families to move in, in the Twin Lakes area. And of course, this was all desert. And when we bought our home, everyone wanted to know why in the world we were moving so far out in the desert, moving way out there. Of course, the Twin Lakes still had the park, where the park is, that was all still cow pasture. And there were no grocery stores out here. Where the Cockatoo is now, that was a service station. And there was a lone market, 95 Market—it was a service station and a little grocery store—and that is now the 95 Bar. And outside of that, there wasn’t anything out here. Now, on Bonanza Road, there were a few roads. There was a nursery where Ahern Rental is now, I think, and there were a few homes in between. But other than that, you were way out in the middle of the desert. Have the roads and highways changed? Oh, yes. The Tonopah Highway was just a two-lane highway at that time. It wasn’t really all that great. And of course, with the traffic to Mercury, they had to do something, and it is now an improved highway. [Audio cuts out] Fong’s was on First Street at that time. When we first moved here, we lived on Eighth Street, and Eighth Street, there was an apartment house there, and it was owned by a former Golden Nugget owner, a Roscoe Thomas. Now, there is a big apartment house, and maybe the parking lot for the unemployment office in that area. As I said before, there wasn’t really a whole lot Downtown. We could walk Downtown, you could just about walk anyplace that you wanted to. In fact, I remember, my oldest daughter was just a tiny UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 13 baby then, and I put her in a baby buggy, and we’d go down to First Street. Fong’s had a Chinese place on First Street at that time, and I’d go Downtown eleven, twelve o’clock at night and have her in buggy and eating Chinese food and come back home, and you wasn’t a bit worried about walking down the street at that time or anything. Now, the population has changed that I don’t believe I would walk from here to K-Mart. Downtown has really changed. Of course, your population of Las Vegas has changed. It’s surprising how fast it did change almost overnight. Still, people came to town, and I can remember when people would sleep on the lawn. There was no room for them, no hotels—they couldn’t get into the hotels. Where the Union Plaza is now was the old railroad station, and people would sleep on the lawns there. They slept on the lawn in that general area where the Dolong Center is. When they’d have big weekend holidays, they would advertise on the radio if anyone had room that they would like to rent out for any of the tourists that you could. And people would even set up cots in the high school gymnasium or the courthouse to house some of these people—so many came at that time. And each time there was a hotel built, everyone says, “How in the world are they gonna support that hotel? It’s gonna go broke.” Like, when the Sahara—Sahara now sits where the old Bingo Club used to be—people couldn’t believe that another hotel with 3- or 400 rooms would ever make it, but they have. And there’s been any number put up since then. Some of the entertainers that came to town at that time were the—well, the Mills Brothers were here, and Pattie Page, Rosemary Clooney were just new; they got their start at the Thunderbird Hotel. And in fact, a lot of the entertainers really started out at the Thunderbird Hotel. Maryann Hicks was the owner of the Thunderbird Hotel, and that’s where they got their start, and probably for $400 or $500 a week; that was good money to them at that time. These were big showrooms like they have now? UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 14 These were big showrooms; those were the big showrooms. And then at that time, you could go into those, maybe have a cup of coffee and a sandwich. There was no minimum on those shows. Probably about fifteen years ago, we went to see Teresa Brewer at the Sahara, and we had a pot of coffee, I think it was $1.50 for a pot of coffee, plus your tip. Now, you can’t hardly get a cup of coffee for that. And some of the highlight night spots at that time were the Horace Heidt at the Shamrock Hotel on the corner of Bonanza and Main; there’s a furniture store now there. And that was, as everybody got off of work, and the entertainers got off, they went to see Horace Heidt to relax and dance and have a party there. Did they mix with the customers? Oh, yes. Your entertainers and your cocktail waitress and bartenders, they were all just more or less like one big family. Back then, it was a Jim Crow town, and those brothers had to be on the West Side, too. Right. At that time, it was still, our colored people didn’t mix, and those brothers could not stay in a hotel. They couldn’t stay in the Thunderbird Hotel. Nat King Cole played at the El Rancho, and he had to get a place out on the West Side to stay. What, did he stay in houses, or? Yes, stayed in houses; there was someone that they knew out there. And now they can stay anywhere that anybody can. I remember the Helldorado Parades. They were a big source of entertainment for the people, and when we first came here, they had the Helldorado Parade for a whole week. And everybody celebrated. They had parades for three days. The first day was the Old Timers Parade. Everything in that parade, their floats and everything, had to be horse-drawn, or nothing with power driven. Then, on Sunday, they had the beauty parade, which was the highlight of their parade. And that was always a beautiful parade, and everybody went out for UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 15 those parades. And I think it was 1952, ’53 when the beauty parade was televised. And I think that went all throughout the United States. At that time, it used to be the third largest celebration; I think the Pasadena Rose Parade and the Calgary Stampede were the three top parades at that time. So that was just sort of the thing where the whole town went out and saw that? Yes. And just a big local thing? Right, everybody looked forward to this. Their whole family, this was an entertainment for the whole family, and everybody went out for that. And then I can’t remember if this was every night that week, or they had set aside one or two nights where you were Downtown, like in front of your, what is now the Golden Nugget and your Horseshoe Club and all that. That Fremont Street was roped off, and they had dancing down there, square dancing, round dancing, and everybody just had a ball. They put up their kangaroo jail there. What is that? The kangaroo jail was a source of making money, and our Jaycees would see someone—usually some hotel owner or somebody that they knew real well or some friend, and they come up and they’d arrest them, a mock arrest. And then they’d put them in this little jail, it was a little cubicle thing of iron rods, and they’d lock them up in there and then somebody would have to come along and bail them out. And maybe if it was your friend, you’d bail them out for a dollar or something like that you’d get them out, and some hotel owner, it would be more, and it was a source of making money. And yet everybody had a good time and had fun with it, too. What was, you said where, it was in front of where the Golden Nugget and Horseshoe is now—what was there then? UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 16 The Horseshoe, there was a service station. No, Fremont was a service station. The Fremont was a service station, and— And the old Apache Hotel was where the— The Horseshoe is. Horseshoe. But the Golden Nugget has always been there. The Golden Nugget has always been on the corner—of course, it has extended and has been increased. There was a Safeway store where the Golden Nugget parking lot is now, and then across from the Golden Nugget on that corner was the main office for the telephone company. And that’s where the Four Queens is now? Yes. With the people coming and going, have you noticed a change in the neighborhood or anything or when Las Vegas itself has, with all the tourists coming in and such? Yes, there is a definite change. Las Vegas has, all the years that we have been here, has progressively grown. I don’t ever remember of a time that it has not been growing. There’s been periods during that time where maybe it was kind of at a standstill and the town was maybe in a recession, but it has always grown. As each hotel has opened, you wonder where the people are coming from, but they always fill up and they find employment. There’s more people employed in the Union Plaza that live in my hometown. In my immediate neighborhood, when we moved here twenty-four years ago on this—say, this lot that I live on, there’s twenty-four houses here—out of the twenty-four houses, there’s only three families that still live here that were the original people that moved in. Many of the other houses, I would say, the largest percent of the other houses in that twenty-four, there’s been maybe four and five owners or maybe more in that UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 17 period of time. In the Twin Lakes area, at one point when I felt that I knew so many are maybe the largest percent that lived out here—there’s very, very few people left. They’ve all moved to wherever there is work or wherever their work called them and have moved and gone elsewhere and other people moved in. It’s hard to tell how many, many people have lived in Las Vegas and have moved in, and yet our population is still growing all the time. It continues to grow. Like, I’ve lived across the street for eleven years now, and I can’t believe how many people have moved in and out on just this one block. Right. Do you think maybe the airbase would have anything to do with that, the people? The airbase does have something to do with it. There are a few—in fact, there are quite a few families from Nellis Air Base that live out in the Twin Lakes area, and they come and go and that has a bearing on our change in population. And of course with Mercury, as it closes—parts of it is closing down, then those people move elsewhere wherever their work takes them if they’re transferred. Like, we had two families on this street just three years ago that were transferred through Mercury elsewhere, and so wherever their work goes, that’s wherever they go to. So, like, say, if a new hotel opens up, there’s more families coming in from, say, out of state or something to work there? Right. And with the airbase and Mercury and all that combined, just—? Definitely. As each hotel opens, there are a lot of people that are transferred in. They bring in their own people, and of course they’re really good about hiring the local people also. But as each new hotel opens, there are a lot of new people that come in, in other places. And I can’t say that Las Vegas is any different than many other towns. I like it here, I wouldn’t want to live UNLV University Libraries Rosina Goodwin 18 anyplace else. I think we can say that, especially this winter, our weather is, the year round, very good. We don’t have extreme, like snows like other states or cities are heavy. There’s a lot of people from the back east that want to come out to Las Vegas, and I think maybe eventually, this is what’s going to happen. A lot of people will to get away from the cold. Has the weather always been generally like this, or has there been real hard winters that stand out? We have had colder winters. In fact, about three or four years ago, we had snow on the ground that grounded the planes, and I don’t remember ever that happening before. But we’ve had cold winters. We’ve had a very mild winter this winter, but I can remember when I first came here, the first time it ever rained and it sprinkled, and everybody was all excited about the rain, and I couldn’t figure out what was the matter with the people, and they were all out watching it sprinkle. And I was amazed at how—of course, it very seldom ever rained then. There wasn’t as much vegetation. There were very few trees, very few—it was all sagebrush and sand. There just really wasn’t much vegetation around here at all. Well, I guess that’s going to wrap up our interview here. I want to thank you for being cooperative about this and giving so many interesting stories for the interview, and I want to thank you again for it. And if there’s anything else you’d like to add that you can think of right offhand? Well, right now, I can’t think of anything. Probably later on I might think of something. Okay. But it was a real pleasure to do it for you, Bruce. Okay, thank you.