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Della Coates interview, March 18, 1978: transcript






On March 18, 1978, collector Bill Hitchcock interviewed Della Coates (b. June 17th, 1919 in Birmingham, Alabama) at her home in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the interview, Della Coates discusses her time working for the telephone company. She also speaks about the changes in education and about changes throughout Las Vegas.

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Coates, Della Interview, 1978 March 18. OH-00398. [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 Della Coates 1 An Interview with Della Coats An Oral History Conducted by Bill Hitchcock 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 Della Coates 2 © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2020 UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 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 Della Coates 4 Abstract On March 18, 1978, collector Bill Hitchcock interviewed Della Coates (b. June 17th, 1919 in Birmingham, Alabama) at her home in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the interview, Della Coates discusses her time working for the telephone company. She also speaks about the changes in education and about changes throughout Las Vegas. UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 5 The person being interviewed is Misses Della Coates on the 18th of March, 1978, at 10 p.m. The place of interview is 3183 Palmdale Avenue in Las Vegas, Nevada. And I’m Bill Hitchcock. My address is 3763 South Chutney and we’re gonna be talking about the phone company over the last twenty-six years and changes that have been made or Misses Della Coates has seen in Las Vegas. Okay Misses Della Coates, I’ll just call you granny since I’ve known you for so long. What was your first impression when you first came into Vegas? Well Bill, after riding hours and hours through the desert, getting off at the train station—at Union Station, walking out, I was in the middle of a train strike. All of—he wasn’t gentle then like he is now (unintelligible). Mm-hmm. But all the clubs and all, I wanted to turn around and go back. Oh. (Laughs) And then we drove down what North Main—no South Main Street to my brother’s home. It was (unintelligible) Southern Nevada (unintelligible). It was in the desert. There was nothing to be seen but just desert, and the little trees that had began to grow. When was this that you came? I came over—I moved west 1950. Mm. And of course, that was one of the hottest days of the year. I went out later in the afternoon with a pair of shorts on. I stayed like thirty minutes and I had blisters all over my legs. In the house, we had the swamp coolers. And I liked to (unintelligible) to death once in the house. So I was very uncomfortable. UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 6 (Unintelligible) No. We didn’t— In the summer? In the summertime— (Unintelligible) No. Not used to being warm, coolers in the house. I imagine (unintelligible). Later in the afternoon, my sister and I went to town. The town was (unintelligible), if I’m not mistaken, Woolworths, and Penny’s on Fremont Street. And then (unintelligible). I was quite shocked to see women in bikini bathing suits, men that looked like they had shirts on and no pants. And I was very—I thought I was in a primitive area, because Birmingham is quite a large city. And as I remember, I didn’t get what I went after. But I did see taxicabs cruising up and down, and (unintelligible) as I remember. When you took (unintelligible) to cross this long, narrow street. They do get narrow. (Laughs) So, in all—in all and all, it was very different than what I had been used to. And later in the evenings, my sister and I get (unintelligible) to go home. We’d go back to town, put us all together in different towns in Helldorado Week. Helldorado Week is the—there’s three days, there’s something new all the time. (Unintelligible) cow, because I did not have a Helldorado button. And all these gentlemen in their striped pants—I thought they were gentlemen, but they were part of the Helldorado (unintelligible) Las Vegas Police Department. One of ’em put me in (unintelligible) for not having a badge. But, I didn’t know what it was all about. (Unintelligible) ’till I had two dollars for me. People on the street (unintelligible). This was my first day in Las Vegas and it was a very strange day. (Laughs) (Laughs) UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 7 So— Sounds like it. But, it took me a while to get used to the climate. Took me even longer to get used to nothing being here. Hm. There was one thing that was, to me, was really great. We had a little market on South Main Street, used to be open day and night. It was (unintelligible) any time in the day or night, which to me was very strange. (Unintelligible), but as I came out here to stay one month and then lived in here for about twenty-eight years. I think maybe I learned a lot then. Granny, could you tell me more about Las Vegas? Like the town itself, how many, you know, what was here? (Unintelligible). The size of the town and, you know, just what big hotels or casinos or, you know, what buildings? You know, municipal buildings and stuff like that were here? Well, when I came here, the Strip was hardly the Strip at all. (Unintelligible). And the Flamingo was the last one. We had (unintelligible). The El Rancho later burned down, but it was not the lights (unintelligible). I don’t know. The McCarran Air Force base was really out and it was a small little thing. (Unintelligible). But between Las Vegas and (unintelligible). It was a small thing. And then you got your two metropolitan areas, (unintelligible), Las Vegas, which was the Downtown area and we had few clubs on it. And the Las Vegas Hotel. What—what high schools or schools or you know, high schools and stuff like that do you know of? UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 8 If I remember right, when I came here, we had two high schools, which was Las Vegas High as it is now, and Gorman High. There were about five grammar schools in the Las Vegas area. We had two hospitals. What were they? Las Vegas Hospital, which is now closed, and the Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital. (Unintelligible) churches. We had about three theaters, couple of swimming pools, and one (unintelligible) area. (Unintelligible). And over on Second Street, I think (unintelligible). Where did—where’d you live when you first came here? Way down on Palomino Road, just (unintelligible) Southern Nevada (unintelligible) High School. And that was a busy area. In fact, (unintelligible) in that area at that time. So, Las Vegas then is just (unintelligible). What kind of—kind of public services did they have as far as like, electricity and? Well, at that time the telephone company and the power company were combined. (Unintelligible). Hm. You had to be asked (unintelligible). And (unintelligible) service in that. If I remember right, (unintelligible). Once a week. (Unintelligible). But, it was very small. We didn’t have too much chores. So what we did (unintelligible). So what did you do for entertainment? We took trips to Mount Charleston, (unintelligible). We went to visit the dam. It’s fun to be tourists. And, my biggest hobby was (unintelligible). That was my (unintelligible). UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 9 (Unintelligible). Then, we saw it was so low and I think if I remember right, it was seventy cents an hour. So, I decided not to go to work there. Then I went to work later what was known as (unintelligible) in Downtown Las Vegas. I worked there for about a year. Then I went to (unintelligible). Why don’t you tell us—what was the telephone company like when you first went to work for them? Or, how did you get the job? Well, how did I get the job? I had a friend that worked for the telephone company. One time in the morning, she asked me if I wanted to go over there to pick up something she left there. So I told her and (unintelligible) your personal code to get in. (Unintelligible). She asked permission to invite me in. And then she said “why of course, she’s a respected operator”. I said (unintelligible). She asks me to fill out an application. I filled out an application (unintelligible). At that time, I’m not very good at feet and inches, but I would say the telephone company was about—the building was about a hundred feet long by about forty-five to fifty feet wide. And then they had both the local (unintelligible) and the toll boards. The local boards (unintelligible). You knew it when you knew it. It’s tough because someone wanted to use their telephone. And at that time, we—our headsets were not the modern headsets we have now. So not even what we call the (unintelligible) now. It was a triangle plate with a mouthpiece in it—on it. They hung by wood buckle around your neck. You gotta (unintelligible) the wire that held it on your head and every time you (unintelligible) your mouth down to this little mouthpiece to be heard. And after a day of ducking your head, I could duck, you had a sore neck. This was when the corporation (unintelligible) time. And after that time, we got headsets. One which was all one piece. (Unintelligible) UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 10 Las Vegas at that time was so small, in comparison to the operators we have now, (unintelligible) it was a very comfortable job. (Unintelligible). And all we (unintelligible). We could take the long distance calls from the other cities and we’d hook them up and (unintelligible) At that time, (unintelligible) can stand up in the rung of the chairs and reach (unintelligible). They started building them longer and farther down in the room (unintelligible). This went on for a couple of years. (Unintelligible) at that time caused quite a lot of confusion, cause most people who lived in Las Vegas are used to being (unintelligible). When did this happen? About what year? Oh, I would say, about ’56. That’s when they started getting a bit more money putting in? (Unintelligible) No. Now to start with, we didn’t have any more modern equipment, but now in our offices, everything now is (unintelligible). (Unintelligible). And then up to the third floor, (unintelligible). That office didn’t last very long, mainly because we outgrew it. And (unintelligible). (Unintelligible) What are the difference—what is the difference of your duties from when you first started and there now? I mean, are they any different or are they a lot easier or? There’s a lot of different (unintelligible). Well, from the standpoint of equipment, the work is easier. At the time I started, there was no stress in (unintelligible). You didn’t have to hurry, you could set one line at a time, you see, (unintelligible). (Unintelligible) UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 11 It’s a much faster pace. It’s a big property now, when before, it was small. Everybody knew everybody. And, (unintelligible). Was the equipment that you used—was it more, I mean do you have to know more how to use it? (Unintelligible) We’re talking about the telephone company, you’ve introduced me—a lot of, most of the operators are women and everything. How many—well, lately, you’ve been getting more male operators and stuff like that. Do we have any here in Las Vegas and—? We have quite a few in Las Vegas. They’re beginning to be accepted now for the first time. I think only the (unintelligible) we had male operators, we had two. When a customer reached a male operator, he really didn’t want to talk to him, because they didn’t even believe there were operators. Now, it’s a (unintelligible). (Unintelligible) When did this start like, (unintelligible) about? I think it’s been about two years. (Unintelligible) Long hair? Yes. They are being accepted. And well, when we first asked the male operators to come in, they were very shy. (Unintelligible) Now, they’re just one of the girls. (Laughs) Alright, let’s talk about, okay, the tests. Okay, they have all these atomic tests and everything outside of town. Did they have them back? When I first came in, yes. They did have ’em. (Unintelligible) There was no TV? UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 12 At that time, we were warned to open windows. (Unintelligible). And it was quite a sight to get up at two o’clock in the morning, three o’clock in the morning and say the bomb was going to be set off. (Unintelligible) When was the last time you saw (unintelligible) above ground? That was about 1952, if I remember. (Unintelligible) Would you tell us a little bit about Nellis? I mean, what was it—? Nellis at that time was way out in the desert. And well, talking about Nellis, when I first went to live in Las Vegas, (unintelligible) I used to work at a restaurant on Fremont Street. And the boys from Nellis would come in, would hang around the restaurants (unintelligible). And they’d stay in town ’till the last bus was gone. I’d feel sorry for ’em and take a heap of the boys out to Nellis, take ’em home. Well the security then, at the gate, they just waved you through. They saw a (unintelligible) and they waved you through. And it seemed like anywhere else. They could go (unintelligible). (Unintelligible) Now what places you’ve lived here in Vegas? How many places that are—can you remember where? I’ve lived in a number of places in Las Vegas, in the Downtown area, North Las Vegas, and this was about ’56 was $9,999 which is compared to what I have now. And then I bought another home, which was just four blocks from here. (Unintelligible) In this house? In this house. And you’ve been in Vegas for twenty-eight of ’em? Mm-hmm. Twenty-eight years. UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 13 Twenty-eight years. Well, (unintelligible) (Tape one ends) Granny, you’ve been here for twenty-eight years. I’m sure there’s been a big change in education and the school system. Knowing that you have had two children growing up through here and now you have grandchildren going to school, what differences have you seen? Oh, busing is the only thing I’ve seen different. When I came here, (unintelligible). My son didn’t go through that. (Unintelligible) As they got older, we moved to North Las Vegas. And both children went to (unintelligible). The first year, he was always (unintelligible) classes. The second year, he didn’t have any classes, which was kind of unique for schools at that time. (Unintelligible) And my daughter went there through the ninth grade, she went there through the eighth grade. That was the first year Rancho was (unintelligible) Third. Third (unintelligible) And have you seen a difference in the quality of the education? I mean, has it dropped, I mean now everybody—I mean all the studies show this (unintelligible) (Unintelligible) What about the discipline? Yes. The discipline was very different, because at that time, if a boy didn’t behave himself and study, he (unintelligible). And I have seen my son, with my permission, been put in the classes UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 14 where he has to stand up for a while. But I believe we still have the same amount of (unintelligible). (Unintelligible) Like, nowadays, they’re more lenient, like they have smoking areas in school, right. Did they have those? No. They did not. They didn’t have them. They certainly did not have them. (Unintelligible) you see somebody walking somewhere to someplace, or from someplace. (Unintelligible) (Unintelligible) On school time, he’s on (unintelligible) or in school. They have an open school time? Yes. (Unintelligible) Do you think it’s better or do you think it’s indifferent or? Well, when I was—when my age, when I went to school, we went to school from eight to four. You sit down, you did not—no, I don’t think it’s better. I think maybe a person does need a period of ten or fifteen minutes a couple times a day to do whatever they want to. (Unintelligible) It’s an old fashioned Southern—? Certainly. And another thing about I think the education now, (unintelligible). Whether that’s good or bad, I don’t know. (Unintelligible) You said she, I mean, do—were there many male teachers? Not in my time. Like twenty years ago? UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 15 Not in my time. And I don’t think there was any (unintelligible). Here in Vegas there weren’t that many? And I believe, another thing, I believe the male teachers were more—they (unintelligible) more disciplinary actions. Because they always send them to the principal’s office or your counselor. And they took those away. And all of the principals were male? Yes. (Unintelligible) that were male. I mean, female. But now, we have had female teachers—my son and daughter have gone to female teachers. But they didn’t need to send them to male teachers. (Unintelligible) In what respect? The thing of it is, when I was going to school (unintelligible) children, another generation going to school, they were told (unintelligible) You mean like girls playing soccer or? No, I mean like running around the football field and things like that. No, I don’t (unintelligible). Like what? Well, take for instance, I know at one time, I was at the school to deliver a package to my granddaughter and I see this group of girls laughing their brains out, running around this football field. What were they doing? Running. Running? And (unintelligible) had to go out there and tell ’em to stop. You don’t agree with the girls track? UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 16 Maybe that’s it. But I mean, it was a—well, what they were to do that day and every girl was doing it. (Unintelligible) during class. During class, yes. Mm. That I don’t agree with. (Unintelligible) when a lady was considered a gentler sex. And well, nowadays kids go on more towards health. You know, and being healthy. (Unintelligible) that kind of thing? Mm-hmm. (Unintelligible) When I went to school, we had recess. We didn’t have physical education. So, maybe that’s where (unintelligible) comes from. I mean, I’ve lived in the South too. It’s still that way in grammar school. In grammar school here, you would probably know about that having two kids, two children and several grandchildren going through it. Do they still have recess? I mean, I really don’t know. You don’t know? No. (Unintelligible) is it different here. Well, I don’t know now. In the South, it may be the same as it has here. Because I haven’t been back in twenty-eight years to visit. So maybe the (unintelligible) How different are the people now than they were back, say when you came here twenty-eight years ago? Well— UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 17 I mean is there any change? Like people might have been more conservative ’cause it was a small town and everything, and now, you have more tourists coming in, more people moving in every year, is there any change? Well, yes I’d say they’ve changed, because twenty years ago, or twenty-eight years ago we wouldn’t have been (unintelligible). ’Cause I worked in the middle of town in the first, oh I’d say fifteen years I worked there (unintelligible). Do they escort you to the car? They escort you to the car. And I mean, it’s gotten that bad. So it has been, and of course with a number of people (unintelligible) makes a world of difference. Yes. There’s a lot more nightlife now. Yes, there is. There wasn’t hardly any nightlife back twenty-eight years ago? No. Hardly at all. (Unintelligible) Even when it was small, it had it’s good share of the tourists. (Unintelligible) (Unintelligible) taxpayers. (Unintelligible) When I went to work for the telephone company, as I told you before, that I went to the bank. I was a computer operator—a front line operator, and I believe the wage at the bank was seventy cents an hour. It was a good wage I worked at the telephone company (unintelligible) How much you make an hour now? Well, now, (unintelligible), I believe the wage is five fifty. UNLV University Libraries Della Coates 18 It really shot up. (Unintelligible) What—do you know what they start off now? You said you started off what, eighty nine cents an hours? (Unintelligible) Okay granny, after living here for twenty-eight years, what is your feeling toward Las Vegas? (Unintelligible) Of course, living in Las Vegas (unintelligible) So you really enjoy it then? Yes, I really enjoy it. That’s good. I want to thank you very much granny, for your time and your information. It was really interesting and I really enjoyed it. Thank you very much. You’re welcome Bill.