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Transcript of interview with Norman Christiansen by James Courtney, November 28, 1986






On November 28, 1986, James Courtney interviewed Norman Christiansen (born 1931 in Red Lodge, Montana) about his experiences while living in Las Vegas, Nevada. Christiansen first describes his family and background before talking about moving to Las Vegas in 1956 after graduating college in Montana. Christiansen, who worked at the Nevada Test Site for two years and eventually became a teacher at various schools, talks about the various changes he has noticed over the years in Las Vegas, including those in climate, pollution, economy, occupation, and standard of living. Christiansen also discusses his political involvement, his hobbies, the advantages and disadvantages of living in Las Vegas, historical events in Las Vegas, and atomic testing in Nevada.

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Norman Christiansen oral history interview, 1986 November 28. OH-00377. [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 Norman Christiansen i An Interview with Norman Christiansen An Oral History Conducted by James Courtney 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 Norman Christiansen ii © Ralph Roske Oral History Project on Early Las Vegas University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2017 UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 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 Norman Christiansen iv Abstract On November 28, 1986, James Courtney interviewed Norman Christiansen (born 1931 in Red Lodge, Montana) about his experiences while living in Las Vegas, Nevada. Christiansen first describes his family and background before talking about moving to Las Vegas in 1956 after graduating college in Montana. Christiansen, who worked at the Nevada Test Site for two years and eventually became a teacher at various schools, talks about the various changes he has noticed over the years in Las Vegas, including those in climate, pollution, economy, occupation, and standard of living. Christiansen also discusses his political involvement, his hobbies, the advantages and disadvantages of living in Las Vegas, historical events in Las Vegas, and atomic testing in Nevada. UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 1 Project: Oral Interview for Nevada History. James Courtney November 28th, 1986. Place of interview, informant’s home. Time of day, noon. Informant name: Mr. Norman Christiansen, his age is fifty-five, his address is 1637 Ingraham, North Las Vegas, Nevada. Telephone number 642-2256. Okay, let’s see. Well, we’ll start off with the first question. Where were you born? I was born in Red Lodge, Montana, which is the northeast entrance to Yellowstone Park. Okay. And what were your parents’ names? Alice and Ralph Christiansen. Okay. And what were your parents’ occupations? My dad was a janitor, custodian, and my mother was a housewife. She worked at home. Okay. And do you know where your parents were born? My dad was born in Stavenger, Norway, and my mother was born in Columbus, Montana. Okay. And is there any ethnic group that you identify with? Well, my dad was Norwegian, so we associated with the Norwegians. But we didn’t speak Norwegian in the home. We had the Norwegian flag on our radio, but that was just about it. Okay, question states, while you were growing, did you celebrate any of these, I guess, Norwegian special holidays? No. No, we didn’t. My father was an immigrant, but when he came to the United States, he was off for the United States, and he left all that behind him. He was one hundred percent American. Okay. And this is a pretty general question here: can you tell us something about your childhood? Any experiences? Well, I was raised in a small coal mine town in Montana, and of course, mining was the big industry. The thing that affected the town was, of course, World War II when all the guys went UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 2 to the service, and then in 1943, we had the worst mine disaster in the history of the United States, killing, I think, it was something like seventy-some miners. And of course, that closed the mining industry out in that town. And I graduated in 1949, and we moved out to (Unintelligible) Montana, where I enrolled in college there. All right. Do you have any brothers or sisters? I have three sisters and one brother. Okay. Was your extended family important, aunts, uncles, grandparents? Yes, particularly my aunt and my uncle. My mother raised my aunt and uncle; my grandparents died when my mother was fourteen, and so she raised my aunt and uncle. So they were really a part of our family with the five of their own, and then my aunt uncle. So, really, they did play a big part in our family. Okay, the next question is what aspects of your life have your parents influenced? Well, I think my philosophy of life is like my dad’s, was to help people, to take care of people, to do things for people, and my father didn’t have a high education, but he pushed for it, and he encouraged us to go on, finish our high school diploma and then go on into college, and he really pushed for that particular aspect of education to be completed. Okay, when did you move to Nevada first? Well, we moved July of 1956. My first contact was in 1939 when we came through here from Montana going into California, and we stayed at a motel on the corner of Bonanza and North Maine, and I remember how hot it was there because they didn’t have the air conditioning in those days. And then we were on our way out of the World’s Fair. And then we came—the next time I came through here was when I was in the service in 1952, and my aunt and uncle were living here, and I came back to visit them. And the town was quite small at that time. I remember UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 3 going down to the old Vegas Village, which is on Fifth Street, North Fifth, and it was a dirt road down there. And so, it was rather small. They used to have, down on the corner of First Street and Main, or Fremont, there used to be a bank there on the corner that was—that was in ’52—they used to have the old plank, wooden steps on it. Oh, interesting. It was an old timer there. And then, of course, down on Main Street, we had the, next to the Horseshoe, the old Boulder Club. And it burned down, and we never realized how many people worked there until it did burn down because of the (unintelligible) but it put almost 300 people out of work. It was really amazing. And of course, the Golden Nugget itself was just a small little place; in fact, there were about, oh, five or six casinos on that side of the street. And then we came here in 1956, my wife and I came in from Montana, and we came in and I worked at the Test Site form July of 1856 to July of 1957. Then I went back to the university in Montana, got my degree, and came back and started teaching in the fall of 1958. Okay, could I ask you a question: what field did you get your degree? I got my degree in business education. Business education, all right. And I think you’ve covered this next question pretty well, is why did you move to Nevada? Do you want to elaborate on that more? Well, I got my diploma, or my degree, and finished my coursework in the summer of 1958. And the jobs in Montana were rather skimpy, abut I had worked at the Test Site in the payroll department, and I knew I’d get that job back, so I put all the kids in the car and we came back to Nevada and went down the Education Department, and they had an opening for me in the seventh grade, so I went to work at Sunrise Acres in the fall of 1958. Okay. When you first arrived in Nevada, what was your first impression? UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 4 Well in 1956—I’ll go over there because that’s when my wife was with me, and of course we’re from a part of the country that has a lot of water and green grass and a lot of green and everything like that. And then we came into Nevada in July, which was very, very hot. I was driving back and forth to the Test Site, which was, I didn’t have any air conditioning. And it was a very, very difficult transition from the cool or the green of Montana to the deserts of Nevada. In fact, my wife, I think, she cried every day for six months. So, it was quite a transition. I can understand that; I came from California in the Bay Area, and (unintelligible) cool, green, ocean breezes, and for the first six months I was here, I was complaining constantly about Nevada and its— It’s, you really miss the green. Okay, next question is: generally, what changes have there been in your life since you moved to Nevada? And that’s a big question. Well, of course I started off and was teaching in the elementary school, and we were living in an apartment. And of course, the kids were very small. All my kids were , let’s see, probably one two and three, I think, when we came here, and so I moved from the elementary school in Sunrise Acres, opened up Roy Martin Junior High School, and I moved up to Valley High School, and then I started working with adult education. So, the changes would have to be the type of people that I was teaching and the growing of the maturity of the family, and of course buying our own home and just setting up here in North Vegas is all. Okay. There’s a similar question here. What changes have you seen in the state or Las Vegas itself? Well, as I mentioned before, when I first came here in 1952, there was a lotta dirt roads around and things that really—when we used to go to the airport, which was the old McCarran, it would UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 5 take you forty-five minutes to an hour to drive from our house to the airport, and since they put the freeways in, of course, that has changed that, and of course, the big new beautiful airport that they have now is quite a change from that. The freeway system that we have now has really changed the area. And of course, when I look over—I worked at the VoTech, and I used to drive; when I was driving out there, there would be a lot of vacant ground and acreage would just be nothing but sagebrush, and now it’s all full of homes, and of course everywhere you go, it’s building up. And the tremendous amount of schools that we have in Clark County—I came here, we had 27,000 total enrollment in Clark County, and when I retired last January, we had close to 100,000 students going to school. So, those have really been the big changes that I’ve noticed, is the growth of Southern Nevada. Okay. Are there any changes you’d like to see in the future? We’ve had a tremendous amount of growth in Las Vegas, and I think that we’re gonna be another Los Angeles before long if we keep going, because I’m talking to the pollution type. We’re getting more and more pollution in here, it’s more and more days of pollution, and I think that that’s—so, I guess what I’m saying is I would hope that we would have maybe a moratorium on building, maybe keep this down, or do something to take care of the pollution. Although Las Vegas is growing like crazy, I’d still like to see it maybe—it’s getting too big. Okay. Next question: are you married? Yes. How long have you been married? Thirty-one years. And did you meet your spouse here in Nevada? No, I met her at college in eastern Montana (unintelligible). UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 6 And do you have any children? I have three. Okay, and were any of them born here in Nevada? One. And what year was he or she born? He was born here in 1957. ’57, here in Las Vegas? Yes. Okay. Okay, we’re gonna change over the subject slightly. Does your spouse belong to any civic and/or political organizations? No, she doesn’t. And what occupations has your spouse had while in Nevada? In the thirty-one years we’ve been married, my wife has worked outside the home a total of two-and-a-half years. And so she was a secretary for about six months down at the dean’s office at Jim Bridger Junior High School, and then she worked at the clerk’s office for two years. But most of her time was spent at work in the home. Mm-hmm, raising a family. Right. Okay. And the next question is: what occupations have you had? I know you mentioned that you’ve been an educator and administrator most of your adult life. Well, I’ll go back in reverse of this thing. I worked at the Test Site from ’56, ’57 where I was a payroll clerk, and I stayed there for a year. Then I spent four years in the Navy, and prior to that UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 7 was just summer jobs, working in dairies, working on road crews, working at Yellowstone Park, things of that kind. Were you stationed on a ship in the Navy? Yeah, I was stationed in Alaska for eighteen months, and I came on aboard a ship and spent six months aboard a destroyer tender, and then I spent the rest of my time aboard a destroyer. And we had a royal cruise in 1954. It looks you like extremes from Alaska to Nevada? (Laughs) Weren’t my choice. Okay. How have the jobs you’ve held changed through time? Well, of course, the teaching profession, I think, has changed quite a bit. When I first started teaching in ’58, of course we had discipline, we had control of the kids, the kids, I felt, were not as outgoing as they are today. We didn’t have the narcotic problems, the drinking problems that they have today. So those would be some major changes that have taken place. The attitudes of children, I think, has changed. When I first started teaching, there was a responsibility that people would be glad to accept, and I have a question mark as to whether they’re really willing to do that now. Okay. Another question is: why did you decide to get into your occupation and education? Well, my father was a custodian, and I’d been around schools all my life. I worked with him at the school as far as cleaning it and, around it twenty-four hours a day. And my brother was in education, and still is. I went to Eastern Montana College there, which was a two-year college, you might say, but they mainly dealt with education. I started off in business administration, but when I got married, finances curtailed me from going to the University at Missoula, so I did the UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 8 next best thing and went in business education and got my degree in that, using the credits so that I wouldn’t have to start all over again. Sounds like me. Okay, was your occupation a major reason for moving to Nevada, or did you see opportunities to use your education here in Nevada? Yes, I think it was. Nevada was starting to grow pretty rapidly, and there was going to be a demand for teachers, and the salary was a lot better in Nevada than it was in Montana, so I think that coming to Nevada was, because of the openings of new jobs and also the salary; it was definitely an enticement to come here. Were there any changes in your occupation that you consider important or helpful? I don’t believe so. Okay. How does the standard of living in Southern Nevada compare to other areas where you have lived? Well, I think the state of Nevada, because of the money, I think that they are more materialistic in Nevada than, perhaps, other places I have lived. I always remember one minister that was talking one day out in the church, and he said, “Your children remember you for the love you gave them rather than things you bought them,” and I think that pretty well hit the nail on the head as far as a feeling of a lot of people in the state of Nevada because of the amount of money that the payday—every day with the gambling and so forth. And so, I think that materialism here is more important than perhaps being part of a family. In Montana, we did a lot more things as a family—of course, we’re talking about different times, but I think that we did a lot more up there as a family because we didn’t believe in materialistic things that they did down here. Okay. Do you prefer Nevada to other areas? UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 9 Well, Nevada’s been good to me. I like Nevada, I like the weather here. But since I’m retired now, I get outta here as much as I can. I go to the green, I got to the cooler temperatures, but I try to spend as much time as I can here when the weather is good. And do you belong to any civic organizations? No, but I used to belong to the Elks, and I used to belong to the golf association. But because I used to work nights, I couldn’t attend meetings with the Elks, and so I had to drop that, and then with moving around too much, now I’ve dropped the golf association. Okay. And a similar question: do you belong to any political organizations? Well, I belong to the Republican Party; my wife is a Democrat. But about the only thing we do is if we have a particular candidate that we like, we will go out and canvas or cover an area with the campaign materials and so forth. This last election was the first one we’ve missed in, oh, I guess over thirty years, but we didn’t get the chance to go up in the last election. We messed up on that and were out of town and we didn’t get an absentee ballot. But we are active in the political world; we vote all the time. Anything and everything—we vote on it. Uh-huh. Was your wife happy about the victory for Harry Reid? I don’t know if she was or not. We never really got to the point where we sit down and were going to pick a candidate. We just didn’t do that. All right. We’ll move onto another topic. What is your religious affiliation? Methodist. Methodist, okay. And how have you participated in the religion while in Nevada? Well, my children went to church; we went to church every Sunday when they were growing up. And we’re not very active in the church now, but when the children were growing up, we were very active in getting into the church and ourselves to church. UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 10 And what are some of your hobbies and interests? Well, I like to play golf, and I like photography. Okay. And have these affected your life in Nevada? Definitely, ‘cause I play golf at least twice a week at different golf courses—meet a lotta different people, lotta different walks of life. And I’ve met some very, very interesting people on the golf course. Golf course, okay. All right. And my wife and I play golf together (unintelligible). We enjoy that. With the good weather, you can play most of the year. Oh yeah, sure. Okay. At what addresses have you lived in Nevada? Well, we’ve lived at this one here on Ingraham Street for twenty-eight years. Okay. (Unintelligible) All right, that covers most of it. And this other question I don’t think really applies; it says, “Why have you moved within the city?” It seems like you’ve stayed put here. (Unintelligible) Okay, this is always a good topic, this next one: is or was gambling an important recreational activity for you and your family? No. We go down once and a while, we put a few nickels in, but other than that, we may go to take advantage of the good food other than the gambling, so. Have you witnessed any major changes in the Nevada gaming? UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 11 Well, not as far as the gaming is concerned directly. I’ve noticed that since the—when we first got here, you could go to dinner shows or some of the shows on the Strip, and it was very, very cheap, because they would lose—there was a feeling of the hotel that if they could get the people in by enticement of the entertainer that they would, in turn, be able to gamble. So, the long shows and the main shows were an enticement to get the people in, and so they were very cheap. And now, they’re pretty expensive. So that would be a big change that I’ve no—we don’t go on the Strip or the shows very often. But that’s one thing that was really—I remember going to a show at the Thunderbird one time, and the total bill was ten bucks, and all we had was a sandwich and some coffee, but it was a great show and very cheap. Okay. So you would consider, gambling wasn’t really a big factor moving to Nevada? No, even though we did have gambling in Montana prior to that, but gambling’s never been a part of my life. What would you list as advantages or disadvantages of living in Nevada or here in North Las Vegas? Well, of course, you have the weather—about eight months of the year, which is fantastic. And the weather doesn’t dictate your life, so I think that would be probably one of the big advantages of it, and you are very close to California. And the shopping is really getting better here. So, that’s an advantage, I think, if they’re centrally located or as far as—well, when I say centrally located, they’re coming in to a point now where we’re getting the good medical facilities here, we’re getting good shopping facilities here, we’re getting the good entertainment here, we’re getting the good television here—that type of thing. Right. Would you list any disadvantages of living in Las Vegas? UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 12 Well, of course we have the crime rate, which is fairly high—the amount of transients you have in Las Vegas or Nevada is a disadvantage—so I’d say the crime would be the major disadvantage. And this question’s a little more philosophical here: was life in Nevada better at any other time in comparison to today, say, when you first arrived in the fifties as of today? Well, only thing it was, it was just, there was a smallness when we first got here, and there was a smallness in, I think, the school district. We used to have meetings and we could be either sitting down with the superintendent of the schools and here you were just a teacher and you could get things done. So, the philosophy there had changed. Now, if you’re a teacher, you can hardly ever talk to the school administrators. So, that philosophy’s definitely changed. Well, when you talk about philosophy of life, that’s a tough one there. When I’m comparing the old days to now, your philosophies aren’t going to change me, ‘cause when something gets larger, the conditions are gonna change your philosophy. Mm-hmm. All right. Do you happen to remember any significant historical events while you were here in Nevada, such as the visit of a president or maybe an opening of, like, Caesars Palace? Yes, when they opened the Tropicana, they had a—I think Bobby Darren opened that thing up—anyway, they had a huge statue when they opened up the Tropicana Hotel of, I think it was Bobby Darren, out in front of that, and that was quite impressive. Of course, we’ve had a number of presidents come in here; we’ve had Nixon come in and we’ve had Ford come in, and (unintelligible), I think Kennedy was here. So we’ve had a number of those people come through. We used to, in the Helldorado days, they used to have a lotta movie stars come in on a parade, which was quite impressive. So that was quite a big show in those days. UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 13 Okay. Ah, this one relates to you pretty good: do you remember any early above-ground atomic testing? When I worked at the Test Site in July of ’56 to July ’57, I worked in Payroll, and we used to go out and check the job orders along with the paychecks and see if they were getting paid for the right jobs. And some of those jobs they were on were the towers that the bombs were put on when they were tested. And we’d go up one week, and there would be a 300-foot tower there, and the next week we’d go out there, there’d be nothing but bare ground. And of course, I’d see the number of the shots—not the shot itself—but the cloud, the mushroom coming up. And then in the spring, I think, of ’57, they started to go underground, as far as underground testing. But I did work at the Test Site there, and it was very interesting—the types of things, the types of tests that were conducted, that could help the civilian population as far as being prepared for an atomic bomb. The way their housing should be built, the type of clothes they could wear, the type of protection they should have for their eyes—things of that nature. I was out there when they used the Army personnel, and they were down in the camp there, and they had some very interesting tests. The one there where the Japanese were moaning and groaning of, of course, the atomic bomb, and so what they did, they brought a Japanese home here and then they brought, also, the dirt from Japan to the Test Site; they took them out on the Jackass Flats there, and they set ‘em all up just like it was in Japan, and then they had to test and blow it up. But it was for a purpose, and it was very interesting, very interesting. Okay, so— Just the idea of just going up there and blowing up a bomb— Mm-hmm, it was meant to be learned. A lotta things to be learned from it. UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 14 And you mentioned, you actually saw some of the mushroom clouds? Mm-hmm, yes. What was your reaction or your feeling when you saw that? It must’ve been pretty intense. Well, when you see something like that going off, you realize just how much power something has to have in it to create that type of a thing. Mm-hmm. And to see it glowing and—you know that there has to be an intense amount of power. And you just hope and pray that nothing like that will ever happen where you will be—close enough to you to be part of that particular thing. Okay, would you like to mention anything else about your work at the Test Site or anything else you found interesting, like the Nevada nuclear Test Site? No, I don’t think so. Can you recall the building of Hoover Dam? Mm-mm. No? Okay. No. And here’s another question: did you live in Nevada during World War II? No. No? Okay. We’ll change the subject here: when you do your vacationing away from Nevada, where do you go and why? Well, I usually go to California, down to San Diego, or we go north up into Washington, Oregon, back into Montana where I was born and raised. Like, we just spent seven months up north. So you like to get away from the desert climate? UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 15 Get back to the green—get back to green and the water, yes. Okay. And do you have much contact with people in other areas of Nevada, like maybe some of your family is in other parts of Nevada? Well, I have my niece and nephew, they live in Carson City. And I go up to see them once and a while. They’ve been up there for about, oh, five, six years, I guess. There’s another change, I think, that’s really been big in the state of Nevada, is the highway systems, the freeways systems. It really has changed; between northern Nevada and southern Nevada, it has really made a big change in the highways system. It used to be tough to go back and forth, ‘cause the roads were very narrow, and they weren’t in that good of condition, but now they’re a lot better. Here’s some general questions, and we’ll almost wrap this interview up. What changes have you seen in Nevada’s economy? Of course, the economy has really mushroomed. I mean, going back to the gaming, when we first got here, there were three big weekends a year, and now you have fifty-two weekends a year. And it’s just, again, just mushroomed from what it used to be. You mentioned three big weekends; out of curiosity, what—? Well, of course, it used to be Labor Day, Memorial Day, and New Year’s. And New Year’s. You’re right; it seems about every weekend, everyone comes to town here. Right. Okay, have you seen any changes socially or politically also? I (unintelligible) socially—if you ever want to talk, if you’re talking about integration or something like that, I mean, we have an integration system in the school system, but socially, it hasn’t changed that much as far as I’m concerned. UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 16 And you mentioned earlier, changes in Nevada, especially in Southern Nevada about the environmental—you said you’ve noticed a change in pollution, is that what you’ve—? Oh, yeah. The pollution part of it—that’s really changed. And of course, there’s another thing that’s changed is humidity. Like, years ago, we only had swamp coolers on our houses, and that was plenty to take care. In fact, when they give the weather forecast, they wouldn’t even mention humidity, how much humidity it was, ‘cause there just wasn’t that much. And because of just one or two percent—you didn’t really notice it. But with all of the swimming pools and the golf courses and all the lawns and that, you know, the growth of the community has increased the humidity, and that’s really changed. Okay. Do you plan to stay in Nevada permanently? Yes. And what do you think is Nevada’s or Las Vegas’s greatest asset? Well, of course it’s the entertainment capital of the world, and that’s our bread and butter, and the gaming. And so, I think that would have to be the greatest. And of course, you have Lake Mead, which brings in a different type of person rather than the gambler, so those are the big drawing cards, like you go out there on Labor Day to Lake Mead, and it’s jam-packed. They’re not gambling; they’re just fishing. So, those are our big things. Okay. And is there anything else you’d like to discuss here on the interview? I don’t think so. And the very last question I’ll ask you is would you be willing to participate in a longer interview? I guess. Okay, (unintelligible), thank you for your time. UNLV University Libraries Norman Christiansen 17 Okay, Jim. You’re welcome.