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Audio from interview with Mike and Sallie Gordon, March 2, 1977





Full interview audio with Mike and Sallie Gordon in March 1977 in which they discuss arriving in Las Vegas and their business enterprises.

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Mike and Sallie Gordon oral history interview, 1977 March 02. OH-00702. [Audio recording]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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PREFACE During the progress of the Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project a short oral history interview of Mike and Sallie Gordon was discovered and added to the project?s website. This is the transcript of that session recorded in March 1977. Mike and Sallie were among the very first people of Jewish ancestry to make their way to Las Vegas. They arrived January 26, 1932 to join relatives of Sallie?s who had moved to Las Vegas when the Boulder Dam construction began. They had married in 1930 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Soon they were involved members of a small but growing group of Jewish pioneers and helped found Temple Beth Sholom, the community?s first synagogue. Mike speaks about their liquor stores and lists his occupation as a bartender. Among the civic organizations that he participated in were: Young Democrats, Eagles Lodge, Lions Club, past president of Temple Beth Sholom and B?nai B?rith Lodge. Together Mike and Sallie recall the growth and changes of the valley they have witnessed between the early 1930s and mid-1970s. Among his anecdotes is one about the carrying of payroll checks to Boulder Dam to avoid ?interference? (robberies). 1 This is Adrianne Massa and I'm interviewing Mr. Michael Gordon. All right, Mr. Gordon. Were you born in Southern Nevada? No. [According to his bio-sheet, he lists his name as Mike Gordon, who was born in Pittsburgh PA on March 10, 1903. Also present his wife, Sallie. ] Were your mother and father born here? No. [Lithuanian ancestry.] Were your sisters or brother born here? No. When did your family come to Southern Nevada? Well, my wife and I came January the 26th, 1932. Why did you come here? Well, because my wife's folks were here and they were building the Boulder Dam. Were you educated in Southern Nevada? No. What schools were here and how many when you arrived? Well, there was one grammar school at Fifth and Bridger. And one grammar school, two rooms only, in West Las Vegas. And one high school; that's at Seventh and Bridger. Seventh and what? The high school. Bridger, yes. Has the students' attitudes towards education changed? The students' attitude? Right. Well, I think they have, yes. Are students more involved in school activities? 2 Oh, yes, much more. Much more. What occupations have you had? Well, first I was deputy constable. Then I was the first old-age administrator for Clark and Lincoln County. And then I became owner of a liquor store on Fremont Street where the Mint Hotel is right now. Were you married in Southern Nevada? No. I was married in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1930. Nineteen thirty. Do you remember any of the visits of the presidents or any other historical events? Well, we remember President [Franklin] Roosevelt when he came here to turn the power on Boulder Dam [September 30, 1935]. And then we remember the plane crash in which Carole Lombard was killed [January 16, 1942]. And then...What's the next question? What historical importance have you been associated with through your occupation? Well, not too much historical. Just seen one or two liquors to many, many hundreds of them now. Were you or are you involved in politics? I was president of the Young Democrats Club. Then I was secretary of the Democratic Central Committee under Dr. J.D. Smith. Were you a member of any social club or special interest group? Yes. I'm the past president of Eagles Lodge, past president of the Lions Club 49ers, past president of Temple Beth Sholom, and I'm the past president of B'nai B'rith Lodge. Was gambling ever an important recreational activity for your family? No. 3 What other kinds of recreation do you seek? Well, I enjoyed horseback riding, tennis, bowling, and was the first secretary of the Las Vegas Wrangler Baseball Club and one of the first sponsors of UNLV Rebels. Good shot. Yes. How has the community's involvement in recreational activities changed? Oh, yes. They've changed more for the better and there's a lot more activity. Do you remember any of the early aboveground atomic tests? Yes. The first one we were driving home from Los Angeles early in the morning and we got to the State Line; we saw the first cloud from the first atomic bomb. That's interesting. Anything else? It was thrilling, too. What changes have you noticed in Southern Nevada since you've first arrived? Well, the unusual growth of Las Vegas from fifty-three hundred and sixty-five people to now. Also the beginning and the growth of the Strip from the El Rancho to the present time. How many hotels were here when you first arrived? Well, there was nothing on the Strip and the only hotels we can remember is the Sal Sagev Hotel at First and Fremont, the Overland Hotel at First and Fremont, then the Grand Hotel-between Second and Third Streets on Fremont Street. What kind of influence have these hotels had on our economy? Just great. Really aided to the growth of Las Vegas. Do you think they've stimulated our economy? Oh, absolutely. 4 How have the floor shows changed? Well, first of all, we didn't have floor shows, but now they've grown each year more elaborate than ever. Do people spend more money; are they freer with their money than they used to be? Oh, they're a lot freer with the money than they used to be. What roads were here when you first arrived? Well, when we first arrived the only roads I can remember were the old L.A. Highway and the road to Boulder Dam, which was very narrow and room for two cars, then the road to Reno. Which roads have been extended; which ones are still here or which ones were dirt roads and they've paved? Well, there's quite a few. Most of the-what I mentioned were about the only roads available, but they've all been enlarged and improved since, added to-the roads. What houses, apartments or town houses have been added? Well, all of them with the exception of the first homes built by the railroad, and that runs from Main Street to South Fourth Street. SALLIE: And then on Fremont there were some homes. Then there was three large homes on Fremont Street. No, six. Six or eight. We got three to Fifth Street. From Third to Fifth. Yes. What shopping centers have been built since you first arrived? Well, practically every one. The only shopping center I can remember was the one at Fifth 5 Street, between Fifth and Carson, and that was the first what now has turned to supermarkets, and that was owned by Maury Smith and Don Borax, who is now chief security at the Desert Inn and he is also our chief of police and he was our Deputy U.S. Marshal. Has the kind of people that come to Las Vegas changed? Oh, yes. Yes, everybody knew-in the old days everybody knew each other. And now you can go into a show, a room with eight hundred people and you may not know two people. How have their attitudes changed? Well, they come up for a good time, to see shows. So I'd say their attitudes are for the better. How has Las Vegas residents' attitudes towards tourists changed? Well, they're very happy to see the tourists, but the old-timers still refer how much nicer it was when it was a very small town. How about transportation for the elderly? This has been talked about a lot. Do you feel the problem has been solved? No, I don't. I think there's a lot more that can be done for them. Can you give me some examples of that? Well, the elderly that have to go places while today finally there's a bus that takes them, but it's not on time or it's not at the time they want it. Is there any other comments you'd like to make? About the historical comments? Yes. I watched the development of Boulder Dam and Bud Vadell, who was deputy marshal, every two weeks he used to carry the checks to the workers at Boulder Dam. And they would go in three or four different cars and nobody knew which car was carrying the checks. Never once has there been an interference with the delivery of the checks. 6 Is there anything else you'd like to add? Can you think of anything, Sal? What about the police department? Oh, the police department, we had a chief of police- Clay Williams. -and his name was Clay Williams, and we had Joe May who was both constable and policeman, then there was a fellow by the name of Reece Morgan who was a policeman and Joe May's brother, Ernie May, and that's about all. And then the sheriff's office. What about on the back? The back of here? The sheriff's office. Oh, the original police station was on North First Street. And then Sam Gay was our sheriff. He was a very fine- Joe Chief was undersheriff. And Joe Chief was undersheriff. We only had one library in those days and that was the building in front of the courthouse at Third and Carson Street. And the only hospitals we had at that time was at Eighth and Ogden Street, the Las Vegas Hospital, and the county hospital on West Charleston Boulevard, the present site now of the Southern Nevada Memorial Hospital, but that was more of an indigent hospital; people without money could go there. Then we saw them build the underpass at Bonanza Road. Then we saw them build the Charleston underpass. And when it would rain real hard, neither underpass was passable. We only had one mortuary at that time and that was run by Ann and Gene Parks at the 7 corner of First and Carson Streets. We only had one bank originally and that was owned by John Miller and Ed Von Tobel. And Bussick. And John Bussick. And that was in the Sal Sagev building at Main and Fremont. We saw the beginning of Helldorado in 1936, and that was at Sixth and Fremont Street, and it got so cold that April that we had to close shop. Being an active Eagle in those days, we had the hamburger concession and we've seen every Helldorado since. An interesting point I'd like to bring up is-now he's deceased-but Judge Foley-Sims Ely was a very strict manager of Boulder City when it was under federal control. As a deputy constable, I'd get an order to pick up a car for-repossess a car. Sims Ely used to say to me, "You can't take it off a federal reservation." It was a reservation then. So I'd go back to the district attorney and he'd tell me to tell Sims Ely where to go and go get the car. It seems that Judge Foley really out bluffed that tough administrator Sims Ely. I had one very interesting experience. When I'd go to Boulder City to serve a summons or attachments, one day there was a skip that run between-on a cable that run between the Arizona side and the Nevada side. And there I was on the skip going down to the bottom of the Boulder Dam. And I think if any of those men knew what I had in my pockets, either a written attachment or a summons for a divorce, I think they would have thrown me overboard. I'll never forget that experience. Is there anything else you can think of? Can you think of anything? Did you tell them about Roosevelt being here? Oh, yes. 8 You didn't tell them that we have so many churches. Yes, I did. Oh, did you? I didn't hear. No, I think that covers everything pretty well. Now when I see the traffic on Maryland Parkway and on Sahara and the other arteries, it's just almost impossible to believe. Where you could go anywhere in five, ten minutes, anywhere in Las Vegas, now you have traffic lights and stop signs and it's altogether different driving. I think that's it. But I think the feud between Jack Foley and Sims Ely, oh, he was-I mean he really run that town. At the ceremony of President Roosevelt, turning on the power at Boulder Dam, our senior senator was Senator Key Pittman, who was considered really the second president of the United States. Then we had that wonderful congressman, Jim Scrugham who really fathered the building of Boulder Dam. I think that's it. Desert Inn Road was formerly known as Dio Road, D-I-O; and Sahara Avenue was formerly known as San Francisco Avenue; and Tropicana, that street now, was formerly Bond Road and it was named after a very prominent and wonderful leading lumber dealer in Southern Nevada. In '41, the Las Vegas Gunnery School was built about eleven miles north of Las Vegas, and at that time the only airport belonging to Las Vegas was at that location. Within a few years they closed the Las Vegas Gunnery School and our county commissioners were advised that they would reopen the gunnery training school if we moved our commercial airport. So we moved our initial airport out about eleven miles south of Las Vegas and it was named McCarran Airport after our distinguished statesman Senator McCarran. They reopened the Las Vegas 9 Gunnery School and changed the name to Nellis Air Force Base in memory of the first Clark County boy killed in World War II. Right? That's right. I think that's interesting, don't you? I sure do. When we arrived in Las Vegas, there were approximately five doctors, Dr. Roy W. Martin [Royce Wood Martin] being the first. The Union Pacific Railroad had a doctor by the name of Dr. Van Meter. The Las Vegas Hospital was started with Dr. R.D. Balcum, Dr. Ferguson, Dr. McDaniel and Dr. Martin then became a partner in the Las Vegas Hospital. And there was one other prominent physician, Dr. Mildren. And that's all the doctors. Yes. Two dentists. Then when the government started the dam in Boulder City, they opened the Boulder City Hospital at which there were two or three physicians on the government payroll at that time. That I know. [Pause in recording] -was talked about- Twenty-eight. -and planned by the Hoover administration with the help of Congressman [James] Scrugham. Their purpose was to generate more power for this area and the other states surrounding, among them being Southern California Edison, Arizona, Idaho, Wyoming got some-no? No, not that far. And Las Vegas took less power because of their size, never thinking that the community would grow or they would need as much power as they now need, and we are now getting our power from other sources than Boulder Dam. Part of it. 10 Yes, other sources. It was built-started in about 1931. The men worked three shifts, around the clock. They all lived in Boulder City in tents and dormitories that were built out there by the Anderson Brothers, which were one of the original contractors. And there were six companies that got together and formed the company that built the Boulder Dam. There was Morrison-Knudsen Company, Babcock and Wilcox Company... They supplied the pipe. Yes. I can't remember all of them. Well, there were six companies and they controlled-they paid the men off with a lot of scrip and they owned the grocery store. It was a regular government reservation at that time. Yes. That's right. I think that's interesting. And it was finished possibly five to seven years quicker than they had anticipated because I think Roosevelt was here in '34. What was the chief engineer's name? Frank Crow. And Frank Crow was the chief engineer of the whole deal, but he's been gone for years. Then they left from here and went to Grand Coulee. Then they've built other dams since. Why did they get finished so early? Because they worked twenty-four hours, around the clock. They hadn't planned on doing that? Well, if they had planned it, I don't know. But they couldn't allow the cement-because of the heat they couldn't allow the cement to dry without continuously pouring it at that time, and they used great big hoses of water all the time that the cement was being poured to keep it the way it's 11 supposed to be. And so they just-in order to get it completed properly, they had to work continuously. The nation was in the midst of that Depression and so many people come here to go to work that they had all the help they could possibly use. Do you remember anything about the Depression that you'd like to bring up? Well, Las Vegas never suffered- Yes, it never suffered. -a depression like the rest of the country because we were just going through the building of the dam and people coming here, people opening businesses, and thousands of men working on the dam that kept the economy of the Southern Nevada area very good at that time. In the early days of Las Vegas, first there was only picture show and then several- Owned by?? Owned by our mayor Ernie Cragin. And then a few years later Arthur Brick and Rosco Thomas built the theater known as the Palace Theater on South Second Street across from the courthouse. And then a group of citizens, about twenty of us donated money and they built which is now the Las Vegas Municipal Golf Course. There's a plaque as you enter the snack bar at the golf course that has the names of the original donors. I think that's good, too. I forgot about that. Yes. I look at it every once in a while. I think that's about it. How long did it take to build the golf course? Well, it was a hard deal; they hit a lot of caliche, didn't they? Yes. It was hard work. 12 I'd say to get it in shape, it took about five years. But had a lot of trouble with the caliche? Yes, the caliche was there and it got to be more expensive than they figured on, naturally. In fact, you know where it is, right near Western. Another interesting thing is when they built both the-then known as the Apache Hotel, they struck water and that is now the Benny Binion Horseshoe Club. And across the street when they built the Golden Nugget, they also struck water and that delayed the completion of the construction of the Golden Nugget. Did those hotels have any trouble with the caliche or just with the water? Oh, yes, there was caliche, all over Las Vegas, believe me, but the water was the main problem. We were offered a share of the Golden Nugget, a point for eight thousand. And when they struck water and caliche, they asked the investors for another thousand, to make it nine thousand a point. Today you couldn't buy that point for two hundred and fifty thousand. I have no idea. And he paid, Guy McAfee, the builder of the Golden Nugget, used to stand in front of our liquor and beg Mrs. Gordon and I to buy a share. I wanted to, but Sal didn't want me to have anything to do with gambling. I didn't. Are you against gambling? No, I'm not now, but at that time it just seemed...It was new to us and we didn't know. Of course, we had been here about ten years, I think, before the... Yes. And if you get off the tape, I'll tell you why. I won't make that on the tape. So you can turn it off and I'll tell you why. [End of recorded interview] 13