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Transcript of interview with Chic Hecht by Julie Sefman, April 2, 1976






Interview with Chic Hecht Julie Sefman on April 2, 1976. In this brief interview, Hecht talks about his time in the state senate working to bolster the budget with sales tax and gaming tax, starting a community college and health programs. He also talks about Pop Squires, a newspaper man and advocate for building Hoover Dam, who had a home on the site of Chic Hecht's clothing store on Fremont Street. Hecht also describes his time in the military and his involvement with the Military Intelligence Association.

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Chic Hecht oral history interview, 1976 April 02. OH-00826. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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AN INTERVIEW WITH CHIC HECHT An Oral History Conducted by Julie Sefman April 2, 1976 The Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas i ?Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2014 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV - University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Barbara Tabach Transcriber: Kristin Hicks Interviewers: Barbara Tabach, Claytee D. White Editors and Project Assistants: Maggie Lopes, Stefani Evans ii The recorded Interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grant. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes 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. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews with permission of the narrator. The following interview is part of a series of interviews transcribed under the auspices of the Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas iii PREFACE This is a brief oral history of Las Vegas businessman and politician, Chic Hecht. Recorded in 1976, the collector/interviewer notes, which also included here, reveal him to be a busy man. She tells of waiting nearly an hour for their appointment and then being interrupted by employees and calls. In spite of the breaks in the interview, Chic presents himself as an intent subject, happy to participate in this 1976 oral history. Chic lived for three active decades after this interview. A Missouri native and graduate of Washington University in St. Louis in 1949, Chic tells of hitchhiking to Las Vegas in 1945 and then moving here to join his father Louis, who had relocated to Las Vegas in 1946 finding it a good city to invest in. As a successful businessman, Chic reflects on changes occurring on local retail business, impact of malls and tourism on downtown retailing. Many early Las Vegas residents recall shopping at his store on Fremont Street. The store location included the site of the Squires home. He called "Pop" Squires, often referred to as the father of Las Vegas, a friend and erected a marker on the Hecht store front to honor Squires. [Photos included here.] He is also proud of his jump into politics: Chic served as state senator from 1967 to 1975 and mentions being the rare Republican to hold the office for his Las Vegas area district. In 1982 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, ousting Democrat Howard Cannon. He was appointed ambassador to the Bahamas by President George H. W. Bush in 1989. iv The informant is Mr. Chic Hecht. The date is April second, 1976, at 4:45 p.m. The place is 413 East Fremont Street, Las Vegas, Nevada. The collector is Julie Sefman. Address, 1100 Dumont Boulevard, Las Vegas, Nevada. This is a local history oral interview project entitled "The Life of a Las Vegas Old-Timer." Were you born in Southern Nevada? No. I was born in Missouri. When did you come to Southern Nevada? In 1945. Why did you come here? I graduated high school in 1945 and a friend that I graduated with, the two of us, joined the forest rangers in Idaho and we hitchhiked to Las Vegas. Did you have any education in Southern Nevada? No. I just worked in Southern Idaho. I went back and graduated in 1949 from Washington University in St. Louis. Can you tell me some of the addresses you lived at in Southern Nevada? Only Las Vegas. Were you married in Las Vegas? No. I married a girl from San Diego. We were married in San Diego. Is or was religious activity an important part of your life? Yes, it's a very important part of my life. What type of activities? Well, my wife and I are both Jewish and we go to the temple. Religion is a big part of our life. Do you remember the visits of any of the presidents or other important people to the Las 1 Vegas area? No, I really don't. Do you remember any of the events, such as the 1912 (sic) [1942] crash of Carole Lombard's plane? I remember the event, but I wasn't living here then. Do you remember any important marriages or divorces, just Clark Gable? Oh, God, lots and lots of them. Dozens into hundreds. Some of the more important ones? Who is that girl that married Rex Harrison?not Rex Harrison. Who is always in the news? Ah, gosh, I'll remember when we start talking. Okay. Was there a lot of publicity with those marriages? Always, always. That's Nevada. They always give a lot of publicity. What can you tell me about your political career? Well, I was never really involved in politics and I just would see different ones and I thought more businesspeople should be interested in politics. So I decided to run for the state senate. Can you tell me the major events that happened while you were a senator? Oh, yes, lots of things happened in the state. I was a senator for eight years. I was a Republican. In fact, I'm the only Republican senator that's been elected to Clark County. We did a lot of things. We came into the state in 1967. There was no money. We had to raise the sales tax and we raised gaming taxes, put our state on a good footing and we haven't had to raise taxes since. We started the community college. We started comprehensive health programs. We did a lot in the last ten years. 2 Are you currently involved (inaudible)? I am involved, but I'm not in any political office at this time. Were or are you a member of a social club or other special interest group? Oh, I'm a member of a lot of clubs. I don't think special interest, though. Could you tell me about some of the clubs? Oh. Elks, Chamber of Commerce, intelligence groups. I used to be an intelligence agent. But nothing under special interest. My involvement was only social. Is or was gambling an important recreational activity for you or your family? Never. Never gambled in Las Vegas. What other types of recreation do you seek? Well, I love to play golf, be with my family. My kids play tennis. I enjoy going out and eating good food. Do you remember anything about the early aboveground atomic tests? Oh, sure. I used to get up early in the morning and watch them. Could you tell me a little bit about it? Well, you just awe. Just awe-inspiring to see one moment of pitch black and then the next moment it's broad daylight. Were they generally early in the morning? Generally, yes, they always used to be early in the morning. Can you tell me what changes you've noticed in Southern Nevada since you first arrived? Well, as far as economically...the population was around thirty-five thousand when I got here and now it's three hundred and fifty thousand. So it's a different city. It's a big city now. Environmental changes...we have more smog. Social changes...not a whole lot one way or 3 another. When did you first become interested in history and history of Southern Nevada? Oh, I've always been a history buff. I've always loved history. That was one of my favorite subjects in school. So when I came out here I was interested in Southern Nevada history. What can you tell me about Pop Squires? Pop Squires is not a known figure at the moment, although he was many years ago. He was in his own right probably a genius. He ran the newspaper here, first newspaper. But he went back to Washington in the early 1900's, talked to Teddy Roosevelt and talked Teddy Roosevelt into putting a dam across the Colorado River. A lot of people call him the Father of Hoover Dam. Since that first visit he went back many times and they agreed on a site where the present site is now. He was a good environmentalist and a great person. Can you tell me anything Mom Squires? She was just a western wife. Everything about her was just what you would expect. Just tremendous. She came out here in 1905 probably in a covered wagon. Do you know when their house was removed from your property? Yes, I tore it down six years ago. Can you tell me about the plaque on the front of your store? Yes. I had the great occasion to know Pop Squires over many years and he was always a very friendly person, tall, a wreck, tremendous gentleman. Because of all the accomplishments he had in Las Vegas and because of what he did for the country and Hoover Dam?and, incidentally, during the Second World War when all the munitions and aircraft industry in Southern California were working, most of the power came from Hoover Dam. This man had a tremendous effect on the world. And I just thought that we could commemorate the place where 4 he lived and that was the reason I had the plaque put up. Did you purchase your store directly from Pop Squires? My father bought the property from Pop Squires in 1948. Do you know where his house is now? We tore it down. what can you tell me about your role as a businessman in Las vegas? Well, I came out. My father was out here. He came out in '46; I came out in '49. I worked with him for a year. Then I went into the army. The Korean War had just started. I got out of the army in '53 and I came and opened up my store in 1954. So I've been a businessman since 1954. How did you get involved in the clothing business? Just growing up with things you grow up with. My father was in the business. In my father's family there were ten kids?in those years they used to have a lot of children?eight boys and two girls. And the entire family was in the clothing business; all the children were in the clothing business. So it was just a natural thing for me to go into the clothing business. Have you ever had any business (inaudible) that you wanted to discuss? Sure. Of course, (inaudible). Anyone that doesn't move that doesn't do anything, you can't help from having been an industry person if you are aggressive. Probably one of the biggest decisions in my life businesswise was when the mall opened. Should I go out to the mall or should I stay downtown? I felt that I should stay downtown. Well, the first two or three years it was a disaster because the entire city moved out into the mall. Then new hotels came downtown, more rooms, more promotion by the casinos, and downtown came back where now I'm probably do more volume per square foot than stores in the mall and I don't stay open nights and I don't stay open Sunday. 5 What can you tell me about the changes that have occurred on Fremont Street since you came to this area? It's changed all back to the same. It's always been a big tourist pot. There for a few years it stopped somewhat. However, it's come back very strong. Probably the biggest single factor on Fremont was the opening of the Union Plaza hotel because that got business people, tourists and everyone interested in downtown Las Vegas. It bought in new office buildings. The Union Plaza was a turning point in downtown Las Vegas, no question about it. Do you have any major concerns about the downtown area? No. No. I think the future of downtown is far greater than the future of the Strip. What do you think about making the downtown area into a mall? Property values are too high. We're taxed by the front foot in downtown Las Vegas where the malls are taxed by the acre. Property is just geared to the gaming and I think you're going to find lots and lots of new hotels developing in the downtown area. Would you be willing to participate in a longer interview if requested? Any time. Any time. Do you have any photos or diaries or journals or anything having to do with the history of Southern Nevada that you would be willing to share with the university? No, I really don't. I wish I did. I would be happy to give them to the university. I don't. Well, that's about all. Thanks for coming in. What can you tell me about your military career? Well, it was exciting, probably the most exciting part of my life. Can you tell me more about what you did? 6 Well, the Korean War had just started and I was with a couple of my friends. We were taking a vacation in Europe. In fact, we were in the French Riviera when the Korean War started. None of us had ever heard much about Korea and we thought, how long could that war last? I was deferred after the Second World War because I was in college as a student. So I came back and immediately I was drafted into the army. I was put into the army as a private in the infantry. Since I had had a college degree, I went through a lot of tests and they wanted to know if I wanted to become an officer and go to officer's training school. And I said, no, because you had to sign up for four years and I did not expect any war with Korea to last four years just after the Second World War was over. I have these facts in my mind. So I said, "No, I don't want to." And they said, "Well, there's other schools. Would you like to go to any other school?" I said, "Sure." I didn't think too much about it because I expected to be out of the army in thirty or sixty days. After I took my basic training in infantry and I had a little artillery basic training down in Camp Chaffee, Arkansas, I was pulled out and sent to a top secret intelligence school and put into the Intelligence Corps. School was located in a remote spot outside of Washington, D.C. and I spent three months there. After I graduated from the school, I was to be sent over to Europe. During college, in the beginning of my college, I had studied German because I thought at one time I might become a doctor. So I had four years of college German. So because of this one language ability, they sent me over to Europe, Germany. Otherwise, I might have been sent to Korea. Upon arriving in Europe at intelligence headquarters in Frankfurt, I was supposed to spend a few months indoctrinating myself on intelligence and everything like that. I got in on a Friday afternoon, I remember, and I was told that Sunday I was going behind the Iron Curtain as an intelligence 7 agent. This is like taking a boy out of a high school football team and putting him on the pro team in two days. Well, I did that and I went behind the Iron Curtain. I served eighteen months behind the Iron Curtain as an intelligence agent. It was the most exciting part of my life. I loved it. Have you had any (inaudible) since you've been in Las Vegas, any connection? I have not had any?yes, I have had a lot of connection. I won't say that. I kept up in the military intelligence. There's an organization; I became the national president of the Military Intelligence Association in 1972. Two years ago a new intelligence group was formed, a fifteen-man National Military Intelligence Board headed by the head of CIA, the head of Pentagon Intelligence, so on and so forth. There's fourteen top military individuals on this board and one civilian and I happen to be the civilian. My term is for three years; I've served two years; I have one more year. I go back to Washington, the Pentagon quite frequently. We meet there; we meet at Fort Huachuca, which is Army Intelligence School in Arizona. So I'm still really heavily involved and I still enjoy it. Well, is there anything that I missed that you can tell me that might have some bearing on Las Vegas and Southern Nevada, any point that I may have missed? Politically or how do you mean? Any way at all. Well, I think that we're going to test the next two or three years our tax base, which has been a big thing for Nevada. We do not have an income tax. We do not have an inheritance tax. We've always had a lot of conservative people?and I'd have to say as a businessman, I'm a conservative person?and people from the cow counties up in Reno who watched the spending. We have a new group of people in the legislature now, people who can get away for a hundred 8 and twenty, a hundred and thirty days. Business people cannot afford the time anymore. So we'll have to watch the spending. If they do not watch the spending, we could get taxation the same as any other state in Nevada. It would hurt the state dramatically. What can you tell me, back to your business, what affect gambling has on you? Well, I would have to say 50 to 60 percent of my business is tourists and gambling brings people into town who spend money with me. So I'm directly affected by gambling. Do you find that you get a lot of repeat customers? Definitely. Repeat tourists is a tremendous amount. Well, I suppose I can see that will be all I can ask at this time. Thank you very much. Thank you, Julie. [End of recorded interview] 9 April 2, 1976 I feel it is important for me to include my feelings on the brevity of this interview. I was very enthusiastic about this project from the very beginning. I went up to Special Collections in the library and discussed with one of the women some of the questions I should ask Mr. Hecht. I typed up the questions and gave them to Mr. Hecht over a week before the interview so he would be prepared to answer certain questions. I arrived at his store fifteen minutes before our appointment, and then waited 55 minutes for him to meet me in his office. There were constant interruptions and two long distance calls while I was there. We had to stop the interview while he closed one of his stores. His employees were constantly coming in and asking him questions. Mr. Hecht is a very busy man and really wanted to help with the interview. He answered my questions very quickly, although he did think about them. I tried to be brief because I did not want to take up too much of his time. I had asked him to plan on 60-90 minutes beforehand and I was very surprised at the length of the interview. I am including this note to let you know I took this project seriously and wanted to assure you the length of the inter-view is not because of negligence. Sincerely, TAPE SUMMARY SHEET Interview with Mr. Chic Hecht, 413 E. Fremont St., Las Vegas, Nevada, age 47, April 2, 1976. 000 how he first arrived in Las Vegas 020 religious activities 026 important marriages and publicity 030 business and politics 038 role as Senator 040 sales tax and gaming tax 050 clubs he belongs to and recreational activities 056 atomic tests 060 changes in Las Vegas 069 relationship with "Pop" Squires 076 "Mom" Squires 080 "Pop" Squires-his memory of 090 role as a businessman 100 business reverses?mall vs. downtown 110 changes on Fremont St. 120 military career 150 going behing the iron curtain 160 current involvement with intelligence 170 test of taxes 180 effect of gambling on his business Correct spelling: CHAFIACK, Arkansas Fort HUACHUCA