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Las Vegas Celebrates its Centennial

The neon sign of the Frontier casino and hotel marks the edge of the "old" Strip in Las Vegas.
Shereen Meraji, NPR /
/
The neon sign of the Frontier casino and hotel marks the edge of the "old" Strip in Las Vegas.
Johnny Thompson, president of the Professional Elvis Impersonators Association, plays his hero twice a day at the Omaha Lounge at the downtown Plaza Hotel and Casino on the "old" strip.
Shereen Meraji, NPR /
/
Johnny Thompson, president of the Professional Elvis Impersonators Association, plays his hero twice a day at the Omaha Lounge at the downtown Plaza Hotel and Casino on the "old" strip.

On Sunday, Las Vegas celebrates its centennial, though it may be a surprise to many that a city built on glitz and gambling has much history at all. When a developer needs more room for a bigger hotel on the strip, an older hotel is typically blown up to make way.

Most American cities have a genesis story. Think of Manhattan, bought for $24 worth of baubles, or Los Angeles' humble roots as a dusty Mexican pueblo. The story of Las Vegas begins with a small concrete pillar, looking a little like a parking barrier, marking the day in 1905 when 110 acres of land was auctioned off by a railroad company. And thus, the city was born...

That marker sits between a McDonald's restaurant and a run-down casino on the "old" strip, far away from the billion-dollar fantasy resort casinos lining the "new" strip.

Las Vegas remained a tiny, two-track railroad junction town until legendary gangster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel helped create the first luxury gambling resort, the Flamingo. Las Vegas is now a metropolis of nearly two million people, and a cultural touchstone, for better or worse.

"Las Vegas is either the city that represents America, or the city that America built to represent itself," says historian Michael Green.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Madeleine Brand
Madeleine Brand is the host of NPR’s newest and fastest-growing daily show, Day to Day. She conducts interviews with newsmakers (Iraqi politicians, US senators), entertainment figures (Bernardo Bertolluci, Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Ricky Gervais), and the everyday people affected by the news (an autoworker laid off at GM, a mother whose son was killed in Iraq).
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