Gambling, entertainment and gourmet dinners will remain the big draws in Las Vegas when Nevada opens up again. But Southern Nevada has so much more to offer. History buffs and military veterans are all encouraged to take detours and see a side of the city that most are not even aware exists.
As Las Vegas grew in the 1950s, it showed its Wild West roots. Hotel employees tended to wear 10-gallon hats and cowboy boots as part of their Western outfits. But somewhere along the way the city lost its reflective Roy Rogers and Rex Bell vibe. Too bad, some say.
Rogers released motion pictures with titles such as “Under Nevada Skies.” And cowboy actor Rex Bell later became a local ranch owner and was elected lieutenant governor of Nevada. What’s more he was married to silent screen star Clara Bow.
Today, tourists can still play cowboy while helping veterans at the same time. Sydney Knott, director of the nonprofit Horses4Heroes ranch and stables, said, “I like to call our ranch a YMCA with horses. It is that place where you can go with your family and have fun with horses.”
Fees are discounted for veterans and their families, the heroes in the descriptive name. Go to https://horses4heroes.org for details and directions.
One of the most beautiful veteran memorials in the country, the Nevada State Veterans’ Memorial in Las Vegas, showcases statues of America’s soldiers from the Revolutionary War all the way to today’s Middle East conflicts. One bronze offering portrays three modern solders rescuing an injured comrade. Women and ethnic minorities are also represented with images wearing correct wartime gear. Plan to invest a half day to view the entire site in the plaza at the Grant Sawyer building, 555 E. Washington Ave. Admission is free. It’s open during business hours and there is plenty of free parking.
Local veterans unknowingly play a part in keeping midcentury commercial architecture alive. For veterans who need a little help, Las Vegas stands ready and willing to assist through its support of nonprofit Veterans Village locations throughout the city. Veterans Village Number 4 is a transitional and permanent housing residence for veterans. More to the point, the main building in the village is a former Travelodge motel.
Many older hotels and motels have a midcentury style that baby boomers and others find familiar. Kids sitting in the back seats of their parents’ Oldsmobile, Mercury or Plymouth automobiles often viewed local motels through car windows. And it’s where the families often stayed while on vacation. Neon signs, billboards promoting free color TV and small blue-water swimming pools were all the buzz.
Today, Veterans Village Director Arnold Stalk has been able to save many of the buildings from the wrecking ball to house veterans. He said the location “… is a piece of our private-sector imagined master plan in ending homelessness.”
To get a historic exterior view of the recent past that has been transformed to modern usage check out how Stalk’s tourist lodging accommodation has morphed into a haven for veterans at 1150 S. Las Vegas Blvd
Chuck N. Baker is a Purple Heart veteran of the Vietnam War and the host of “That’s America to Me” every Sunday at 7 a.m. on 97.1-FM.