Las Vegas Celebrates 100th Birthday

Something was missing Sunday as this city celebrated its centennial along a stretch of downtown known as Glitter Gulch (search).

There were no long-legged showgirls. No slot machines. No tantalizing advertisements. The mayor wasn't even drinking gin.

Sin City (search) stepped back a century and wrapped its neon arms around its less-than-flashy railroad history, remembering how the booming desert metropolis got its start. For a day, Las Vegas promoted something other than a fantasy.

Dressed in a cowboy hat and vintage garbs, Mayor Oscar Goodman (search), the former mafia lawyer, kicked off a mock auction by taking on the persona of Sen. William A. Clark of Montana, who founded a railroad depot in Las Vegas.

Clark and his brother owned the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad. And on May 15, 1905, the Las Vegas Land & Water Co. auctioned 110 acres, or 1,200 lots, for the railroad.

An auction announcement said people could bid on lots ranging from $100 to $750. But "the sale of intoxicating liquors will be prohibited, excepting on blocks 16 and 17."

That rule didn't stick around long — booze is everywhere in modern Vegas and is even legal on the streets of the Strip.

The action was thick on auction day, and the prices quickly rose. Some thought speculators from Los Angeles had arrived to try to drive up prices.

But there were deals to be found: One bidder picked up three contiguous parcels on the now famous Fremont Street for $1,750. A hundred years later, that land would fetch millions.

"That's pretty good progress," Goodman later told a crowd of onlookers as he unveiled the first of 21 historical markers that will dot the city and mark the centennial.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., who participated in the auction Sunday, joked: "Who in God's name would ever live in a place this?"

That soon became clear. A year after the auction, the city installed its first street lights, the first carload of distilled whiskey was shipped to Nevada and two hotels opened in Las Vegas.

The city's nascent tourism business had begun. In the 100 years that followed, people have flocked to Las Vegas for the weather, job opportunities and its excesses.

And while the city has witnessed unprecedented growth in the last several decades, not everything has changed with time.

Bob Combs, 65, came to the city 45 years ago and now runs a pig farm.

Asked what the city was like when he first arrived, Combs inevitably touched on the present.

"Then it was an adult playground," he said while listening to the mayor. "People came, had a good time and left."

They still do, in droves, and that's not likely to change — not even in another 100 years.