REVIEW: Gambling On A Dream, The Classic Las Vegas Strip, 1930-1955

imageHow movers, shakers, mobsters, and dreamers created the Las Vegas Strip and transformed a dusty, lackluster desert into an oasis for guys and dolls flush with the blush of good times…

“Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip, 1930-1955” by Lynn Zook, is a new e-book availalble on iTunes for iPads and iPhones. It includes interactive elements that reveal how Las Vegas became the international tourist attraction that it is today.

Writer, historian, and Las Vegas native Lynn Zook, has made Los Angeles her home, but her interest in Las Vegas history and classic film has spurred her commitment to ferret out fascinating facts, to discover personal story arcs of bigwigs and bonanzas, and to seek Las Vegas insiders for her interviews describing how an oasis became a flash of neon in the desert.

Some of Zook’s lively videos include conversations with entertainers Sam Butera, Pete Barbutti, and Steve Rossi, as well as hotelier Burt Cohen. Multiple photo galleries with rare images of the early years of Vegas gestation show good-hearted folks pursuing their passions and boys in the backroom who knew how to finagle a deal.

A five-mile stretch of highway, formerly US Highway 91, was once the only route between Vegas and Salt Lake City. The first ten hotels that transformed the asphalt into an empire began with the El Rancho, The Frontier, The Riviera, The Flamingo, The Thunderbird, The Desert Inn, The Sahara, The Royal Nevada, The Dunes, and The Sands. These ten hotels were the nucleus of the explosion of development, Readers learn about the architects, the entertainers, and the arm-twisters who made the transformation viable.

According to historian and writer Alan Hess in his foreword to the interactive e-book, “Some of the hotels were among the largest ever built; some used creative new technical achievements; some advanced theater design to stage astonishing spectacles; almost all blended signage and structure into one seamless architecture that reimagined urban design for the midcentury’s suburban metropolises. Yet none of these innovations were reported in the major professional architecture journals.” What is surprising is that the new hotels with innovative technical achievements by those architects “found almost no mention in any of the histories,” according to Hess’s comments.

Zook had the good fortune to ¨grow up in that mythical place during its heyday as the ‘Entertainment Capitol of the World.'”  All the while, she  never fully appreciated the role Las Vegas plays in our collective memory. It wasn’t until many years later when original structures began to be destroyed that she “finally understood how important it had been and how it’s slow destruction could break our hearts.Today, with its mega-­‐resorts, it’s hard to imagine now how different the famous Las Vegas Strip looked back then.” Reviewing the rare and vintage photos selected for her book make the area ” seem almost quaint. But those pictures only begin to hint at the allure and pull that Las Vegas and this five-­mile strip of highway had on the American imagination in the years following World War II.”

Zook´s presentation July 7 at the Clarke County Flamingo Library in Las Vegas, entitled ¨Gambling On A Dream,¨ included some of the rare photos and videos featured in her latest book, and attracted a standing room only crowd. Her previous publications include “Las Vegas: 1905 to 1965” (Postcard History) with Allen Sandquist and Carey Burke.

Stories of legendary tantrums like that of Shecky Greene’s, and Frank Sinatra’s ability to move the color line, as well as Liberace’s business acumen, and Bugsy Siegel’s fatal flaws are but a few of the entertaining episodes that make the history of classic Las Vegas fun. With 40 videos, interviews with players and historians, vibrant maps illustrating the logistics of current and former hotel sites, and multiple photo galleries, “Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip, 1930-1955” is a sure bet for readers interested in Las Vegas and the fascinating characters who created  an  enticing oasis in the desert.