Sunday, Jan. 4, 2009 | 2 a.m.
Sun Special Project
An estimated 291,000 people rang in the New Year on the Las Vegas Strip, but very few likely realized 2009 is a Clark County milestone for an entirely different reason.
It is the year that the county turns 100.
When is the county’s birthday?
On July 1, 1909, Clark County officially came into existence with the splitting of Lincoln County. Las Vegas beat out Searchlight to be named the county seat.
Is the county doing anything to commemorate its centennial? Will it present a free Red Hot Chili Peppers concert like Las Vegas did when it celebrated its 100th in 2005?
It won’t have anything so extravagant, but will have events that are perhaps more germane. Starting Feb. 6 and going through December, the county will hold 11 history round-table discussions on the first Friday of each month at the Clark County Government Center.
As early as May, the county expects word on whether its attempt was successful to get the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Officials figure that should result in some celebration.
In the late fall, the newly restored Candlelight Wedding Chapel, at the Clark County Museum in Henderson, will open to the pubic.
Other events include a touring history exhibit focusing on rural Clark County that will open July 3. In December, officials will bury a time capsule at the government center.
Is the new history show that is being broadcast on the county’s cable television channel part of the centennial as well?
Yes, and that may be the most visible aspect and may ultimately prove to be the one that has the most impact. The county hired former local Fox News reporter Lisa Katz to produce a series of 30-minute shows. The first episode went into cable channel 4’s rotation on Thursday. A new episode is to be released each month. The county pays her $10 per hour as a part-time employee.
The Katz, 37, who moved to the Las Vegas Valley when she was 2, began the project in August 2007 and expects to interview more than 100 people by the time she completes all 12 segments.
Here’s the lineup of topics: January, museums; February, African-American history; March, women; April, performing arts; May, the marketing of Las Vegas; June and July, Strip history in two parts; August, county government history; September, Hispanic culture; October, haunted and historical places; November, military; and December, the next 100 years.
The series is called “A Leap Back, a Look Forward: 100 Years of History.”
Las Vegas has a lot of colorful characters in its history, and not all of them are dead. How did she decide whom to interview and whom to focus on?
“It really took me a good eight months just to formulate lists and narrow them down for 12 different shows,” Katz said last week. “I came up with the list by talking to historians, professors and people who lived here a long time. So far, I’ve done more than 70 interviews. I’ve probably got 50 left to do.”
How much more is there to know about Clark County other than: Chairman of the Board Frank Sinatra and his Rat Pack, the Strip, and mobsters once ran the joint?
Katz, who graduated from Arizona State University, said she has always found herself defending Las Vegas because of a similar misconception that “it’s just about the Strip.”
“I was always defending it, but not really knowing how,” she said, laughing. “I’ve learned we have this rich, eclectic, great history that they never teach you in school, and I’m just finding out now.”
The valley has grown so much in modern times, are there many stories about what it was really like when it was still “small-town”?
“(Former U.S. Sen.) Richard Bryan told this story,” Katz said. “His dad was a prominent lawyer. When Richard was a young boy standing downtown, he saw the police chief’s car blazing by, lights on and siren, with his dad’s car right behind him. When he got home, he asked his father what had happened. His dad told him ‘I was late for a Men’s Club meeting.’ ”
If Katz had to pick, which segments or interviews does she feel most connected with?
“I’m most proud of the African-American history segment. We really have some legends here in this county and I never had an idea of what they had to go through and how courageous they were,” she said.
It sounds as if Katz was touched by the job. Was she?
“It has really turned into a life-changing event for me,” Katz said. “I’ve fallen in love with my home. I’ve fallen in love with the people I interviewed and realize that there are such courageous, amazing, funny people that are from my hometown, people I’d never even heard of before ... Some day I can look back and say I’ve helped tell the story of my home.”