Sunday, March 18, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The night culture came to Las Vegas.
There are close to 2 million people in Southern Nevada who will remember many years from now that the night culture came to Las Vegas was March 10, 2012, because that is when the Smith Center for the Performing Arts opened its doors. And, boy, are those beautiful doors!
But, as much as those 2 million people might want to believe they were right, the fact is that Las Vegas got acculturated many decades earlier. It just took a while for it to take.
There should be no question in anyone’s mind that the building that bears Mary and Fred Smith’s name, and which was given life through the hard work and determination of Don Snyder and a host of public and private partners throughout the state, will take its place among the great performing arts centers in the world. And why not? That is the nature of Las Vegas. When we finally build it, we do our darndest to make sure it is the best that humans can do. Witness the Bellagio, the Ruvo Center, the Springs Preserve, CityCenter and, oh yes, the Hoover Dam!
Sometimes, though, building it takes longer than expected.
I remember when culture first came to Las Vegas. It was more than 50 years ago and it showed up in the Rotunda of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Long before there was a massive Las Vegas Hilton next door, which boosted the convention business in Las Vegas, there was just our Convention Center. It stood alone on Paradise Road. All alone.
It was part of a vision, much maligned I might add by the naysayers in those days, that one day Las Vegas would host the largest and most sought-after conventions in the world. How are we doing so far?
We had it all in those early days, or so we thought. We had one of the best school systems in the country, in part because we had a growing population filled with brilliant scientists and, in part, because we had people who demanded it because they were looking for better lives for their children. We had some of the best weather anywhere and a town full of entrepreneurs who continually found ways to make Las Vegas the envy of the rest of the country. We even had the beginnings of a food culture that belied our small-town status and an entertainment lineup that made Broadway blush. What we didn’t have, though, was culture.
All that changed when Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic came to town.
That was more than 50 years ago and I remember it as if it were yesterday. Why? Because the entire city of some 100,000 people was proudly puffing that finally Las Vegas was going to be a place where culture would thrive, just like it did in the eastern cities from which many of our residents came.
I can’t remember how much I enjoyed the Philharmonic — I am pretty sure my answer would have been less diplomatic if asked right after the concert — but I do remember sitting in the front row on a folding chair on a concrete floor eating popcorn and drinking a Coke, just like we did when there was a basketball game or some other event in the Rotunda. As best I can recall, there were 7,000 other Las Vegans doing the same thing that day.
The next day, we knew we had arrived. The whole town knew that we were cultured, after just one concert! Had it not been for people like dear Nancy Houssels, who really kept cultural activity alive and somewhat thriving in the ensuing decades, who knows what might have happened.
But happen it did and the Smith Center is here to prove that with everything else we have going for us, culture — and all it brings to the dreams of those who will grow up in Las Vegas — is here to stay.
It is, really, about time.
Speaking of culture
Although every Las Vegan who is a UNLV Rebels basketball fan wishes the outcome had been different, the fact remains that coach Dave Rice and his team did Las Vegas proud.
We all know that college basketball tournaments are as much about emotion as talent, and what Rice and those young men proved to this city and to themselves is that they could play with both. It was a hard game to watch because we knew they could do better — we had seen it throughout the season — and we knew they knew it, too.
Win or lose, though, what the Rebels have done is give this city an invaluable sense of well-being when we come together, either at the Thomas & Mack Center or in our living rooms in front of the television, to watch them, cheer for them and take from them a sense of pride in UNLV and the city.
Yes, UNLV and the Runnin’ Rebels are part of our culture. They bring us together as a city and they give us something to cheer about. They deserve our thanks and our congratulations. And to coach Rice, not bad for your first year.
Our culture, though, as you can see from the Smith Center, is that we expect more next year!
Brian Greenspun is publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.