LAS VEGAS (KLAS) – Locals hate the title, but it’s stuck for years and years – “Sin City.” What most don’t know is the history behind Las Vegas’ unshakable nickname.
To many, especially tourists and outsiders, the reference is obvious. But to those who make Las Vegas valley their home, calling the sprawling metropolis Sin City is insulting. Such a reference ignores the area’s spacious parks and recreation offerings, roughly more than 20 official wilderness areas, and attractions like the Valley of Fire State Park and Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
The Sin City name centers mostly on Las Vegas being an adult playground with gambling, showgirls and alcohol.
Which, of course, is true. The first reference to “Sin City,” according to several experts, is in the 1963 book “Las Vegas, City of Sin?” by then-casino executives Pat Howell and Dick Taylor.
But history suggests the term was used early in the 1900s, just before Clark County was formed by the Nevada Legislature in February 1909.
In 1906, when Las Vegas was pretty much a railroad stop for water between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, the area where today sits the Main Street Station and California hotel-casinos and the parking garage for Binion’s Gambling Hall & Hotel developed into a collection of saloons and gambling dens. Referred to as Block 16 and Block 17, First Street between Ogden and Stewart avenues grew to the original “Sin City,” according to several reports, including some by the Las Vegas Sun newspaper.
Strangely enough, it became an area where all things illegal flourished, including prostitution. The Arizona Club built a second floor over its saloon, where prostitutes rented rooms and entertained clients.
Businesses in the blocks flouted laws, operating illegal casinos and serving booze through Prohibition.
Fines and raids through the years were considered the cost of doing business, and city officials seemingly allowed the establishments to continue because they were a source of revenue and kept the illegal activity neatly in one place.
The inscription on the historical marker (on North First Street and East Ogden Avenue) that remains reveals the area’s demise:
“The notorious Block 16, North First Street between Ogden and Stewart Avenues, was the only area in the Las Vegas Townsite, outside of hotels, where liquor could be sold, starting in 1905. The block quickly changed from its original liquor and gambling activities to feature prostitution. The swankiest of the clubs was The Arizona Club, the “queen” of Block 16. World War II brought an Army Gunnery School, later Nellis Air Force Base, to Las Vegas. Bowing to the Army’s demands, the City ordered prostitution on Block 16 to end in 1942.”