City officials' view of historical 'facts' needs fix, as do downtown plaques

Historians aren't the only ones outraged by the city of Las Vegas' cavalier approach to historical accuracy. Let me add my voice to those who wonder why city officials won't own up to sloppy research and are reluctant to do the right thing and fix six inaccurate or unverified plaques downtown.

Scott Adams, the condescending director of the city's Office of Business Development, came up with a cockamamie suggestion Wednesday for an unsympathetic audience: The Las Vegas Historic Preservation Commission.

Just reading our news account by Carri Geer Thevenot, I practically could see the disdain and dismay on the faces of the commissioners who respect historical accuracy.

Instead of taking out the three clearly inaccurate historical plaques (which cost $3,600 each to put in) Adams wants to put in two more plaques, described as "disclaimer plaques" that would describe the errant plaques as "fun facts."

"Fun facts" suggests the information is a fact.

Adams clearly does not get it. Instead of saying that his office screwed up and should fix the errors, he is fighting it.

Nor is he willing to blame anyone for the misinformation provided about the Golden Gate hotel, the first atomic blast or Bugsy Siegel. "I stand behind my staff and how they developed these," Adams said.

In other words, truth isn't a big deal to this bureaucrat. He doesn't want to blame anyone for the reckless approach to the city's history. Does no one at the city ever want to own up and say: I made a mistake? Is that just the culture of government?

Why the city wants to fight this is beyond me, unless looking like rubes and boobs is a good thing.

The medallion muddle would have been obvious if someone would have, after they were written, run them by the city's Historic Preservation Commission, which gladly would have helped the city check the accuracy of its "facts."

The commissioners would have been able to point out that the medallion saying the Golden Gate was the city's first hotel when it opened in 1906 was wrong.

The commissioners would have realized that a medallion stating the first atomic blast in 1951 occurred "to great fanfare" actually wasn't true.

And they could have prevented the biggest blooper: A medallion saying 1945 is the year Siegel bought the El Cortez and planned the Flamingo as the first hotel on the Strip. Perhaps the careful researcher in the city's crack Office of Business Development sourced this from the Warren Beatty movie "Bugsy," which took historical liberties.

Siegel was an investor in the El Cortez, and the first hotel on the Strip was the El Rancho Vegas in 1941; the second was the Last Frontier in 1942.

It says a lot that the city is resisting accuracy and honesty and, instead of removing the three false plaques and putting in new ones, believes the solution is to add more plaques saying these are "fun facts."

Why not a plaque that says: "We're incompetent, so don't believe one-third of these medallions. And we're too cheap to change it because we care little for truth."

A memo from Adams defends the Office of Business Development's research techniques for the 18 medallions. He said his researchers found a combination of myth, truth and legend. The bronze medallions never distinguish which is which.

Apparently the list of "facts" approved by a subcommittee fell short, and the business department decided they were not exciting enough. They asked College of Southern Nevada historian Michael Green for some ideas. He offered some "dynamic suggestions," some of which made the list. (We don't know whether his were among the six discounted as factual or unverified, and Green didn't respond to requests for comment Friday,)

But was the final list and verbiage ever run past a serious historian? Well no, according to Adams' memo. His staff performed the final edit of the final 18 by trying them out on staff and visitors.

The Historic Preservation Commission and a good editor could have saved Adams a lot of grief.

Let's hope the city does a better job with the mob museum. But first, city officials need to fix the falsehoods on the medallions.

The little lies in history count just as much as the big ones.

Jane Ann Morrison's column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at or call 383-0275.