weather icon Clear

Las Vegas history book a visual feast of old photos

Updated September 6, 2019 - 5:14 pm

When Peter Moruzzi drove back home after his first visit to Las Vegas, it was with a suitcase full of postcards, matchbooks and ashtrays.

The year was 1983, and the 21-year-old had fallen in love with the city, its architecture, its neon and the downtown area where he learned to play craps.

In his book, “Greetings From Las Vegas” (Gibbs Smith, $30), Moruzzi visually chronicles Las Vegas’ history using his own artifacts, Kodachromes he purchased at swap meets, and photos he uncovered in museum collections.

small pic description goes here

The El Rancho. (Peter Moruzzi’s private collection)

“I was knocked out by the beauty of Las Vegas,” Moruzzi recalls. “I had written other similar books and wanted to do one on Las Vegas.”

Moruzzi realizes that the Las Vegas history book has been done before. But he set out to do something different by including over 300 images, many of which he thinks will be new even to Las Vegas history aficionados such as himself.

His book examines Las Vegas’ evolution from a dusty railroad town in the early 1900s, through gambling legalization in 1931, the days of the mob, Rat Pack, the tiki bar and beyond.

small pic description goes here

Rendered interior for the Royal Nevada’s Luau Room. (Peter Moruzzi’s private collection)

Moruzzi has authored pictorial history books of Los Angeles, Havana and his current home, Palm Springs, California. He also drafted the successful nomination to place Las Vegas’ El Cortez in the National Registry of Historic Places.

In the early stages of creating the book, Moruzzi sought out photos that he hadn’t seen in other publications.

He sourced photos from new collections, including a Young Electric Sign Co. archive belonging to the Neon Museum and photos belonging to UNLV’s special collections.

“There’s a mock-up of Vegas Vic that hasn’t been seen before from the YESCO archive,” Moruzzi says.

small pic description goes here

UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

He was especially interested in candid photos of ordinary people, rather than the more common posed and promotional images that have survived through today.

He cites a Kodachrome of three Las Vegas visitors named Flo, Frank and Betty, gathered around a bed at the Dunes, divvying up their slot machine winnings.

small pic description goes here

(Peter Moruzzi’s private collection)

“I wanted to include Kodachromes of ordinary people having a good time,” he says.

During his yearly trips to Las Vegas, he scoured swap meets, antique malls and eBay for postcards and memorabilia.

One of his favorite images from his personal collection is a 1946 postcard of the Flamingo, bearing a vertical marquee that only stood for a few months before being redesigned.

small pic description goes here

This vertical marquee stood at The Flamingo for only a few months before being redesigned. (Peter Moruzzi’s private collection)

“We would always go to famous places like Hugo’s Cellar and Golden Steer Steakhouse,” Moruzzi says. “I once talked my way into the Neon Boneyard by saying I was a Hollywood film scout.”

Moruzzi conducted most of his research while writing the nomination for the El Cortez. He also consulted friends and fellow historians, two of whom are included in the book as contributing authors.

He landed on two themes that he says demonstrate the story of Las Vegas.

small pic description goes here

An early marquee for The Flamingo. (Peter Moruzzi’s private collection)

“One is the extremely rapid growth from 1946 to 1960,” he says. “These hotels sprouting every year, sometimes two a year. It was a short period of time for this new concept to pop up from the desert sands.”

The other theme he focused on was modernism, specifically how post-World War II style influenced Las Vegas hotels and casinos.

“They had the best architects, locally and from the rest of the country, working on them,” he says.

small pic description goes here

Caesar’s Palace. (Peter Moruzzi’s private collection)

On Thursday, Moruzzi will host a slideshow of historical highlights and a book signing in the Wayfarer Theater at Inspire in downtown Las Vegas.

“Visually, Las Vegas is one of the best places on Earth,” Moruzzi says. “Without these early pioneers and things they came up with, we would never have the World Series of Poker or free cocktails. It’s necessary that people understand how Las Vegas came to be what it is.”

Contact Janna Karel at jkarel@reviewjournal.com. Follow @jannainprogress on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Green Eggs and Ham at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas
Scott Simon, executive chef at Carson Kitchen in Las Vegas, makes a Green Eggs and Ham Flatbread with pistou, smoked mozzarella, tasso ham and eggs. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal
Lemon Semifreddo Dessert at Vetri Cucina in Las Vegas
Ashley Costa, pastry chef at Vetri Cucina at the Palms in Las Vegas, freezes lemon curd with whipped cream, sandwiches it between polenta-based crumiri cookies, sprinkles it with powdered sugar and drizzles it with argrumato, a lemon olive oil. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Museum of Selfies coming to Las Vegas - VIDEO
The interactive attraction offers several new selfie opportunities. (Museum of Selfies)
Show of Strength in 'A Choreographers Showcase' - VIDEO
"A Choreographers Showcase" pairs artists from Nevada Ballet Theater and staff from all facets of Cirque du Soleil to design an annual show. (Elizabeth Page Brumleyy/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
David Chang talks about what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish - VIDEO
David Chang tells fans what to expect at his new restaurant, Majordomo Meat & Fish, at The Venetian on the Las Vegas Strip. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pink Lady and Rosey Mary cocktails at Therapy in Las Vegas
Terence Beach, bartender at Therapy restaurant in Las Vegas, makes original pink cocktails to benefit breast cancer research. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Torrijas dessert served at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill in Las Vegas
Chef Christian Lee of Sugarcane at The Venetian in Las Vegas makes a dessert of torrijas, a Latin French toast, serving it with a caramelized-apple sauce and cinnamon ice cream. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
David Chang to sell Tasty Patties at Palazzo in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Chef David Chang has announced a casual concept that will accompany his new Majordomo Meat & Fish at Palazzo on the Las Vegas Strip. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Latkes, tzimmes at Market Place Buffet in Las Vegas for Rosh Hashanah
Ryan Swanson, Market Place Buffet room chef at the JW Marriott/Rampart Casino in Las Vegas, makes potato dishes as part of the resort’s Rosh Hashanah buffet. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
How Elphaba In "Wicked" turns green - VIDEO
Mariand Torres gets "painted" by makeup supervisor Joyce McGilberry for her role as Elphaba in "Wicked" at The Smith Center. (Janna Karel/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Hangover is served at The Crack Shack in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Khine Moore, executive chef at The Crack Shack at Park MGM in Las Vegas, makes The Hangover with a fried chicken breast or thigh dipped in honey-butter, sprinkled with Crack Seasoning and topped with an egg. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dessert Before Dinner winner Becky Quan
Nine of Las Vegas’ top women pastry chefs offered original creations built around Girl Scouts Trefoils shortbread cookies Saturday night at Girl Scouts of Southern Nevada’s annual Desserts Before Dinner Gala. The top dessert, as voted on by the audience, was an homage to Good Humor’s old-fashioned Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bars created by NoMad’s Becky Quan. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Chef Sammy D is cooking again in Las Vegas
Sam DeMarco served his first public meal since returning to Las Vegas on Sunday, with a pop-up brunch at 7th & Carson. And the veteran of the First Food & Bar, Rattlecan and Sam’s American has more in store for the downtown spot. The chef, known as Sammy D. to his friends, is taking on a consulting chef role with restaurant that will see some of Sunday’s offerings added to the regular menu. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Carl’s Donuts in Las Vegas celebrates National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day
Carl’s Donuts, a Las Vegas-based company that’s been serving the city since 1966, celebrates National Cream-Filled Doughnut Day with specialties themed to fall. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Rick Harrison of "Pawn Stars" has a new store - VIDEO
Rick Harrison, the Pawn Stars co-star and owner of Gold & Silver Pawn, talks to the Review-Journal’s John Katsilometes about his soon-to-open Rick’s Collection retail outlet of mostly mid-century masterworks at the Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pok Pok Wing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas serves Pad Thai Thamadaa - VIDEO
Because of popular request, the 1-year-old Pok Pok Wing at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas serves Pad Thai Thamadaa, with shrimp, ground pork, neither or both. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trial by Fire cocktail at the Golden Tiki in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Adam Rains, head bartender (also Grand Poobah and a few other things) at The Golden Tiki in Las Vegas, makes one of the bar’s tiki drinks, (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Gordon Ramsay renovating Las Vegas steakhouse - VIDEO
Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay is preparing to re-launch his Paris Las Vegas restaurant, Gordon Ramsay Steak. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Cats owners compete for top show awards
The annual Jazzy Cats event is taking place at the Rio Convention Center this weekend attracting cats owners from around the country and the world to compete for the top show awards. (Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Brooklyn Bowl in Las Vegas serves blackened Cajun catfish - VIDEO
Troy Remer, sous chef at Brooklyn Bowl at The Linq Promenade in Las Vegas, blackens Cajun catfish on the grill before serving it with mashed potatoes and collard greens. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Gold Encrusted Filet Mignon at Mr. Chow - VIDEO
This just may be the gold standard for the filet mignon. Mr. Chow at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas has introduced The Gold Encrusted Filet Mignon, which is coated with real 24-karat gold. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Working as a mermaid in Las Vegas - VIDEO
McKenzie Kawano works as a mermaid at the aquarium at the Silverton in Las Vegas. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pinkbox Doughnuts opens third store in Las Vegas area
Las Vegas-based Pinkbox Doughnuts, which opened its third store at 9435 W. Tropicana Ave., specializes in doughnuts such as the new Station Wagon, with Butterfinger; pink-velvet Pretty in Pink; and hybrid Glazed DoughCro Bites. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal, with image courtesy of Pinkbox Doughnuts
Starbucks brings back Pumpkin Spice early
Starbucks declares Aug. 27 the first day of fall as they make their pumpkin spice items available a full month early. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bachelor Party Fra Diavolo at Carmine’s in Las Vegas
Roberto Leon, a line cook at Carmine’s at The Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas, makes Bachelor Party Fra Diavolo with eight pounds of lobster, a pound each of mussels, clams and shrimp, two pounds of pasta and two gallons of sauce. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
'American Idol' auditions in Las Vegas
“American Idol” was in Las Vegas Monday looking for singers to compete in its upcoming 2020 season. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegan part of the Harlem Globetrotters
Scooter Christensen, who grew up in Las Vegas, will play with the Harlem Globetrotters at The Orleans in Las Vegas Sunday, Aug. 25. (Mat Luschek / Las Vegas Review-Journal)
MSG Sphere at The Venetian to cost $1.2B plus
Scheduled to open in 2021, it is expected to be busier than Madison Square Garden in New York. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terra Rossa Returns To Red Rock. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Terra Rossa at Red Rock Resort is set to open on Aug. 26.
Hubert Keller’s Backyard Kitchen
Chef Hubert Keller of Fleur and Burger Bar shows off his backyard kitchen in Las Vegas. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)