The millions of people who visit the Strip each year are not officially in Las Vegas. They’re in the township of Paradise.
The township encompassing a majority of the Strip, the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and McCarran International Airport was formed in 1950, but at the time, it was home to more farmers than tourists.
“The water table was really high to begin with,” said Patrick Gaffey, local historian and cultural program supervisor for Clark County . “People hardly had to drill at all until they had water gushing out of the ground, which led to a lot of farming going on.”
The area was home to some of the desert’s largest ranches, including those belonging to pop culture cowboy Roy Rogers and Bill Tomiyasu.
Tomiyasu arrived in what was then called Paradise Valley around 1915, working 120 acres of a 160-acre plot he purchased not far from Sunset Park. He and his family produced food for restaurants as far away as Beatty. When Boulder Dam was being built in Boulder City, they provided food for the workers.
Before his arrival, a good deal of the produce sold in the valley was shipped from California, which at the time was not an inexpensive or efficient prospect.
As time went by, more hotels, motels and casinos began popping up along south Fifth Street, now Las Vegas Boulevard, outside the city’s borders.
In the ’40s, the city of Las Vegas annexed much of the surrounding land. The population rose from less than 9,000 in 1940 to more than 24,000 by 1950, according to census data.
Long time resident and local historian Elizabeth Warren said city officials saw the growth in adjacent Paradise Valley and wanted a slice of the action.
“Compared to downtown Las Vegas with the railroad, maybe it was Paradise,” she said. “Many people in Las Vegas had second homes in the area.”
A group of businessmen who owned the newer resorts in Paradise Valley led by Wilbur Clark, owner of the Desert Inn, and Gus Greenbaum, eventual owner of the Flamingo, convinced the state to form a township out of Paradise Valley in order to dodge what appeared to be an inevitable annexation and taxation by Las Vegas, according to Gaffey. They won.
“When they finally formed the township, Wilbur Clark strutted around proclaiming himself the mayor of Paradise,” Gaffey said.
In April 1951, the town of Paradise A was officially founded, quickly followed by Paradise B in January 1952. By the following year, Paradise B was renamed Winchester, and Paradise A became simply Paradise.
The township, part of unincorporated Clark County, is still one of the nation’s largest unincorporated communities, according to census data.
“From the beginning, the city of Las Vegas wanted to annex Paradise,” Gaffey said. “I’m sure they still would like to today.”
Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Nolan Lister at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0492.