Construction transforming historic post office and courthouse

Visitors to the new Mob Museum will be treated like criminals.

They will start on the third floor after ascending in an elevator built to resemble a police station elevator of the 1950s.

"When you go through that little door down there, that’s where you’re going to have yourself in a lineup," said Mayor Oscar Goodman about the museum’s first exhibit.

"You’re going to be mugged, you’re going to be booked, you’re going to be identified, you’re going to be printed," he said.

Dennis Barrie, the museum’s creative director, clarified that visitors will have their mug shots taken, not their wallets.

Organizers provided a progress report on the under-construction Mob Museum on Tuesday, offering more details on the layout and exhibits and predicting that the museum will open in about a year.

Workers are still restoring the interior of the former federal building in downtown Las Vegas that will house the museum.

The nearly 80-year-old building previously served as a post office and a courthouse, and in 1950 was the site of hearings on organized crime that in some ways helped shape modern Las Vegas.

U.S. Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee led the hearings that interviewed hundreds of witnesses in 14 cities across the country. The hearings here were described as short and anticlimactic, but the attention Kefauver focused on organized crime had an impact.

People at one point often thought of mobsters having a good side, said Kathy Barrie, curator of the museum, since they provided alcohol during Prohibition.

"And then you see these people up on the stand, pleading the Fifth, not answering the most basic questions ever. ‘What is your name? Where do you live?’ ‘I’m not answering,’" she said. "The public perception about halfway through these trials just completely shifted."

The extra attention organized crime was getting in other parts of the country contributed to a different kind of shift in the 1950s and ’60s, said Dennis Barrie.

"It was easier (for the criminals) to be here in Vegas than to suddenly fight the kind of heightened awareness in their own communities about illegal gambling and other activities," he said. "It’s a great turning point for the fight against crime in America, and it’s a big turning point for Las Vegas."

Planned museum exhibits trace organized crime in the early 1900s, the boost it got from outlawing alcohol during Prohibition, and the law enforcement response in the 1930s and ’40s.

The Kefauver hearings will be covered in the restored second-floor courtroom where they happened. It will be "hologrammic," Goodman said — that is, the players in the hearings will be re-created using holograms.

The first floor will have displays on law enforcement’s push against organized crime using wiretaps and surveillance, including actual recordings and photographs used to go after the Mob.

The museum — officially known as the Las Vegas Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement — has a $42 million budget that comes from grants and the city’s Redevelopment Agency, which supports projects downtown. Some of the money, $12.4 million, came from the city’s general fund in 2004.

This isn’t the only local Mob-themed project in the works.

The Las Vegas Mob Experience is scheduled to open later this year at the Tropicana.

Family members of famous crime figures are working with that project, which along with collected memorabilia will feature holograms of well-known mafiosos speaking to visitors as they pass through the museum.

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

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