A century at the Chamber

Plenty of Nevada mining camps had already come and gone by 1911.

While they surely hoped for a better outcome, the participants can scarcely have imagined what lay ahead for their dusty desert railroad stop as they gathered in the second-floor meeting room above the old opera house on that July evening of 1911 to found the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber currently celebrates the centennial of that founding, in the midst of a sparkling desert oasis that didn’t “just happen.”

Creating Las Vegas took vision — and hard work.

The city’s first airfield was actually owned and operated by the Chamber, at what is now the corner of Sahara and Paradise … in 1926.

The next year, with the election of founding Chamber member Jim Cashman Sr., as county commissioner, came another necessary step: Using Clark County equipment and funds from San Bernardino County, a road was built from Las Vegas to Mountain Pass near Baker — the road now known as Interstate 15.

Throughout the 1920s, the Chamber lobbied mightily for the construction of Boulder Dam.

Then, in 1931, came the act of vision that made everything else possible, as representatives of the Las Vegas business community joined with Northern Nevada representatives to win repeal of the state law against casino gambling, as well as liberalization of the state’s marriage and divorce laws.

In 1941, Chamber members Jim Cashman and Bob Griffith invited hotelier Thomas Hull to town to encourage him to build a property. The result was El Rancho Vegas, the first hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip.

After the war, the Chamber was instrumental in creating the Las Vegas News Bureau, which popularized Las Vegas around the country by sending out to hometown papers photos of happy tourists relaxing at poolside, along with a healthy dose of showgirl cheesecake.

And in 1955 it was then-Chamber President Archie Grant who lined up the business support to raise the $50,000 necessary to buy land on Maryland Parkway to open what is now the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

For 100 years, far-sighted local businessmen have brilliantly anticipated what the public wanted, offering entrepreneur and visitor alike opportunities here that they couldn’t find elsewhere.

The job wasn’t accomplished by saying, “No one else has ever done that before,” let alone, “You couldn’t have done that back where I came from.”

It’s been a brilliant century. Let’s hope the heirs to those visionary pioneers will embrace the level of change and bootstrap innovation necessary to do it all, again.

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