You've probably seen on on TV- from the local access Clark County channel to History Channel's Pawn Stars to talking with the late Huell Howser on Road Trip, Mark Hall-Patton is one of the most recognizable faces of local history.
With his Amish-like beard, ever-present Atwood hat and relaxed manner, Mark has become a favorite of producers when they want someone to talk about Las Vegas Valley history. He oversees the Clark County Museum system, including the Clark County Museum out on Boulder Highway - the home of Heritage Street, the Searchlight Museum and the Cannon Aviation Museum at McCarran Airport.
He also is the history advisor on the very popular Pawn Stars cable show. Despite his busy schedule and the fact he was planning an out-of-town trip, we were able to persuade him to answer a few questions.
CLV Blog: How did you become interested in Las Vegas history?
MHP: I came to the Vegas area in December 1993 to help create and manage a museum at McCarran International Airport. Now known as the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum, I had to do a great deal of research to know the history I was presenting.
As a local historian anywhere I reside, I began researching Las Vegas and Clark County history. I found our history interesting, but with many holes which led me to more research. In 2008 I was asked by the County to take over the entire Clark County museum system (3 museums, including the Clark County Museum, Searchlight History Museum, and the Cannon Aviation Museum). Since then I have been able to expand my knowledge of local history, delving into even more areas.
CLV Blog: What is the most interesting historical fact/image/object you have found about the city and why?
MHP: This is a difficult question, because it is nearly impossible for me to decide on just one aspect of our local history. Especially when we talk about local history artifacts, the County’s museum system has so many fascinating pieces. Even though ti may be cheating, or not quite answering the question, I would choose a few pieces as being inordinately fascinating.
First are two Paiute sinew-backed bows which were given to the museum as part of the George Family (relatives of the Kyles) collection. The use of sinew in bow making provides a vastly greater level of power, and show a technology I did not know the Paiutes employed.
On a different note, a donor recently gave the museum a scrapbook from the Kit Kat Club, an integrated, gay nightclub which operated in North Las Vegas during World War II. No interior photographs were known of this club until this scrapbook turned up.
And finally, I would have to go with the Neon McCarran Field sign at McCarran International Airport. It dates from about 1950, and was put up when the columns on the Lass Vegas Boulevard side of the field were moved from what is today Nellis Air Force Base (which was the original McCarran Airport) to today’s McCarran.
CLV Blog: Can you talk a bit the history of Las Vegas and what people should know that they probably don't.
MHP: I think most histories of Las Vegas spend way too much time on the mob and organized crime in Las Vegas history, and way too little on the people who made Las Vegas the community it is. I think the nineteenth century and early twentieth century history is much more interesting, and certainly important.
If it had not been for Antonio Armijo moving the Old Spanish Trail (which of course was neither old nor Spanish) and bringing it through the valley, we would not have had John Charles Fremont stopping here, and putting us on the map.
Later, had Brigham Young not had a much larger vision for his state of Deseret, and therefore, sent the original Mormon settlers here, there would have been no ranch for Octavius Decatur Gass and his two partners to buy. If Gass had not bought out his partners, and then owed three years of back taxes to the state of Nevada (since when we were annexed to Nevada in 1867, the local residents weren’t told and didn’t find out for three years), he wouldn’t have borrowed money from Archibald Stewart.
If Stewart hadn’t foreclosed on Gass, he wouldn’t have brought his wife Helen to the middle of the desert, who stayed on after his death and was here to negotiate the sale of the ranch to William Clark’s railroad company for the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad.
Much of what people know about our valley tends to be from movies or popular culture, neither of which is interested in historical accuracy.
CLV Blog: Why is the history of Las Vegas important?
MHP: Any community’s history is important to that community, but in the case of Las Vegas and Clark County, most of our residents are like me, from somewhere else. It is important to understand why your area exists, how it came to be, and why it is what it is, which can only be learned through a basic understanding of its history, especially for newcomers. It helps to show why you should care about your home, why it is special and unique, and how you fit into the picture.
CLV Blog: What's the biggest obstacle to overcome in preserving history and why.
MHP: I think the biggest obstacle to preserving history is bad history. In too many cases, history is presented in a boring way with no connection to today.
When many presenters of history try to make connections to the current day, they are not clear, and focused on easy, and therefor often wrong, presumed connections. We should celebrate history, presenting it as the story it should be, rather than a disembodied set of facts and statements.
I believe if we presented history well, the needed resources and support for preservation would follow.
CLV Blog: Why is history and preservation work important to Las Vegas residents.
MHP: While I think I have answered much of this question in my previous answers, I will say that if history and reasonable preservation efforts were pursued, many local residents would find our valley much more of a series of communities.
Hopefully they would find it a place they want to live and support, feeling a part of the present and future, and building on an interesting past.
Remember, History is what binds us to our community!
Be sure to visit the Clark County Museum and enjoy a stroll down Heritage Street where a number of buildings important to Las Vegas Valley history are preserved.
A special thanks to Mark Hall-Patton and all of our Spotlight participants so far. Still to come:
Karan Feder- clothing and costume preservationist
Heid Swank, the executive director of the Nevada Preservation Foundation
Clay Heximer, the historian and preservationist of Paradise Palms