50 Years Ago Today

“But the world all stopped to watch it, yeah, on that July afternoon,

They watched a man named Armstrong walk upon the moon"  John Stewart, "Armstrong"


Has it really been fifty years?  It doesn't seem that long ago.  But the calendar and the television specials all say that fifty years have passed since that fateful day on July 20th.

On May 25th, 1961, President Kennedy had said "First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."

America rolled up its sleeves and got out its slide rules.  We had put Alan Shepard into space and John Glenn was slated to go next.  The Mercury Astronauts caught not only the imagination of the country but of the world.  Every little boy and girl it seemed wanted to either be the Beatles or an astronaut.

I wanted to be an astronaut but slide-rules and math confounded the crap out of me.  And they still do.

We rolled out of bed in the early, early hours of the morning to watch the launches, breaths held as the countdown went down to zero and the button was pushed.

Televisions were rolled into schoolrooms around the country, including Las Vegas, so that we could track their progress.

The Mercury astronauts gave way to the Gemini Project and Ed Whitebecame the first American to walk in space.

Each step brought us closer to the goal of going to the moon.  All of this during a decade of turmoil and conflict the likes of which this country hadn't seen in a hundred years.  The Civil Rights movement, the loss of JFK, the Vietnam War, the youth movement, free speech, the anti-war movement, the silent majority are part of our history of the 1960s.

But through it all, even in the dark days (and we had our share of dark, dark days back then), the resolve to complete JFK's dream of putting a man on the moon by the end of the decade stayed strong. 

We lost Mercury astronaut Virgil "Gus" Grissom, the beloved Ed White and Roger Chaffee on the launch pad in the  Apollo One fire in 1967 and for a brief moment our resolve wavered.  But instead of scraping the idea, NASA and the country moved forward determined to solve the problems and hold the course.

In December of 1968, Apollo Eight with Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Williams Anders became, not only the first Americans, but the first ever to orbit the moon.  That Christmas Eve they read Bible passages to the world from outer space.

As the 1960s were coming to a close, the decade seemed to be imploding on itself.  What had once seemed like a shining, optimistic beacon had become the very opposite.  Death, violence and drugs had taken over and the decade seemed like it was spiraling out of control.

But on a July afternoon in 1969, that shining optimism was recaptured and reborn as the Lunar Module with Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin landed on the moon.

Around the world, people stopped what they were doing to watch history being made.

In Las Vegas, it was a Sunday afternoon/early evening..  At our house in Charleston Heights, we stopped and watched.

In the casinos on Fremont Street and on the Las Vegas Strip, gamblers were doing what they do best, gambling away.

Televisions had been set up around the casinos on both Fremont Street and the Strip so that patrons could watch if they wanted to.

Growing up in Las Vegas, we all know how difficult it is to get gamblers away from the tables and we know the stories of how it is next to impossible to get people to leave slot machines.

But on the Sunday up and down Fremont Street and up and down the Strip, they did just that. 

They stopped gambling to watch Neil Armstrong descend from the lunar module and "take one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" before erupting in applause and tears.

It was a shared historic moment felt the world over and that included Las Vegas. Over a half million people shared the moment.

I know what you're thinking.  They could have gone upstairs to their rooms and watched.

But it was one of those moments in history when you wanted to be with other people and share the experience.

The Space Race which had begun twelve years earlier with the launch ofSputnik One by the Russians ended with Americans landing on the moon.

We had completed the dream that President Kennedy had set forth eight years earlier with slide rules, mainframe computers and American ingenuity.

And the world held their breath and then cheered with delight as Neil Armstrong set foot upon the moon, July 20th 1969.

The 1960s would all but officially come to a close two and half weeks later with the Manson Family killing spree in Los Angeles.

But, for a brief shining moment on that fateful July afternoon/early evening,, we reminded ourselves and the world of what the best of America could be.

Credit: Airboyd and NASA

The Midcentury Las Vegas Stage exhibit opens on Dec. 4th!

Please be sure to add this to your to-do list. You don't want to miss this terrific exhibit that looks at why Las Vegas became the Entertainment Capital of the World!

I was asked to write the text for this terrific exhibit that opens on Thursday.

Hope you will check it out!!!  

December 4, 2014 – February 14, 2015:

Mid Century Las Vegas Stage

Charleston Heights Arts Center, 800 S. Brush Street, Las Vegas, 702-229-6383
For more information, please call 702-229-1012
Free and open to the public
The new exhibit at the Charleston Heights Art Center Gallery titled The Midcentury Las Vegas Stage: Acts that Built the Entertainment Capital of the World explores both legendary and obscure stage acts from the perspective of the archives at the Las Vegas News Bureau and the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas. Rarely seen photographs combined with video footage and stage costume tell the distinctive story of Las Vegas' original hotel lounges and showrooms.

The midcentury Las Vegas entertainment scene was extraordinary, remarkable and singularly unique to the city. The unlikely pairing of Barbra Streisand with Liberace on a 1963 Riviera bill or the arcane combination, on the Sahara stage, of film legend Mae West with 1954's Mr. America are enduring examples of why Las Vegas is known as the Entertainment Capital of the World.

About Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas
The Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, actively engages people in understanding and celebrating Nevada’s natural and cultural heritage. The museum is one of seven managed by the Nevada Division of Museums and History, an agency of the Nevada Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs. It is open Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the
grounds of the Springs Preserve, a 180-acre cultural institution with museums, exhibits, gardens, interpretive trails, event space and more, built on the site of artesian springs that once nourished desert life. Visit the museum at 309 S. Valley View Boulevard or on Facebook. Adult admission is $9.95 and includes entrance to the Las Vegas Springs Preserve.

About Las Vegas News Bureau
For more than 65 years, the Las Vegas News Bureau has captured the sights and sounds of the world’s leading destination like no one else, and has played a unique role in promoting Las Vegas by documenting unforgettable images on film. The News Bureau was created in 1947 as part of the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce’s marketing efforts to promote Las Vegas as a tourism destination. Today, the Las Vegas News Bureau plays an important role in supporting
the marketing efforts of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

"Lost" Vegas: The El Rancho Vegas

Like all good "Lost" Vegas stories, this one begins with a myth:

For decades, the story has been that hotelier Tommy Hull's car broke down on the old LA Highway (Highway 91) near San Francisco Avenue (now Sahara Avenue).  It was a hot day with the sun beating down.  While waiting for a tow truck, Hull counted the cars that drove by and envisioned  a swimming pool that fronted on the highway and would invite weary, sweaty travelers to stop at his hotel. 

It's a good story but it's a myth.
Tommy Hull was friends with civic booster extraordinare, Big Jim Cashman.  Hull had a chain of El Rancho hotels in California and he operated the  Roosevelt Hotel  in Hollywood.  Cashman worked hard to convince Hull that he should build one of his El Rancho Hotels in Las Vegas.  One night over drinks at the Hotel Apache, Hull finally agreed with Cashman.  It was 1939 and Las Vegas was a small town.  Downtown on Fremont Street (click here for our Brief History of Fremont Street) were a few gambling halls and hotels but nothing on the scale of the El Rancho.  Hull priced property in Las Vegas and then turned his eye to the County property on the other side of San Francisco Avenue.  The  property was owned by Mrs. Jessie Hunt and she thought it was worthless.  She had 33 acres that she was all but ready to give away  Wanting to get the most for his investment, Hull bought the property (and an additional 33 acres) at a cost of $150 per acre- oh those were the days- on the southwest corner of San Francisco Avenue and Highway 91.

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Lost Vegas: We remember Foxy's

Legend has it that half the business deals in Las Vegas were done on Foxy's Deli napkins and a handshake during the late 1950s.

While that may be hard to understand today when looking at Las Vegas, back in the day it made perfect sense to almost everyone.

Foxy's Deli is one of those places that was vital to our history but, like the others in our "Lost Vegas" series, it no longer is part of our everyday Las Vegas lives.


Foxy's courtesy of Abe Fox and As We Knew It

Foxy's courtesy of Abe Fox and As We Knew It

Abe Fox opened Foxy's Deli in 1955 on the corner of San Francisco (Today, Sahara Blvd) and Las Vegas Blvd South. He had a 30 year lease from the property owners, the American Legion. Across from the deli was the San Francisco Square, a small shopping center. Kitty corner from Foxy's was the El Rancho Hotel and across San Francisco stood the Sahara Hotel. According to family lore, Fox had been given a tip that the San Francisco Square Shopping Center was going to open and realized that more traffic would be generated by the center. Not knowing much deli food, Fox went to Los Angeles' Fairfax district, studied Cantor's deli and came back to Las Vegas with an idea of what he wanted to serve.

When he opened Foxy's Deli, it quickly became a celebrity hangout. It was the only deli in town and it was open 24 hours a day. Fox said in an interview we did with him in 2003, "I threw away the key.". Once a year, during the slow period between Christmas and New Year's Eve, they would close to paint the restaurant.

The white neon fox that advertised the deli was designed by Dick Porter from an idea that Fox had for a logo.

The deli quickly became a success. With its affordable prices and good food, celebrities from back east now had some place good to order corn beef sandwiches and Jewish entertainers now had some place where they could order kosher style food.

Fox hit upon advertising along the highway that led into Las Vegas and people still remember seeing billboards along the old L.A. Highway (today the 15 freeway) reminding them that they were getting closer and closer to having a meal at Foxy's. He bought advertising on taxi cabs and on the radio.

Luckily for Abe, his food was as good as he claimed in the advertising. It was a meeting place not only for celebrities like Shecky Greene but men like Moe Dalitz as well as the movers and shakers of Las Vegas politics and real estate.

Liberace, who played the Riviera, often came in with his mother who loved the stuffed cabbage, Ann-Margaret and her husband, Roger Smith were big fans of the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Louis Prima and Sam Butera often came over for breakfast after bringing the house down nightly in the Sahara's Casbah lounge,

When Nate King Cole began performing at the Sands he was unable to eat in the hotel, so Jack Entratter arranged for a trailer to be set up in the parking lot where Cole could relax between the dinner show and the late show. Abe Fox would deliver food to Cole's trailer.

When the color line was finally broken for good, the Mills Brothers became good customers.

But, Shecky Greene may have been one of Fox's favorite customers. "He was a maniac" Abe remembered, but they became very good friends. Others who frequented the deli include Betty Grable (her husband Harry James was often booked at the El Rancho Vegas across the street). Grable would go to the beauty salon next door and then come into Foxy's afterwards, preferring a booth in the back, where rumor has it, she used to bet the ponies.

Blackie Hunt and Sonny King were regulars. Singer/Songwriter Paul Williams has said he wrote the songs for the film, "Bugsy Malone"  sitting in a booth at Foxy's, drinking coffee for a week.

As the Strip began to change, (Fox pegged the change to Howard Hughes coming to town and the old guard selling out to the corportations), Fox saw the writing on the wall. Gone were the days when Las Vegas was just a small town where everybody knew one another. Performers were aging and his customer base was as well.

He sold Foxy's in 1975 and went into land speculation and real estate. He had quietly been buying land since the late 1950s.

Foxy's Firehouse opened where Foxy's Deli had once been. A small casino with gaming it lasted a few years.

Foxy's Firehouse courtesy of The Chip Guide

Foxy's Firehouse courtesy of The Chip Guide


After that, it became the Holy Cow Brewery, the first microbrewery in Las Vegas. It was owned by Tom Wiesner's Big Dog Hospitality Group. The Holy Cow stayed in business until 2002, when it closed in the aftermath of tourism slowdown attributed to the terrorist attacks on 9/11.

The Holy Cow Brewery

The Holy Cow Brewery

After that, Ivana Trump painted the building black and pink and advertised that she was going to build a condo tower that would be better than Donald Trump's not too far up the road. But, the economic meltdown in 2007-2008 put the brakes on that.

Today, the corner sits vacant. Some of us like to think Abe Fox put a curse on it.

Here's to Foxy's Deli and all the wonderful history!

Please share your memories of Foxy's Deli with us!