President K.O. Knudson

In 1936, under K.O. Knudson’s  term, “big time” gambling came to Las Vegas. Prior to that time gambling had been confined to smaller clubs like Harold Stocker’s Northern Club and another smaller club operated by Joe Morgan.  But in 1936, there was a terrific earthquake in Los Angeles politics, and Mayor Frank Shaw was recalled.  Shaw had four ardent supporters, and among these four, gambling, prostitution and other vice activities were reportedly parceled out.  Guy McAfee and including Tutor Scheer, Farmer Paige and Chuck Addison headed the four.  Nobody ever was able to pin any sign of guilt on these boys, but the word was out in Los Angeles that they not only controlled Shaw but the town as well.  So, when the moralistic earthquake hit, McAfee and partner headed for greener pastures – Las Vegas to be exact.  They negotiated for the lease of the Bill Beckley Corner and promptly turned it into the Pioneer Club, the first exclusive gambling institution in Las Vegas since the Meadows, built by the Cornero Brothers in 1931.  The Meadows was out where the Montgomery Ward complex now stands and was an elaborate set-up.  After McAfee and his pals began operating the Pioneer, they began to spread out and bought the store where O.K. Adcock operated his business and established the Frontier Club.

Shortly thereafter, things also were happening on the “Strip.”  Tommy Hull’s venture was such a success that a Texastheater chain owner, R.E. Griffith, built the Last Frontier, the most elaborate resort hotel in the Southwest, and installed Bill Moore as operator.  The Frontier became the “home town” hotel, and every night the dining room would be crowded with local residents.  Marriages, births and anniversaries customarily were celebrated wither in the Canary Room or the big dining room, named the Ramona Room. Cocktail and bridge parties at the Frontier were the thing to do.

Then came “Bugsy” Siegel and the Flamingo.  One of the biggest openings ever, started the Flamingo off.  The local people mingled with movie stars, gangsters, and just plain people the night the spot opened.

Rotary always has participated in the development of the city of Las Vegas.  The club created several small parks in the community when it was made known that the city was unable to come up with the funds for such facilities.

It was also during the term of K.O. Knudson that Hoover Dam was finished, in 1936, and President Franklin Roosevelt came out to dedicate it.  After the dam was dedicated, Jim Cashman, U.S. Senator Key Pittman and Claude Mackey decided that the President should see what the latter’s agency and the WPA, was doing in the State of Nevada.  Much to the consternation of the Secret Service man in charge of the President’s safety, Roosevelt was taken into the Charleston Mountains where Mackey displayed the road building work that was going on.  The only trouble was, they took the automobiles up the roadway so far they forgot they had to turn around.  When they were ready to start back down the mountain, there was no space wide enough to make a turn-around.  So they unloaded the President, and while he stood watching the 20-minute process, the chauffeur finally made it by inching the car around a little at a time, backing up and then repeating the process.

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