Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Las Vegas Mob Museum: An Offer You Can’t Refuse

Since I grew up in Las Vegas, I learned about the Mob at an early age. After my parents went to see The Godfather, they had an intense discussion back at home about the real people they thought Mario Puzo had based the characters on. My parents came to Las Vegas in the 1950s, and since my dad was a bartender, he knew a large assortment of shady characters.

I remember the day he proudly told me one of his cop friends had informed him that he was listed as a “known associate of organized crime figures.” He was beaming like he had just won a prize. Dad knew movie stars, famous singers, and a lot of cops, but he liked his mobster buddies the best. He was one of the first people I heard say that the town was better when the Mob ran things, long before that sentiment became a Las Vegas cliché. If Dad were still alive, you can bet that he would have loved the idea of The Mob Museum. He’d probably have been planning to be the first person in line when they open. (Currently scheduled for 2011.)

Recent newspaper articles have pointed out that here in Las Vegas, we’re rather proud of our Mob heritage. Our mayor played himself in the movie Casino. We have a street named after Bugsy Siegel. Although our mobsters arrived here from back East, you aren’t likely to see a Mob museum in Chicago or New York because they’re not so crazy about embracing their organized crime histories. Not so in Las Vegas, a place pleased to be known as the city founded by the Mob. (Technically that’s not true, but we’ve also got a reputation for playing with the facts just a little bit.)

I plan on visiting the Mob Museum when it opens. I think the redaction in the museum’s name is funny, probably owing to the years I spent working for Metro. I was never able to find any information on Dad being a “known associate,” but I did find his record for bookmaking in Los Angeles. He told me L.A. was a “wide open” town, not run by one specific family, unlike Kansas City, Detroit, or Tucson. His best friend in L.A. was a lieutenant with the LAPD, but according to Dad, they had an agreement that he would keep his business out of Uncle Willy’s precinct.

When Dad went to work as the bar manager at the Aladdin in the 1970s, I was too young to know that it was a clue about his connections. Not until after he passed away did I discover the Aladdin’s ties to the Mob. I just knew that I liked hanging out with the girls in harem costumes that he frequently assigned to baby-sit me while he went about his business. One of Dad’s friend owned a villa behind the Aladdin. The villas, as they were known, were a string of bungalows east of the hotel, and we got to visit his buddy’s villa and use the pool. And Dad mysteriously wound up driving a brand new Lincoln Mark V, right up until the day when the FBI showed up at our house to talk to him about his villa-owning pal, who also owned the Lincoln. After his friend wound up in a federal prison somewhere, the Lincoln disappeared.

In the late 1970s, Dad worked at a local bar allegedly run by a Chicago mobster. I remember my parents talking about one of the owner’s brothers having to disappear for a while, but I never got the details on whether it was because of law enforcement or a run-in with other mobsters. In the mid-1980s, after Dad no longer worked there, I was working at Metro when a couple of my friends and I stopped in that bar one night. One of my friends was an undercover cop. I made sure to say hello to the bar’s owner. “I’m Walt’s daughter,” I said, and he immediately recognized me. He stopped to chat for a minute and comp our drinks, and after he walked away, my cop friend looked at me incredulously. “You know him?” he asked. I explained that he was one of my Dad’s friends, and we left it at that.

My dad wasn’t circumspect about his “friends,” but my mom kept all her secrets to herself. Maybe that FBI visit did it. I was working on a story a couple of years ago, and I was trying to remember some of the famous mobsters Dad had known. Since Dad had passed away, I asked Mom. “Why don’t you just leave that part out,” she said.

“Mom, those people are dead,” I said.

“I know. I still don’t think you need to mention it,” she insisted. Mom was still alive when the idea for the Mob Museum surfaced, but I don’t remember her giving me an opinion about it. I’m pretty sure that if she were still around, she’d want to be in the front of the line on opening day just as much as Dad.
Photo information: My parents at Hoover Dam, circa 1959

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