Apr. 5: The Postwar Mass Resort

Rothman, chaps. 11-12
Simon, chap. 6

I would like you to combine the Rothman and Simon readings into a single 200-word blog comment instead of two separate 100-word comments.  The topic:  In Rothman’s chapters, he refers to the “malleability” of Las Vegas. How did this malleability enable Las Vegas to solidify its mass appeal in the 1960s-70s, and what might account for Atlantic City’s greater difficulty in remaking itself, at least prior to the 1976 legalization of Atlantic City gambling?


Avatar of Mark Souther

About Mark Souther

I am an associate professor of history at Cleveland State University and director of the Center for Public History + Digital Humanities. I'm the author of New Orleans on Parade: Tourism and the Transformation of the Crescent City, editor of American Tourism: Constructing a National Tradition, and am writing a new book on perceptions of decline in postwar Cleveland. Apart from my involvement in CPHDH, I authored a recent successful National Register of Historic Places nomination and serve on the Cleveland Heights Landmark Commission. My history interests include urban and suburban history, 20th-century U.S. political and cultural history, leisure and tourism, and architecture and historic preservation.
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10 Responses to Apr. 5: The Postwar Mass Resort

  1. Avatar of luzelac luzelac says:

    While Atlantic City of the 1960′s was compared to a dead shark, Las Vegas of that time was all about the whales. Many cities turn to tourism as a last option. The social scene on the Boardwalk and even the attractions of the Midway could not hold the attention of the TV generation created after WWII. The area was too much of a tourist site to be a simple suburb, despite Pauline Hill’s grand ideas. Unfortunately, the city was seen as an area filled with crime and the residents who did have neighborhoods were driven out and replaced with the Prairie that was another nail in the coffin.
    Las Vegas, on the other hand, always knew it depended on the kindness of strangers. Either dam builders, service men, people seeking quick divorces or gamblers. Vegas is not a place to put down deep roots. It is a city that constantly changes because its population is constantly changing. To live there you need to know you are working in a tourist destination. The wild west image gave way to the glitzy bright strip. Both images provide escapes but most people know you either enjoy the ever-changing scene or you go home after a visit.

  2. Avatar of hfearing hfearing says:

    According to Simon, it was fear of the larger urban areas that kept potential tourists and homeowners away from Atlantic City, because the “Other” could not be hidden. (p. 152) However, the Hamids’ and Pauline Hill’s stubborn refusals to adapt their respective plans for Atlanta’s tourism and urban renewal helped create the environment that fomented this fear. Hamid, Sr. and Jr. did not see that Atlanta could not be another exclusive resort like Disneyland. Instead of finding their niche in the market by being a tourist destination that accepted all regardless of long hair or skin color, the prejudiced Hamids continuously worked against the demographics that could have set Atlantic City apart. While Hill preferred to see Atlantic City’s future as one filled with suburban streets and white, middle class families than as a tourist town, her urban renewal policies further drove out businesses and families. The actions of the Hamids and Hill contributed to the downward turn of the city’s economy, which in turn helped heightened crime and the fear with which it came.

    Las Vegas, on the other hand, was able to tap into the niche that Atlantic City had previously ignored. The needs of baby boomers seeking their own Disneyland, and later the needs of both adults and children, were continuously met because, as Rothman states, malleability “permitted Law Vegas to reinvent itself time and again, to respond to changing trends in American society, to anticipated individual needs in the ways that icons such as Santa Fe and Sun Valley could not.” (p. 288) To be safe, at first it used the Wild West as a theme, but offered a place where illegality and gambling was the real attraction to satisfy those seeking a sense of danger. But, if an opportunity arose, such as to partner with a new or different corporation, the city would take it, as it did when it began offering fantastic spectacles. Furthermore, it was inclusive in the people it accepted into its casinos and the workers it hired (although what jobs one could get was largely determined by education, race and gender).

  3. Avatar of James Lanese James Lanese says:

    Rothman characterizes Las Vegas as a cyclical reinvention during the last half of the twentieth century. Aided by the cooperative Nevada state legislature, Las Vegas redefined itself to remain profitable and appealing with its unique set of gaming, attractions, and entertainment. Atlantic City, on the other hand, lacked the ability to revise and refresh its image and productduring the same time period. Las Vegas, a desert town within reach of the west coast entertainment industry, born of questionable growth financing, and developed in an area separated from the city center (i.e. the strip) was reinvented when the Corporate Gaming Act was passed in 1969. Atlantic City, at the same time was struggling with reformist versus replacement approaches to the diminishing appeal of the tourist scene in light of the declining urban condition. Differing political atmospheres combined with accedss to capital dollars sent these resorts in opposite directions, at least into the new millenium.

    Interestingly, Rothman analyzes The Las Vegas entry into the new millenium as a sanitized, corporate business model no longer affiliated with questionable connections around the country. He correctly observes that America and Las Vegas grew alike over time with respect to attitudes, morals, and tourism preferences. However, a couple very recent (local) perspectives tarnish Rothman’s ‘purified’ view. Riding home yesterday, a local talk show host commneted on his weekend stay in Las Vegas as overly expensive (compared to earlier experiences), dirty, and not as ‘classy’ as in the past. Further, the recent testimony regarding our Cuyahoga Commissioner’s experiences there lend some insight to business as usual as we eimagined it fifty years ago.

  4. Zach LaFleur says:

    Prior to the 60s and 70s, Las Vegas had a limited definition as to what it was to potential tourists across the country. The mob bosses who turned gambling and casinos into a full-fledged industry at least, in part, defined it. Though the city, due to its location and the nature of Nevada as a whole, did not have many entrepreneurs looking to turn the city into one type of destination or another. That malleability allowed those groundbreakers of Las Vegas tourism to turn the city into an adult “Disneyland” of sorts that presented as much or as little danger as visitors would feel comfortable with.
    The tourists flocking to the city, on the other hand, had already defined Atlantic City, to an extent. It was a northeast location specializing in summer leisure for all classes. The malleability that Las Vegas had was not the case for Atlantic City, and it was only after the legalization of gambling that the city was given a nudge (more possibly, a shove) in a specific direction to attract tourists. Atlantic City struggled to shed the image of its past, where Las Vegas had the upper hand in transformation because it had little to no past to speak of.

  5. Avatar of ysaleh ysaleh says:

    Las Vegas had no nostalgic value, nothing about the city seemed permanent, and that’s what attracted people to it. Las Vegas was for fun, nothing else really mattered there. It was a way for people to get away and not think about anything in their real life. Las Vegas grew and expanded by being basically an illusion. At a time when people were struggling to survive, as Vegas was a desert oasis where on the surface it was anything goes. Rothman refers to Las Vegas as a colony all its own. In easier terms it was a place that did whatever it took to keep people coming in and spending money. Whether it was mob money, government money or private citizen money; Las Vegas would use it u and show people a good time. Atlantic city on the other hand faced a history that turned people off. Atlantic City was just that a city that had an attractive ocean view, a beautiful boardwalk, but still it was a city. It had crime, unsightly closed businesses, unsightly people, drugs and an atmosphere that revolved around fear. People didn’t want to face these problems on vacation. People wanted to forget these things not have it be in their face them while they were on vacation. whether it was improving the boardwalk or improving the city (urban renewal), Atlantic City couldn’t shake it’s rather bad history. People were uncertain of what to expect so they just didn’t go these anymore.

  6. Avatar of rjprice88 rjprice88 says:

    Las Vegas is a city throughout it’s history that one could say, “Marches to the beat of it’s own drum”. It is a city that one would define as malleable or able to be changed over time. In the early days of Las Vegas, it did not have a definite identity to the tourists who traveled to the city. It was and remains a city where there were no rules and was seen as an escape from reality among the people who traveled there. This was a major part of the appeal of Las Vegas, the ability to forget about your every day life and just sit back and have fun whether it be gambling, drinking, relaxing at the poolside, shopping or simply doing whatever one pleased to do. Over time Las Vegas has morphed from the early days where the mob controlled almost every aspect of the city into a corporate machine now in the 21st century.
    On the flip side Atlantic City is a place that has a certain attraction to it. Prior to the legalization of gambling within the city it was seen as a tourist attraction mainly due to its Oceanside residence and it’s boardwalk and hotels. However, that was about it. Being an east coast location, it was inclined to colder weather in the winter as opposed the warm desert weather that kept Las Vegas busy year round. Atlantic City was seen as a seasonal resort and struggled to keep pace with other resorts that were emerging in Miami and Vegas. The best way to define the contrast between Las Vegas and Atlantic City is when one travels to Las Vegas, prior to the 21st century, you didn’t know what to expect or what was going to happen. When traveling to Atlantic City, it almost has a connation of another typical northeast city, which happens to have an ocean view and a boardwalk. There was a stark contrast in the perception of each city.

  7. Avatar of elkaiser3 elkaiser3 says:

    Las Vegas had no apparent industry in the early twentieth century. It was too hot and dry to farm, missed the mark for manufacturing, and had no apparent cultural heritage/ attraction like Santa Fe or New Orleans. To survive, to played its best card, its legal casinos. To create a place constantly attractive to visitors, Las Vegas had to constantly transform itself. It strived to be a reflection of the hottest trends and people’s deepest desires. For a city that started with no attractions but a few laws legalizing vices, it attracted its visitors over and over again.
    Even though based on seemingly nothing, the city of Las Vegas thrived. This is in contrast to Atlantic City, which since the mid-twentieth century has struggled. It had lost its elite, family friendly persona, and struggled to regain it. Attempts to clean the city back up including enforcing dress codes and restoring the boardwalk did little to stave off the inevitable. The city was “running on nostalgia fumes” and wasn’t doing enough to adapt to the post war cultural changes. Because of their adoption of band-aid solutions, and their inability to take extreme measures to update the city’s attractions and image, Atlantic City failed to gain the success of the malleable Las Vegas.

  8. Avatar of cciullafaup cciullafaup says:

    Las Vegas has never been a city of rigidity. Vegas was a destination where gaming, booze, drugs, prostitution, and divorce, all were a norm. It was a place where people could visit to forget about their conventional lives. It was a place where the working classes, the high rollers, the mobsters, the rich could all hang out. Vegas was an engineered-over nature town, developed by businessmen and then larger corporations. The people that supported it felt there was not much else the city could offer. They saw it as an opportunity to industrialize/engineer the city geared for the entertainment tourism market, the exotic. Ultimately, this led for the use of a larger airport, streamlined trains, more hotels, and corporations to build larger, etc. By Las Vegas being malleable, reinventing itself over and over, transformations could happen. It was a place that the corporation could mingle with the risky, creating market/capital, and most did not oppose.

    Atlantic City lost tourism/money. Atlantic City did not end up embracing the risky, the unconventionalism, modern ideas that Las Vegas did. Former visitors of the resort town complained of seediness/feeling unsafe. People like Hamid proposed to make critical improvements whether courtesy classes for employees or more intimidating use of law enforcement, even dress codes. In the 60s-70s, the main people behind the resort town were not thinking in contemporary/modern fashions. Instead, their ideas were too rigid, too dated, and segregated. Essentially, the city faced major abandonment by those who claimed to care, those who couldn’t except that the world was changing.

  9. Avatar of Matt Sisson Matt Sisson says:

    Rothman’s explanation of Las Vegas’ malleability asserts that the city catered to the wants and desires of each individual, and by being transient the city was able to adjust to accommodate the newest trends. After changing from a regional railroad center, to a city based on the tourism of the Hoover Dam, Las Vegas eventually capitalized on the relegalization of gaming/gambling. The gaming/gambling in Las Vegas gave tourism another purpose other than self-improvement, and that purpose was to, “occupy, distract, and…pacify” (289). Visitors came to Las Vegas because they thought they could have/do anything they wanted, if they were willing to pay for it.
    Atlantic City’s difficulties in remaking itself seemingly came out of its inability to adapt to change, or, to use Rothman’s term, a lack of malleability. In Atlantic City’s case, they tried to repair their old image as a friendly, upbeat place for the white middle class instead of adopting a new image. The Hamid father and son duo, and Pauline Hill made efforts to fix the existing dilapidation within the city, and tried to quell the fears that white people had of the growing black population. Instead of embracing the black population and the city’s biracial nature, they unsuccessfully tried to hide the existence of ‘the other.’ This resulted in flight from the heart of the city, which was a byproduct of the mutual fear that white and black people had for one another in Atlantic City.

  10. Janelle Daling says:

    Las Vegas has dominated the gambling scene for as long as any living person can remember, despite competition from Reno, Atlantic City, and various Indian Casinos the nation-wide. But why would a city in the middle of nowhere, in an extremely inhospitable environment dominate over places like Atlantic City? According to Rothman, this is due to the malleability that Las Vegas has demonstrated time and again. As we have seen over and over again in this class, every 20-50 years something happens, whether it be civil right, the rise of the automobile, or a change in a national attitude like WWI or McCarthyism, that gives tourism a need to skew its focus away from certain aspects, and instead sell its historic, or family, or nationalistic appeal. After the appeal of the Hoover Dam began to wear off, and historic tourism was no longer the greatest appeal that Vegas held, it became a place where a person’s wildest dreams would come true, if they were willing to pay, and because of its separation from the rest of America, nobody would ever know. If I remember correctly, that advertisement changed in the late 80’s-00’s to more family-friendly again and changed back again today to the “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” As we can see, Vegas did it right, and had the community support to back it (in the form of casino and restaurant owners), but for Atlantic City, this was not the case. After the Civil Rights movement began, reinvention was necessary, but they chose the wrong aspects to focus on. When they should have been promoting a place where all races come together in a modern way never seen before, and have a good time doing it, they instead focused on white middle class families coming to have a rip roaring good time. This mind set was highly unpopular with the majority of young people at the time, and as a result Atlantic City nearly became a ghost town. Atlantic City’s initial refusal to accept the black population as a viable clientele nearly ended it, until the legalization of gambling in 1976.

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