As this multimedia presentation to the right suggests, Las Vegas has changed. That is an understatement. In the bottom half of the opening photo, visible just below the mountains, is Las Vegas Creek, a three-foot-wide, fifteen-inch-deep body of water flowing north and east from the Las Vegas Springs. To the left in the photo are the cottonwood trees that surrounded the Las Vegas Ranch and provided welcome shade for travelers in the late nineteenth century and for local residents in the early twentieth century.
That area has played a key role in Las Vegas history. The Mormon missionaries arrived in Las Vegas in 1855 and found Southern Paiutes in the valley. While the Mormons planned to work with the natives on religion and farming, they were unsure of a friendly response. They moved away from the Paiutes and followed a creek until they reached the area that was surrounded by cottonwoods. There they built what is now their fort-mission, the Las Vegas Old Mormon Fort State Park, which later became the Las Vegas Ranch, owned by O.D. Gass. Archibald and Helen Stewart acquired the property in 1881.
The fort evolved into a local resort and then a testing laboratory for the Bureau of Reclamation during the construction of Hoover Dam, and the Elks Lodge began making plans for the area around it. In 1935, the Elks and their main leader, local businessman James Cashman Sr., were instrumental in starting the annual Helldorado Days, an Old West celebration complete with parade, rodeo, and a Helldorado Village. The Elks wanted a more permanent structure for their event and for other community activities, and they acquired the acreage around the Mormon Fort from the land's owner, the Union Pacific Railroad. In 1948, with Cashman in charge, the Elks completed a stadium, aptly named Cashman Field. It was the scene of many events, including the home games of a minor-league baseball team, the Las Vegas Wranglers of the Class C Sunset League (the designation is so low that neither it nor the league still exists).
By the 1970s, Cashman Field had fallen into disrepair, with weeds growing around the concrete. Finally, in the early 1980s, the City of Las Vegas began renovating the complex. It reopened in 1983 as the $26-million, fifty-acre Cashman Field Center with a 100,000-square-foot convention center, a 1,954-seat theatre, sixteen meeting rooms, and a 9,000-seat stadium that housed the Las Vegas Stars, the AAA (the highest minor league) affiliate of the San Diego Padres. The Stars since have become the 51s, in honor of Area 51, and an affiliate of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Yet in the early 2000s, city officials were debating what to do about the center. The Dodgers and the 51s said the field badly needed renovation to make it competitive with other minor-league baseball facilities, but Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman balked at spending the money to do so because he preferred to seek a major-league sports franchise. Meanwhile, Cashman Field Center, in the heart of the original part of Las Vegas, continues to host minor-league baseball games, major-league baseball pre-season exhibition games, conventions, theatrical performances, and community events. It is a far cry from the original settlement, and probably well beyond what Cashman and other Las Vegas leaders envisioned for it when they built the complex.