Video Vault: The First Las Vegas Carpet Joint
LAS VEGAS (KSNV News3LV) - A couple of months ago, we brought you a story about the legalization of gaming in Nevada in 1931. Back then, work had started on the swankiest joint ever seen in this area. It was at Charleston and Fremont, which was far removed from downtown at the time.
The Cornero brothers began construction just as the legislation was being introduced.
"But they didn't know whether it was going to pass or not," muses Geoff Schumacher. "They were planning to build a casino, a resort outside of the city limits, and they were hoping they were going to reach some kind of a gentleman's agreement to be able to operate."
These days, Schumacher, a former print-journalist, is director of content at The Mob Museum. He says Las Vegas officials were supportive of the Meadows project, out of concern over a downtown area that had rampant illegal gambling, drinking this was during Prohibition and the world's oldest profession.
"So the idea was, you move the prostitution out of Block Sixteen, just outside the city limits to the Meadows Club."
"But it was on the road to Boulder Dam, which is where a lot of work was going on," observes UNLV Gaming Research Director David Schwartz. "It was a big construction project. It was just taking off around this time. So it was really prime to exploit a lot of the dam workers."
The front men were Frank and Louie Cornero, with their more experienced brother, Tony, as a silent partner he was doing time in Washington state for bootlegging when the Meadows opened. It was a big step up for Las Vegas as the future "Entertainment Capital of the World."
"Las Vegas really hadn't been luxury-oriented before that," says Schwartz. "You remember, this was 1931. Gambling had just been legalized. And [Tony] Cornero, who had a lot of experience in Los Angeles, was going to bring some of that trade up here."
Starting with a publicity blitz that included special sections in both local papers (the Las Vegas Evening Review and the Las Vegas Age), the Meadows Casino debuted on May 1, 1931.
"When it opened, people came out," says Schwartz. "They definitely turned out and saw it. People in town were very proud of it. It was a place people liked to go. But the fire happened."
Just four months after the Meadows Casino opened, the hotel portion burned. While the origin of the fire was never solved and arson from rivals has long been considered a possibility the reaction from the nearest municipality was a determining factor.
"The [Las Vegas] City Fire Department refused to put out the fire because the Meadows Club was about a half-mile outside of the city limits," explains Schumacher. "And the Cornero brothers, Frankie and Louie, were extremely upset about this, as you can imagine."
"After the fire they did rebuild," sums up Schwartz. "But they never really re-captured their momentum from the opening."
There were stops and starts, but by the time the Meadows closed for good in 1938, drinking was legal, downtown joints were booming and the stage was being set for the Strip.
That was the end in Las Vegas for Frank and Louie. But Tony Cornero had a more extensive and influential history in southern Nevada. It will be the topic of another Video Vault story which airs in November.