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SECRET TREASURES: Las Vegas past & present stored inside a single building

An oversized pair of dice sits in the space maintained by the city of Las Vegas, along with several other pieces of art and city history. (KSNV)

We all have a few storage places around the house or garage stuffed with photographs, important records, keepsakes and more. But the largest place locally for all those odds and ends may be the one owned by everyone who resides in Las Vegas. It's behind the walls of a huge complex which most locals probably don't even know exists.

Each Wednesday News 3 opens up the Video Vault, where the station has four decades worth of news stories. But in the northwest valley, the city of Las Vegas has that collection beat with what they’ve got stockpiled.

You'll find more than one vault, multiple levels of security, vast yards and cavernous warehouses. In one corner or another, you can find the history, present and would-be future of Las Vegas.

"This is anything that's ever been built in the city," says city clerk LuAnn Holmes, gesturing toward tens of thousands of tightly rolled blueprints.

"All of these will be placed in a median island or some other location," says operations and maintenance director Jerry Walker, driving past some metal cactus sculptures.

"Is that a..." Holmes double-takes when looking at an early 1990s rendition of what we now know as Symphony Park. "Is that a baseball diamond?"

"The guts of the turning mechanism is within that," points out Walker while passing the base of the famous Blue Angel.

Something over 3-and-a-half million pages are stored within the City of Las Vegas Archives Center on Ronemus, just southeast of Cheyenne and Buffalo. Holmes says these documents start when Las Vegas was incorporated.

"Our criminal records date back to 1911," says Holmes, entering what is called the media vault. "Court dockets are in there, jail records."

A similar room just across the hall has a placard that says "Vital Records Vault."

"Our payroll, our expenditure reports, that sort of thing," says Holmes. "The department will identify to them what is vital to start business up again after a disaster.

How secure are these heavy-duty depositories?

"In a fire vault, you'll find type of historic or long-term preservation that needs to be protected behind a four-hour rating."

Some sensitive records are in a chain-link enclosure, behind a locked door within a secure building in a gated compound.

"We've got sort of a quadruple threat for security. In the cage is criminal justice information."

The archives center is also a window into Las Vegas' past, with untold numbers of photographs.

"In here we've been told that these are the first Las Vegas wells," says Holmes, leafing through archive photos from the early 20th century.

In many cases, the city needs help with identifying people in the photos.

Holmes flips through a volume of photographs on the Las Vegas Civic Symphony from the late '70s.

"That's John Jordan," she says, reading a caption.

"And that's my dad," I interrupt, pointing to a dapper man in a black suit playing a clarinet.

"Really?"

"Yep, that's my pop."

That picture was taken just south of where a people mover system had been anticipated. A large bronze medallion was installed out front to commemorate the project, which would have connected downtown with Cashman Field.

"The official groundbreaking for the people mover will happen a week from today here at the old Reed-Whipple ball fields," reported News 3's David Riggleman in January of 1988. "But even so, the project is still facing snags."

Some columns were built, but financing fell through and they were eventually torn down. But the southeast corner of the Las Vegas Library across from Cashman Field can still be seen as having been purposed as an elevated train stop. The medallion out front was removed several years later and is now in storage.

Many Las Vegans remember the Blue Angel, which gazed over lower Fremont for five decades. Much of what is left of it is in the City Storage Yard, some unusable, but the sign will be restored and the Angel herself will return.

"Once I have it restored, then that bid will also include installation in the Five Points area," says Walker.

The tour continues past some large dead trees laying on their sides. Walker says one person's debris is another's art.

"When we get fallen trees, I save 'em, because they do look nice in the median islands." A good example is on Buffalo between Westcliff and Summerlin Parkway.

Other potentially aesthetic, manufactured or acquired pieces include metal golfer statues, oversized playing cards and a pair of dice from a visiting artist who saves the city a few bucks.

"In Cowboy Christmas and we'll generally buy his stock inventory when he's done at those events; he gives us a very nice discount for doing so," says Walker. Those pieces end up on median islands and downtown on Fremont.

What’s not decorative are rogue shopping carts collected from all over the valley. City Services is on it!

"And we do collect carts and allow the necessary businesses to come and collect those," says Walker. "And whatever they don’t collect goes to the scrapyard."

Combining all the different areas in the compound, it's the city's treasure chest with the present, fantastical plans for a future that never quite happened, and a fascinating look at the past, all contained within a massive secured storage area. But there is hope some of it will be available to everyone.

"I would love for somebody to help us develop an online database where we can scan these images and put them online," says Holmes. "So our community can access them that way. Get on there and tell us what dates they think they're from."

For now, it's appointment-only to get permission into the City Archive Center. But News 3 will certainly cooperate with them to keep an open flow of information from the city and other local historical organizations to the people of our valley.

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