There goes the neighborhood
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Mob Museum opens in downtown Las Vegas, brings history of organized crime and law enforcement to life
So our “rich” history dates back to the days of organized crime — we know that already. What Las Vegans don’t know, however, are the bloody details lurking inside casino corridors; the secrets that are made into Scorsese screenplays, kept on tight lockdown in confidential files. Thanks to the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement — otherwise known as The Mob Museum — some of these details aren’t so secret anymore.
To most native Las Vegans, our city’s crime-laden history isn’t news, but to the average UNLV student, who’s mobster knowledge starts and ends at Casino, seeing which wise-guys had ties to hotels we still frequent is history worth learning, — even if it’s just for fun’s sake. Can you imagine seeing the notorious Bugsy Siegel planning a hit inside The Tropicana? How about sipping cocktails inside The El Cortez (now the place of a thousand air-fresheners and the best place to park when going to Beauty Bar)?
The Mob Museum sparks those questions.
One day prior to the museum’s grand opening on Valentine’s Day, The Rebel Yell took a tour inside the former federal courthouse and U.S. Post Office to see if it lived up to the $42 million hype.
Inside the renovated 41,000 square-foot, three-story building, each floor tells a different story of the mobsters that made it in Vegas — from the history of organized crime, to the investigations that led to putting some of the biggest hit men behind bars, we find how these guys came to be synonymous with Vegas.
The museum tour starts on the third floor with “the birth of the mob,” tracing its roots back to the early 1900s. The artifacts and mob memorabilia are worth pause, from interactive displays to a number of informational booths. For the non-history buff, however, some people might miss the references — like the giant “Arizona Club” sign that hangs above one of the entryways. The sign is a nod to prohibition-era Vegas’ most infamous gambling hall, saloon and brothel, aptly housed in the city’s first Red Light District (also known as Block 16).
Other notable artifacts — the actual wall from the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre, the barber chair that Albert Anastasia was murdered in and a photo display of the more gruesome mob hits — are some of the grizzlier (and cooler) parts of the tour.
The building, which was also one of 14 courthouses that held the Kefauver hearings (parents may recall watching them on TV), isn’t named the Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement for nothing. The second floor is restored to resemble a 1950s courtroom, showing the great lengths each bureau had to go through to bring down the city’s largest mobsters.
But the experience plays it pretty safe for a museum dedicated to the mob (there’s even a room where you can take the kids if you don’t want to see any kill shots). Ending with a more in-depth look at how these bad guys were tied to Vegas, we see how gangsters got away with skimming casinos like The Flamingo, The Stardust and The Sands.
Teeter-tottering between the “glamour” of the mob and the harsh reality of some truly cold-blooded killers, it doesn’t feel like the tour overtly glamorizes the mob — it’s inherent in the walls.
The mob museum caters to our fascination with crime and violence, playing to our innate interest in the good cop vs. bad cop dynamism. Stylized with the glitz and glam of modern-day mafia-cinema, The Mob Museum gets dirty without having to roll up its sleeves — but what else would you expect? In a city known for being sexier than it is (really, we just aren’t that sexy), The Mob Museum does its job perfectly by toeing the line, offering up an engaging mix of grit and sleeze and somehow managing to keep it all PG-13.