A New Deal for Las Vegas

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By Lee Einer

Wall street in tatters. Bank failures, right and left. Foreclosures. Drought. A time of financial crisis.

While this may sound as current as the morning news, it was also the dawn of the Great Depression.

In 1929, the U.S. economy tanked. Bankers and stockbrokers were diving out of windows. Farmers lost their farms and city folk lost their homes to foreclosure. It was a terrible time, and it seemed there would be no end to it. But in 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office — and FDR had a New Deal for America.

The New Deal was a comprehensive system of government reforms coupled with a series of public works projects that gave jobs to the unemployed, constructed roads and schools and funded the arts. The New Deal governmental reforms included Social Security, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the FDIC.

Las Vegas was a beneficiary of the New Deal. Improvements to the community included construction of parks and playgrounds, repairs of city hall, additions and improvements to the Highlands campus, and construction of what is now the Rough Riders Museum.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the New Deal, and the Friends of the City Museum, in conjunction with the Carnegie Public Library, is celebrating the occasion by putting on “Once Upon a Time in Las Vegas.” The event is geared toward children.

Why children?

“I think everyone’s always focused on adult presentations, and this is a great opportunity to open things up for kids,” said Nellie Price, museum educator for the Rough Riders Museum. “I think kids can understand things we don’t expect them to. Kids can understand that times were tough, it was hard and so the government stepped in. Plus it’s part of their community history.”

The program begins with Price explaining the New Deal and the circumstances surrounding it in terms children can understand. Price said she wants to help the children appreciate that their own families may well have participated in the New Deal programs.

After that, it’s story time.

Part of the New Deal was a Federal Writers Program. The Federal Writers Program paid people who were educated but unable to do harder labor to write and not only to write, but to capture and preserve the history and culture of their area by interviewing elders, pioneers, immigrants. Several stories from the Federal Writers Program will be read by Kate Alderete, including a selection by Elba C de Baca, a local Las Vegas woman who wrote for the Federal Writers Program during the New Deal era.

Then on to activities. Details are not finalized, but the plan is to include arts like painting, collage and colcha. Colcha, said Price, was a traditional form of yarn embroidery which found new life during the New Deal era. All of the activities will be based on arts popular during the New Deal period.

Price said she hopes the children come away with a sense of pride in their community, knowing that Las Vegas had many artists and writers were part of a great time in our history.