Greetings From….

Cardboard America

Today’s offering is a baker’s dozen of Curt Teich large-letter Greetings From….postcards. Curteich was the largest producer of color and quality linen postcards for more than 5 decades.

Teich postcards are easy to date, as there is a code on all codes that tells you when it was published. There is a handy dating guide available on pdf.

The Curt Teich archives are located at the Newberry in Chicago, Illinois and contains hundreds of thousands of the company postcards, letters and ephemera.

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Greetings from Portland, Oregon

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Greetings from South Bend, Indiana

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Greetings from Lake Tahoe

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Greetings from Santa Claus, Indiana

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Greetings from Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin

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Greetings from St. Petersburg, Florida

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Greetings from Chicago, Illinois

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Greetings from Santa Cruz, California

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Greetings from Nevada

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Greetings from Lincoln, Nebraska

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Greetings from Hannibal, Missouri

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Greetings from Egypt, Illinois

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Greetings from Cincinnati, Ohio

Tony Sapp’s Club Black Magic – Las Vegas, Nevada

Close Cover

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Club Black Magic originally opened on the corner of Bond, now known as Tropicana Ave & Paradise Rds. (4817 Paradise Road to be exact) on August 18, 1954 and would remain until 1968, when Camille Castro, “a stylish and flamboyant European Lesbian,” would purchase the club and rename it Le Bistro.

For most of the 1950s, it became the most popular jazz club in Las Vegas.According to this great article about the history of the Black Magic:

When musicians got off work on the Strip they gathered at the Black Magic for all-night jam sessions. This night-stalker ambiance attracted show kids from the Strip, and people who lived on ranches in Paradise Valley rode their horses through the desert to the Black Magic and tied them to hitching posts out front.

Information other than that article isn’t easy to come by and I would essentially just be quoting that entire article, so instead of me doing that, I implore you check out the article linked above to read about the fascinating history this place that would be known as Club Black Magic, Le Bistro French and ultimately Le Cafe and its importance to the Gay History of Las Vegas.

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Cactus Pete’s and the Creation of a New Town

Cardboard America, Cardboard Motels

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Peter “Cactus Pete” Piersanti was born in 1917 in Superior, Wyoming. The youngest of six kids to Italian parents. The family moved to Ogden, Utah. Growing up poor during the depression, Peter had always dreamed of being rich.

In 1941, Peter purchased a local bar and grill with a card room in the back. Shortly after that, Piersanti set up a pinball machine distribution company with some rather dubious connections.

During World War II, Piersanti enlisted in the U.S. Army and served overseas. Shortly after his return, he resumed his businesses. This would not last long. Piersanti and 16 others were charged with criminal conspiracy in relation to the enforcement of Ogden’s regulation again pinball games.

In March 1944, the mayor of Ogden resigned very suddenly. This raised numerous red flags. After investigation, the group of gamblers, saloon owners and generally shady characters was alleged to have bribed Bramwell to look the other way on gambling regulations.

The case was stalled by lawyers until December of 1946. Judge Charles G. Cowley ultimately decided that was insufficient evidence to charge any of the defendants with conspiracy and the case was dismissed.That was it for Piersanti in Utah.

In 1947, Idaho passed a law allowing slot machines in the eastern and rural parts of the state. Can you guess where he moved next?

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Life Magazine – August 20, 1951

As soon as the law passed, several “businessmen,” gamblers and people of ill-repute settled in a remote area of Idaho near the Wyoming and Montana borders later called Island Park. The unincorporated town was established as a resort and lodge town with slot machines and an ability to circumvent the liquor laws at the time that prohibited the sale of liquor outside of city limits.

Piersanti was thriving in this environment. He made enough money to become one of the original lodge owners of Island Park Lodge.

While at Island Park, Piersanti met another gambling entrepreneur named Don French. The two would become fast friends and business partners.

 

Then it all crashed down. On December 3, 1953, the Idaho state legislature outlawed gambling of all kinds. The ban would begin on January 1, 1954. That was it for Piersanti in Island Park and the start of a minor empire.

Don French had already moved to a remote area on the Nevada-Idaho border and opened the Horse Shu Club with 50 slot-machines and a soon to be opened 30-unit motel.

Piersanti and several ideas saw French’s success and tried to join in. Several applications for Nevada gaming licenses were filed in June of 1954 and denied. Nevada’s tax commissioners established a policy of opposition against granting general gambling licenses to the northeastern Nevada region.

The commission was afraid that granting licenses near the Idaho border, where gambling is illegal, would result in a “bad situation” with a neighboring state. Also, it was believed that such an isolated area could not be properly policed.

Undeterred, Piersanti decided to start small and applied a few weeks later with a plan to only operate slot machines. The commission approved.

In 1956, a small cinderblock building with the name “Cactus Pete’s” opened. There was a gas station, a few slot machines, six rooms and hot-water mineral baths. For a time, there was no electricity or phone service in and Piersanti himself tended bar. Business boomed.

 

Reno Gazette-Journal – April 8, 1959

The location was the key to the entire early operation. These businesses lured Idahoans, especially citizens of the Twin Falls area, only 47 miles away, across the border to spend their gambling money. The only issue was the town did not have a name.

The settlement was first recognized in May of 1958 as the unincorporated town of “Horse Shu.” The population was listed as 65. Cactus Pete hated the named. He felt like the named placed more emphasis on the Horse Shu Club than his now thriving business.

Due to the protest, Elko County commissioners urged French and Piersanti to come up with a town name that they both liked. The two were now in heavy competition and couldn’t agree on anything, let alone a town name. The commissioners were frustrated and renamed the town “Unincorporated Town No. 1” as punishment. For the remainder of 1958 the “town” was in flux. Some called it Horse Shu. Others called it Cactus Pete’s, Nevada. The telephone company referred to it as Idavada.  After nearly a year of squabbling the two settle on the name of Jackpot.

Town name or not, Piersanti had big plans. He partnered with A.L. “Bud” Gurley and Dale Wildman to develop a new motel and runway, for easier access to the remote town. Twin Falls contractor Ray Neilsen, whose son Craig would later build Ameristar Casinos, constructed the complex.

The 15-room Desert Lodge Motel motel opened in 1958 to great success.

Idaho State Journal – May 25, 1960

For the next decade or so, business boomed. Piersanti and Gurley bought out Wildman, and eventually took over management of the faltering Horseshu. Gurley died in 1967, and Piersanti became a partner with Neilsen, George Detweiler of Twin Falls and Al Hurley, Pete’s bookkeeper.

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Postcard showing Cactus Pete’s interior from the early 1960s.

In 1969 they built a two-story, 50-room motel that still stands to this day.

Piersanti sold his interest in Cactus Pete’s in 1971. Things would change a lot of next 30 years. Here’s a brief timeline courtesy of the UNLV Center for Gaming Research:

1971: Ray Neilsen died and his wife Gwen took control of his shares. Neilsen’s son, Craig, assumed a leading role in the day-to-day operation of Cactus Pete’s.

1984: Neilsen became president of Cactus Pete’s, Inc.

1987: Craig Neilsen assumed sole ownership of the corporation.

1991: Cactus Petes completed a $22 million hotel and casino expansion and the property became one of the largest gaming facilities in northeast Nevada. Construction work included enlarging the casino, adding a hotel tower, restaurants and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

1993: Ameristar Casinos, Inc. was founded as the parent company of Cactus Petes and Ameristar Casino Vicksburg. Stock began trading on the NASDAQ National Market on November 9.

Cactus Pete’s is still going and is still a nice, out of town trip for Southern Idahoans.

After a brief stay in Las Vegas, Piersanti bought the Senator Club in Carson City, Nevada and renamed it Cactus Jack’s Senator Club. He ran the Senator Club until 1989, then retired to Lake Tahoe.

Peter Piersanti died in 1994, the way he had always wanted, as a rich man.

MGM Grand Fire – November 21, 1980

City in Ruins

CITY IN RUINS

WHAT: Hotel Fire
WHEN: November 21, 1980 approx. 7:10am
WHERE: Las Vegas, Nevada
CASUALTIES: 87 Dead, Over 650 Injured

The Los Angeles Times – December 21, 1980

“There was screaming, crying, panic, horror. There was death.

And the saddest thing of all about the scene in the MGM Grand Hotel that morning of Nov. 21 is that it need not have happened. Many fire experts agree that it need not have happened. Many fire experts agree that, despite the terrible blaze that consumed the casino, most of the 84* lives lost that day could have been saved….”

The MGM Grand Hotel was one of the first massive luxury megaresorts on the Vegas Strip. At a cost of $106 million dollars and boasting 26 floors and 2,084 rooms, at the time of its opening in 1973 it was the largest hotel in the world.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch – November 23, 1980

On the morning of November 21, 1980 there were more than 5,000 guests in the casino resort. At approximately 7:05 AM, a supervisor of a marble and tile setting crew entered one of MGM snack bars/restaurant known as The Deli. He was there to examine the premises for broken tiles. He got a lot more than he bargained for.

The employee first noticed a small reflection of a flickering light and, upon closer inspection, discovered a wall of flame traveling from the counter to the ceiling. He immediately notified MGM security about the fire and proceeded to secure a hose line and fire extinguisher.

The employee tried to contain the fire. But time and again the heat and smoke were so intense that he went knocked to the ground. He knew it was too late and left the casino immediately. Other employees started to notice the fire was starting to spread quickly and could nothing to stop it and they left, too.

The Los Angeles Times – December 21, 1980

The fire, which was caused by an electrical ground fault in one of the walls of the restaurant, had been smoldering for hours before entering a catwalk area above the casino. The fire became so hot that it exploded through the ceiling. It then almost immediately spread to the lobby of the casino at a rate 15 to 19 feet per second.

The blaze was fed by highly-flammable wallpaper, glue in the ceiling tiles, the use of PVC pipes and plastic mirrors. The flames moved through a restaurant in the lobby called the Parisian Bar, where a plastic awning caught fire and added to the blaze. It ripped the casino floor with such force that a gigantic fireball erupted out the main entrance that faced the Las Vegas Strip.

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Approximately 10 people were charred instantly by the conflagration on the casino floor. That number would have been much higher had the fire broken out even an hour lateras most of the resorts patrons were not on the casino floor.

Firefighters were quick to arrive on the scene and by 8:30am had managed to contain the flames to the first two levels of the casino. However, that was just the start of the disaster.

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Lethal black smoke and carbon monoxide from the fire began to drift up  the 26 floors of the casino through the elevator shafts, stairwells and air conditioning ducts. The air conditioning units on the roof were not equipped with smoke dampeners or detectors, and continued to operate, recirculating the toxic smoke throughout the building.

All of this time, many of the guests were not alerted to the what was going on the casino. No one from the casino warned the guests about the smoke. No alarms were sounded anywhere in the building and fire safety sprinklers were not installed in most of the hotel.

Floor by floor guests were surprised by the smoke. Many guests on the upper floors of the casino tried to escape through the stairwells. Unfortunately, the stairwells were filled with the lethal byproducts of the fire and escape was impossible. The doors to each floor locked behind them and there were only two exits on the 1st and 26th floors that were unlocked and accessible through the stairwell. Everyone in those stairwells died. Many of them sat on the stairs, unable to breathe, and died from inhalation.

Panic did set in for many. The Las Vegas Fire Department’s ladders were only long enough to reach to the 9th floor, leaving hundreds on the upper floors stranded.

As the smoke worsened, guests sought an escape. Some broke windows get fresh air only to be greeted more smoke. Some built rope ladders to attempt to climb all the way down. Some guests broke out hotel windows, hoping to clear the smoke from their rooms, only to find more was pouring in from outside. At least one woman jumped to her death. Others made their way to the roof of the MGM Grand where they were rescued by local police and Air Force helicopters. Several hundred hotel guests were saved from the rooftops.

Los Angeles Times – November 22, 1980

Unlike most mass casualty fires, not one victim died as a result of jamming at the exits and trampling. Instead, many took steps to preserve their lives as the smoke filled every floor.. Patrons of the hotel had time to put wet towels over their faces and around doors to block out smoke. Others warned people and they would group up and stay in a safe area.

Ukiah Daily-Journal – November 25, 1980

All in all, eight-seven people died in the fire. 84 died that day and a few others died later. One victim was found in ruins of the casino nearly two days after the fire.

Save for the 10 victims on the casino floor, nearly all of the victims died due to smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning. A total of 650 people were hospitalized. Fourteen firefighters were admitted with issues related to the smoke.

An investigation was started almost immediately and some awful facts came to the life.

It was determined that the tragedy could have either been prevented if the hotel had a sprinkler system installed in all of the hotel and not just sections.

This particular fire almost assuredly been would been avoided had there been sprinklers in the kitchen to put out the slow, smoldering fire.

The investigation also revealed that the fire marshall and a risk management group hited by the MGM had recommended the hotel install sprinklers. Hotel executives resisted the recommendations due the $190,000 cost of sprinkler installation.

The casino was ultimately granted an exemption —despite the opposition of fire marshals—reasoning that a fire would be quickly noticed and could easily be contained with portable fire extinguishers located close by. When the fire broke out that day in The Deli, the restaurant was no longer open 24 hours per day; in fact it was closed and was completely unoccupied.

After the fire, 83 building code violations were found, but no one faced criminal charges.

More than 1,300 lawsuits were filed against everyone would have anything to do with the construction of the hotel. 118 companies would ultimately be involved the construction and operation of the MGM Grand. They paid into a $223 million settlement fund, with MGM itself contributing nearly half that amount.

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Nevada now has some of the strictest fire safety laws in the country, and the fire is cited in improving hotel safety worldwide.

The MGM Grand fire was a terrible tragedy but would have likely faded from the news within a month but a tragic event in Purchase, New York (post coming December 5th), just two weeks later would thrust the MGM and fire safety right back in to the limelight.