If there was a line on it, I bet it'd be 100 to 1 the Las Vegas Mob Museum is the best museum you'll ever see for all things Mob.
Even by Las Vegas' standards, which are quite different than any other city, the background story of this museum is a very interesting one which has a bit of a bizarre and curious twist to it.
To begin with, I'd like to point out what I think is a little misconception about how Las Vegas treats its historical places.
Many people over the years have joked about how Las Vegas, unlike other cities, likes to blow up its history and landmark buildings.
Yes we do ... but there’s more to it than what is commonly thought, which is that Las Vegas doesn’t value its history. We do, but like a number of things out here, we do it a little differently.
Few people give thought to how a resort degrades during its time span after literally millions of people have used it for 20-25 years or more. Then there's the fact that those older buildings don't have modern day designs and materials.
Throw in laws and regulations that make retrofitting and redesign difficult along with constant and ever growing repairs. Add diminishing usability for modern tourism and it becomes obvious that for some buildings, their days of usefulness and functionality are just done.
Time to blow the sucker up and start over with a brand spanking new one for the next 25 plus years for even more millions to use and enjoy all the more.
That’s the story of the Strip and part of its popular history. What's left of some of those old resorts now only reside at the Neon Museum.
We do have normal historical buildings but generally speaking, you won’t find them on the Strip. You will find them if you know where to look ... and that's where this begins, in the building that now houses the Mob Museum.
The Mob Museum is now in the same building that once housed the Las Vegas Federal Courthouse and Post Office.
Opened in 1933, its restored neoclassical architecture once again harks back to those days and is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
It's here that U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver held one of the 14 nationwide hearings during the U.S Senate's Select Committee investigations on Organized Crime in America in 1950.
About that time television, although a new technology, had become quite affordable. Countless Americans, having recently purchased their first TV sets, were glued to their seats as the live hearings ran for hours during the day.
This was the first time they had ever heard of 'The Mafia'. These hearings were the start of what would become the U.S. Government's National effort in going after Organized Crime in America.
Since those hearings, there were many other prominent Federal cases tried in that building and of course, some of them were Mob related. Here's where the 'little bizarre twist' part of the story comes in.
One of the nation's most successful Mob Lawyers tried his very first federal case in this same building, and continued to do so for many, many years.
Many years later he went on to become the most popular mayor of Las Vegas, and served for 12 years (3 terms- 1999 to 2011) and would of remained mayor if it weren't for term limits.
Instead, his wife ran for Mayor and won in 2011, and just recently won re-election for a second term.
This same man had the vision to come up with something for downtown Las Vegas as unique as the Mob Museum.
This extraordinary life story belongs to none other than Oscar Goodman. If voters would of had their way, he would still be mayor. For now, (as he likes to say) he just “sleeps with the mayor”- Carolyn Goodman, his wife of 50 years and counting.
Oscar Goodman had been pushing for the revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas since becoming its Mayor. It was a huge task for a myriad of reasons and financial and legal complications were always an issue.
In 2000 the Feds sold the building to the City for $1. Yep… one buck. With that price came the stipulation it be restored and used for cultural purposes, since it was one of the oldest buildings in Southern Nevada.
Within a few years, Oscar was pushing for the Mob Museum to be housed there and it was no small matter in finally getting that accomplished.
Fittingly, on the same date as the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, Feb. 14, 2012 the Mob Museum opened for business.
In putting together the museum Dennis Barrie, who put together the Spy Museum in Washington D.C. and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, was hired for the Mob Museum and the results are a fantastic three story immersion into the history of Organized Crime and our Government’s war against it.
In this museum you’ll see the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre wall, the barber chair in which Anastasia was killed, a remake of Sing Sing’s electric chair and wiretap recordings to listen in on.
There's a virtual Tommy Gun you can shoot, a police line up wall where you can have your picture taken next to other ‘suspects’ on vacation with you, and a variety of many other interactive displays.
It’s loaded with one of a kind items that were donated, given or purchased from the families of former mobsters, loans from collectors and other items procured by the museum itself.
The tour begins on the third floor with the beginnings of Organized Crime here in America. It begins at Ellis Island during the wave of immigrant migration from Europe and traces its progress from there.
It explains the role prohibition played and the key players who built the first large enterprises.
You’ll recognize some of the biggest names and get introduced to many of their associates, their ways and means and their rise to power. It’s loaded with accounts of the turf wars, luxuries, lifestyles, political and union influence, gambling rackets, the Las Vegas connections, casino skimming and more.
The second floor has the courtroom of the Kefauver hearings and along the halls you'll see interesting displays about those involved directly and indirectly with it.
‘The Mob’s Greatest Hits’ area chronicles real life hit jobs and can get a bit bloody and graphic, so if you have young children with you, be aware of this.
You’ll find a section that goes into the conspiracy theory of the Mob connection to the JFK assassination, and another section explores the national and international reach of the Mob.
Meyer Lansky once said “ We’re bigger than U.S. Steel”... a truly ominous statement considering U.S. Steel was a huge global multinational Steel powerhouse in those days.
While going through the Las Vegas Section, some old memories resurfaced that I hadn’t thought of in quite a while. I landed in Vegas in 1977 and it was an interesting time to say the least.
When my uncle, who had been out here for a little over 10 years at that time, first told me Lefty Rosenthal was Mob, I told him he was nuts.
“The guy whose show I watched in person being taped at the Stardust, interviewing celebrities and glamming it up for the cameras, with a celebrity gossip column no less, is Mob? No way!”….simply no way I could believe any Mobster would be that 'out there', that foolish, that vainly out in the open.
Well in that, as well as a few other things, my uncle knew what he was talking about. When I finally learned the truth I was stunned.
Later on I was also surprised when the movie ‘Casino’ came out because of its accuracy. I remember living through all the public events in that film and was very surprised Hollywood didn’t take its usual ‘creative license’.
Ironically, it turns out that Frank 'Lefty' Rosenthal was an innovator.
He was the first one to bring sports books into a casino and he was also the first to use female dealers.
It turned out after his death in 2008 that he was an opportunistic FBI informant, with that suspicion being the reason behind the bombing of his car at Tony Roma’s on the corner of Sahara and Paradise.
Those days were truly interesting times in Las Vegas with Lefty Rosenthal being one of its biggest characters, but there are many more for you to find out about at this museum.
The breath and scope of what's detailed here is tremendous.
If time doesn't permit and you only want to see the Mob Museum, I recommend having a bite to eat before, then giving it at least 3 hours, but don't be surprised at all if you end up spending 4 hours here. Leave a little lee-way time for that.
The Mob Museum has parking, (presently $5) and if that's full, it's easy enough to park in one of the hotel garages and walk over since it's that close to Fremont St.
Be sure to validate your ticket for parking at their garage somewhere in the their hotel. Normally that means playing a little something in their casino but to be sure, just ask one of their casino employee's.
If you’ve been wanting to do downtown, here'e a great option to consider. You can save a little money by getting a combo for the Mob Museum and the Neon Museum in the day, then do the Fremont Street Experience and Fremont East at night.
If the above is an option for you then here's what I recommend.
Head Downtown for lunch since there's a slew of places for you to choose from to have lunch, where you'll find good deals on great meals.
If you have lunch in the same hotel where you parked, see about getting your parking ticket validated where you eat.
After lunch, do the Neon Museum, which only takes an hour, then the Mob Museum, which you'll want 3-4 hours for, then head back to the Fremont Street Experience.
As it's getting dark, they fire up the canopy and the music and you can go casino and/or bar hopping all around the place.
There's also a number of options for getting Downtown if you haven't rented a car, which you can check out on my Getting around Las Vegas page
If you have younger kids with you, I can recommend Fremont Street Experience and Fremont East during the day, but at night it can get a bit more R rated than you might want your kids to be around.
It's geared towards adults with some craziness that you won't see too many other places. That means racy street entertainment so be aware of that.
That goes on mostly on weekends, holidays and during special events, but you may run into that when certain conventions or groups are in town also, which could be any week day. They'll have live music going on as well as street entertainment throughout.
To get to the Mob Museum, you can catch the I-15 into Downtown and the first exit will drop you right on to Stewart Ave. Make a left turn and about a block down you’ll see it on your left.
If you want to see a few sights on the way there, simply travel up Las Vegas Blvd. (the Strip) into Downtown. You'll pass the pawn shop where Pawn Stars is filmed, but it's more of a curiosity than anything to see from the street.
When you get to Stewart Ave., make a left and about 2 blocks down, you'll see it on your right.
Hunger pangs gets more than a few to leave before they want to so I recommend getting a meal in before you visit, because ‘immersive’ is the operative word with this Museum.
If you think this is like other Mob things you’ve seen before, well then I got one word for you ... Fuhgeddaboudit! The Mob Museum is the best you’ll see on all things Mob in one of the most historical buildings in Las Vegas.
As Oscar might say, “Only in Vegas baby!”
The Museum host all kinds of different events. You can arrange group events as well as Wedding Packages. To get the skinny on these and all other info visit the Mob Museum website.
The Mob Museum address is 300 Stewart Avenue, Las Vegas, NV 89101