HISTORIC COURTROOM THE CENTERPIECE OF NEW MOB MUSEUM
Museum building location of the famed Kefauver hearings (1950-51) that exposed organized crime
LAS VEGAS (Nov. 2011) — On Nov. 15, 1950, the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, led by U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver (Democrat-Tennessee), held the seventh in a series of 14 nationwide hearings in Las Vegas. The historic hearing took place in the courtroom of the city’s first federal building – the very courtroom that was restored as the centerpiece of The Mob Museum, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement. The Mob Museum opened February 14, 2012.
The former federal courthouse and U.S. Post Office building is one of the few remaining historically significant structures in the city. Originally constructed under the U.S. Treasury Department’s Acting Supervising Architect James A. Wetmore, it is an important example of Depression-era neoclassical architecture built by the federal government during the 1920s and 1930s. The rehabilitation of the former federal courthouse restored the building to its original grandeur and preserved it as a cultural asset for generations to come. It features the historic restoration of the historic lobby, historic floor and the courtroom, famous as the site of the Kefauver Committee hearings, the series of hearings that marked the exposure of organized crime and the beginnings of federal prosecution in the early 1950s.
The building is uniquely located and associated with the theme of The Mob Museum. It was in continuous use from its dedication in 1933 until 2005, when the post office vacated the building. The landmark structure is nationally significant as the site of the seventh hearing of the U.S. Senate Special Committee to Investigate Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce, held on November 15, 1950. More commonly known as the Kefauver Committee hearings, named after U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver who headed them, the committee investigated the influence of the mob in the gaming industry as well as levels of corruption in the business.
The hearings were held in cities nationwide between 1950 and 1951 and sought to expose organized crime. The historic courtroom was a key feature in the restoration design, and central to the experience of The Mob Museum. A major exhibit and multi-media experience captures the significance of the courtroom as the location of the controversial proceedings, an important milestone in Las Vegas history, and its impact across the country.
According to Robert Jay Chattel, AIA, of Chattel Architecture, Planning & Preservation, Inc., the consulting preservation architect on the project, The Mob Museum is preserving not only the history of organized crime and law enforcement in America, it is safeguarding a part of Las Vegas’ physical history through rehabilitation of the post office and courthouse that was first listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1983. According to Chattel, who has more than 25 years of experience in historic preservation projects, the building is significant for its neo-classical architecture reminiscent of the period in which it was built, and also for the historic events that unfolded inside the building, namely the famed Kefauver hearings.
The Kefauver Committee investigation contributed to and accelerated the national debate on organized crime that developed after World War II. This two-year investigation heard more than 800 witnesses and identified organized crime as big business operating in major cities throughout the country.
The hearings revolutionized the then new medium of television as a source for news and current events. It is estimated that 20 to 30 million people — twice the audience of the 1950 World Series — flocked to restaurants, bars and neighbors’ homes to watch the all-day hearings on television. Americans watched spellbound as crime bosses, bookies, pimps, and hit men appeared on their television screens.
The March 1951 Time magazine cover on Kefauver summarized the committee’s findings: the committee had “turned up a sinister pattern of organized crime in the U.S.” and evidence suggested that such crime is “not limited to any single community of any single state, but occurs all over the country.” The committee concluded that organized crime in the U.S. was “big business,” dominated by two major crime outfits: the Capone Syndicate and the New York Syndicate. The committee also stated that since the repeal of Prohibition laws, the focus of these crime syndicates was on big-time gambling.
The Mob Museum has transformed the 41,000 square foot historic 1933 building into a contemporary museum facility while preserving its historic character and spaces. It was used as the federal courthouse through 1965 when a new federal building opened at 300 Las Vegas Blvd. South and was renamed Foley Federal Building in the late 1980s.
The former federal courthouse and U.S. Post Office building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places at the local level significance in 1983 and upgraded to national significance in 2005 due to its association with the history of organized crime. It is also listed on the Nevada State Register of Historic Places (2002) and the City of Las Vegas Historic Property Register (2003).
According to Chattel, “The Kefauver Committee had a profound and singular impact on Las Vegas; an impact that cannot be matched in any of the other cities where hearings were held. It is here in the courtroom and surrounding galleries that The Mob Museum will focus on the importance of the Kefauver Committee hearings, both locally and nationally, and the events that occurred within this very building.”
While it may not have resulted in immediate federal legislative action, the Kefauver Committee and its aftermath had a profound impact at the state and local level. Several states passed anti-gambling legislation and local law enforcement began to crack down on criminal activities. The effect of the committee in Nevada and Las Vegas, however, was markedly different.
Many historians credit the hearings with cementing Las Vegas as the gaming capital of the country since the crackdown on illegal gambling that followed the hearings drove gambling operators to Nevada – known as the “open state,” and the only state in the country where gambling was then legal. Authors Ed Reid and Ovid Demaris, in their book, The Green Felt Jungle, estimated that the mob had up to $300 million invested in Las Vegas by 1962. Those numbers would only continue to grow over the next two decades – mirrored by explosive growth on the Las Vegas Strip.
Federal Judge Paul McCormick from Los Angeles, best known for ruling against segregation, presided over the first session in the courtroom on March 2, 1934. Because Nevada had only one federal judge, located in Carson City, other federal judges from neighboring states traveled to Las Vegas twice yearly to hear cases. In his preliminary remarks, Judge McCormick said, “…this building and courtroom are a credit to the genius of the engineering persons who brought it into being and had to do with its construction. It is dignified and elegant. Let us hope that the character of the work done here will be in keeping with this…It is hoped that justice may always prevail here…”
In 1945, Judge Roger Thomas Foley (1886-1974) was appointed by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and commissioned by President Harry Truman, to the bench at the United States Post Office and Court House. He went on to hear several important cases in the courtroom, including notorious cases involving tax evasion and illegal gambling schemes – many involving alleged and admitted organized crime members. Nominated by President John F. Kennedy, Judge Roger D. Foley (1917-1996), son of Roger Thomas Foley, was appointed district court judge in July 1962 and presided at the United States Post Office and Court House.
According to Bob Stoldal, Vice President of the 300 Stewart Avenue Corporation, the non-profit board that is working alongside the city of Las Vegas to oversee development and construction of the museum, years of work and planning are coming to fruition as the museum nears completion.
“The goal of the museum is to tell the real and full story of organized crime and how law enforcement defeated and continues to battle the mob,” said Stoldal, who also serves as chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, city of Las Vegas, and chairman of the board, Nevada State Museum and Historical Society.
“Given world-wide fascination with organized crime and the world-class team behind the project, the museum is poised to become an important historic destination and tourist attraction in downtown Las Vegas – on par with the city’s other must-see attractions,” Stoldal said. “We are confident it will draw hundreds of thousands of annual visitors to the area. As such, it’s an important part of the city’s downtown redevelopment efforts.”
About The Mob Museum
The Mob Museum is a world-class destination in downtown Las Vegas dedicated to the thrilling story of organized crime and law enforcement. It presents an exciting and authentic view of the mob’s impact on Las Vegas history and its unique imprint on the world. With tales so intriguing they need no embellishment, The Museum reveals an insider’s look at the events and people on both sides of this continuing battle. True stories of mob history are brought to life in a bold and contemporary style via engaging exhibits and multi-sensory experiences. The Mob Museum puts the visitor in the middle of the action through high-tech theater presentations, iconic one-of-a-kind artifacts and interactive, themed environments. For more information, call 702-229-2734 or visit www.themobmuseum.org. Connect with us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/themobmuseum and on Twitter: @TheMobMuseum.
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The Mob Museum