If you wander around the Nevada Capitol in Carson City, you can learn quite a bit about every rock that was ever pulled from the earth anywhere in this state. You can read about several significant laws created and Supreme Court cases decided there from its 1871 opening until legislative and court buildings were constructed nearby to house those branches. Heck, you’ll even find out that the fence around the faux-silver-domed structure was built to keep animals out because the Real Housewives of Early Statehood didn’t cotton to grazing their skirt hems in dung.
Here’s what you won’t find out about: Gambling. Or Las Vegas. Or legal prostitution. You know, the three things that make Nevada interesting to the rest of the world.
Among my list of peculiar hobbies is a fetish for state capitol buildings. I’ve visited 34 of them so far, including those in Lansing, Des Moines, Lincoln and Cheyenne in the past year.
Last month, on a reporting trip to Reno, I realized I’d been to Carson City on assignment many times but never to the Nevada Capitol. So I made my partner drop me off—he finds the whole nerdy thing endearing but dull—so I could see what my own state had to offer.
It’s not much. The building is charmingly quaint but relatively modest, but that’s not uncommon for newer, small states. Juneau’s and Santa Fe’s, for instance, also lack grandeur.
But unlike any other capitol I’d seen, ours fails to even attempt to represent the entire state. In Des Moines, you find gorgeous quilts featuring depictions of every corner of the Hawkeye State. In Tallahassee, there is a rich amount of information on the Cuban migration to South Florida.
In Carson City? Nothing about the reasons why Nevada has any national clout or gets any attention at all, nor about the place where 70 percent of the population lives. Those mines are notoriously unhelpful in balancing budgets, but boy do they get represented, while the Vegas Strip, which funds most of the state’s functions, is missing.
The words “Las Vegas” appear just twice. One reference is on a candy wrapper in a display case of products made in Nevada. The other is found in a paragraph noting a passing consideration once given to moving the state’s capital to Clark County.
How could this be? Bob Nylen, the curator of history at the Nevada State Museum, created these displays back in the late 1980s thanks to a $30,000 grant provided by Gov. Richard Bryan. Since then, Nylen’s gotten no money to update anything, which means that the past two decades—the Mirage-to-CityCenter era—doesn’t exist up there. He said he opted, given fiscal constraints, to limit the focus to the history of the building itself, which all took place, uh, up there. But he knows that’s an inadequate answer, given that gaming was legalized and the Nevada Gaming Control Board was created in these halls, among other milestones.
“I agree with you, we should have more information on the state,” he said. “It wasn’t my intention to shortchange any part of the state.”
He and his boss, Cultural Affairs Chief Mike Fisher, insist there’s plenty about gambling and Vegas at the state museum nearby. Fine, but is it unreasonable to expect the entire state be represented in the structure where the state’s most significant history occurred?
Both men conceded that premise but complained that money is tight. Of course it is, but this shouldn’t cost a thing. Gifted artists across the state would be honored to create work for free for such a prestigious berth, and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority should see it as both a civic duty and a tourism promotion to kick in some dough for new displays that reflect the region they serve.
Voila. Problem solved. And what about the missing history of that other unique Nevada institution, legal prostitution? I’ll get to that next week.