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Frank Wright (1938-2003)
Las Vegas Review Journal
Each time you hear this broadcast, you hear that it is dedicated to the memory of Frank Wright. April marks the tenth anniversary of Frank’s death. It occurred to us that some of you might not know just who we’re talking about or why Nevada Yesterdays is dedicated to his memory. Some of you may need a reminder of why.
Frank first came to Las Vegas in 1968 to teach political science at UNLV. He left for a few years, came back, and went to work for Binion’s Horseshoe. Not too many scholars have worked there.
In 1981, Frank became curator of education for the Nevada State Museum, which moved shortly thereafter to Lorenzi Park. It since has moved to a beautiful new building at the Springs Preserve. When Frank started, he went to work on a series of historical booklets, many of them to be used in seventh grade classes, where many young Nevadans learn about their state’s history. He put together a lot of valuable information for those of us who were a little older, too.
Frank didn’t just live in the archive; he got out and talked about what he found. He taught Nevada history for many years at the College of Southern Nevada and spoke to more groups than he could name. He conducted downtown walking tours for newcomers and old-timers. Generally speaking, he knew who had lived in what house, what shoe size they wore, the kind of architecture the house was—you name it.
Frank also was active in the community. He served on the city historic preservation commission. He played a role in helping to develop the Springs Preserve and the Neon Museum.
Frank saw his role as teaching about Las Vegas to anybody he could, in any way he could. He gave a lot of interviews and helped a lot of journalists, novelists, and screenwriters. He worked hard at puncturing myths about the area. If you wanted to get Frank going, you just needed to say that Bugsy Siegel single-handedly built the Flamingo and founded Las Vegas.
Frank wanted Las Vegans to know and remember their history. To its credit, Las Vegas has remembered Frank. A park was named for him at Fourth and Stewart. But the park was torn apart for construction … and we suspect Frank would be pleased that it’s next to the first local federal building. He pushed to save it, and now it’s the Mob Museum. There’s a courtyard named for Frank at the historic Fifth Street School, where so many of the Las Vegans Frank knew and wrote about got their early education. Frank played a role in getting it status on the National Register of Historic Places.
Frank worked with Nevada Public Radio on many projects. He consulted on a two-part documentary on local race relations that won numerous awards. He contributed research to The Las Vegas I Remember, a series of interviews with local pioneers. Most important, at least to us, is that he started writing Nevada Yesterdays in 1987. When he died, he had been putting together a book based on those programs. Happily, it was completed by his wife Dorothy, along with his longtime colleague at the state museum, Dave Millman, and veteran journalist A.D. Hopkins.
So, there’s good reason to dedicate this program to Frank’s memory. He preserved history, he wrote history, and he made history.