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March 21, 2014

NEVADA YESTERDAYS: Natalie Rittenhouse


RittenhouseNatalie Rittenhouse died early this year.  She was born in 1926 and grew up in Las Vegas.  She attended Fifth Street School and Las Vegas High School.  She graduated from Stanford with a psychology degree.  She was active in the Service League, later the Junior League, and other organizations, including the Nevada State Museum.  She was very interested in Native cultures.  Her interest in history was only logical.  Her husband Franklin “Pete” Rittenhouse had majored in history at Nevada-Reno … and their families have been an important part of Nevada history.

Prosper Goumand Home at the Clark County Heritage MuseumNatalie Rittenhouse’s father worked at the downtown Boulder Club, where one of the family, A.B. Witcher, was a partner with Prosper Goumond.  The Boulder Club installed downtown’s first neon sign.  Pete Rittenhouse’s father had been Las Vegas city engineer.  His sister Ann married John McNamee.  And that’s where we get even deeper into Nevada’s history. (Pictured left is the Prosper Goumond home at Clark County Heritage Museum.)

John McNamee’s grandfather, Frank, came to Nevada in 1883.  He lived in Eureka and later in Lincoln County.  He started out as a barber but passed the bar and became an attorney.  Eventually, his oldest son, Leo, joined his father in his law practice.  They represented the Union Pacific Railroad here for many years, and thus were heavily involved in water issues and legal cases related to the construction of Hoover Dam.  Frank McNamee, Junior, also became part of the firm.  He went on to be a district court judge and later a state supreme court justice.

Leo McNamee and his wife Fran had seven children.  Back in the 1930s, the joke in Las Vegas was that the McNamees would arrive at church in their car with the Herbert Hoover sign on the side, since they were Republicans.  The Foleys, including five sons, would get to church in their car with the Franklin Roosevelt sign on the side.  The priest would say now that the congregation had arrived, he could begin.

One of the McNamee children, Fran, married Julian Moore, an executive with Basic Magnesium and then in the gaming industry.  Another, John, went into law practice with his father.  Leo was the dean of the local bar when he died in 1958 after practicing in Las Vegas for forty-five years.  Shortly after Leo’s death, his youngest son, Joe, joined John in the law firm.

So did Pete Rittenhouse.  He started out in Las Vegas as the law partner of John Bonner, who later became U.S. attorney.  That was after Pete Rittenhouse had the job as from 1955 to 1958.  The firm of McNamee McNamee and Rittenhouse continued for several years.  Joe McNamee served a term in the legislature, and later was a partner in the Marina Hotel, whose owners eventually sold it to Kirk Kerkorian.  He built the MGM Grand at that site.

[Hear more: Wilbur Clark, Jay Sarno, Kirk Kerkorian and Steve Wynn are just a few of the legends who built the Strip.  Hear about one man who didn't get enough credit on KNPR's State of Nevada.]

John McNamee died too young, in 1978.  Pete Rittenhouse then became Clark County probate commissioner, serving in that position for more than a decade.  Joe McNamee quit practicing law, ran the Silk Purse Ranch, and later moved to California.

Allison HaywardThe Rittenhouses’ daughter, Allison Hayward, became an attorney and is on the board of the Office of Congressional Ethics, and another in a long line of accomplished members of the McNamee and Rittenhouse families.  Perhaps they aren’t too well known these days.  They should be.  They are among the important pioneer families of southern Nevada.

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