The Las Vegas Helldorado event began in 1934, when Arizona carnival barker Clyde Zerby acknowledged the opportunity to make a quick buck off of workers at the Hoover Dam site and the thousands of visitors who flocked to see the immense construction project develop.
The theme harkens back to the Valley’s frontier roots and the Wild West. The first Helldorado was a rowdy affair, featuring a “hoochie coochie dance” show and other attractions that would let Dam workers blow-off steam.
In 1935, because of construction on the Dam and the legalization of gaming in Nevada, Las Vegas was a booming town, and Fremont Street was burgeoning with saloons, gambling halls, hotels, shops and restaurants. But City leaders knew that once construction was complete, the boom could end and Las Vegas could wind up a ghost town.
The local Elks Lodge decided an annual production of the Helldorado Days festival could provide just the kind of community spirit that would entice Dam workers and their families to stay in Southern Nevada and also encourage visitors back to experience the flavor of the Old West. The idea worked.
Under the Elks Lodge No. 1468 supervision, and with support from the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce and local businesses, Helldorado Days took off. The more salacious activities were eliminated and replaced with family friendly parades, contests, and a rodeo.
Each year, as the City of Las Vegas continued to grow, the Helldorado festival expanded in both scope and reputation. In 1946, the festival was so well known that Roy Rogers filmed a movie in Las Vegas with Helldorado Days as the backdrop.
As Las Vegas grew, so did Helldorado Days. Award-winning marching bands from California and the Southwest joined local school bands in the parade, resorts competed with local businesses for Best Float awards, the rodeo drew recognized superstars and a national audience, a beauty contest was added, and contestants ranging from bartenders and construction workers to casino executives and media personalities grew long beards and unique mustaches in the Spring to compete in the Whiskerino contest.
The festival was a source of community pride and inspiration. For long-time residents, it provided an opportunity for reflection and forward thinking. For newcomers, it kindled interest in our history and the spirit of our past.
By the late 1990’s, however, costs to produce the event skyrocketed and sponsorships dwindled. Helldorado Days disappeared. It appeared that the city, with its emphasis on colossal resorts and international cosmopolitanism, had outgrown the fascination with its frontier roots. And as a marketing tool, the festival was no longer needed.
In 2005, however, in celebration of Las Vegas’ 100th birthday and with help from the Las Vegas Centennial Commission, the Elks Lodge No. 1468 rekindled interest in the original spirit of Helldorado Days. The goal is to provide a fun community event for locals and our families and if out-of-town visitors want to join, they are more than welcome. Ultimately, the festival is about getting back to our roots and having some hometown fun.
In 2016 the Las Vegas Elks Lodge No. 1468 and the Professional Bull Riders will team up to produce the Las Vegas Helldorado Days. PBR will be adding its May event, Last Cowboy Standing, to the already great list of events that are held within Helldorado Days. The Festival, Rodeo, PBR performances will be held within the Las Vegas Village on the Las Vegas Strip. Other ancillary events such as the Whiskerino Contest will be held downtown as they have been in the past. PBR plans to enhance the fan experience at Helldorado Days while also preserving the historical importance of the local event.