Garden City Could’ve Been The Next Las Vegas, Instead it Became ‘Garbage City’
I was eavesdropping at dinner the other night and and overheard the table next to us talking about the history of Garden City. Instead of tuning out, I tuned in and learned some interesting things.
For example, did you know that Chinden actually means CHINese garDEN. This is because at one point the land that is now Garden City was actually leased out to Chinese gardeners who grew a plethora of fresh vegetables. The most interesting part about the town's history though is how it got it's start.
Garden City didn't really take off as an actual town until the late 1940s. That's when the Idaho Legislature passed a law allowing “coin operated amusement devices” - aka slot machines. Basically any town or local community could apply for a license from the state to operate slot machines and allow for gambling. Boise voted against it but a couple of residents just outside of city limits decided to jump on this as a financial opportunity. So in 1949 they started up their own town just like that and boom, Garden City was born.
Garden City was bustling with people from all over who were coming to test their luck at the slot machines. The town's government used the profits they were making from the slots to build the town up around it. Before long, Garden City was a real town that had a park, a water system, city hall, and a police force - courtesy of those Boise city slicker's gambling money.
There's always someone who's trying to ruin all the fun though. To no surprise, Idaho has always been a conservative place and some Idahoans believed that gambling was immoral and technically... it was still illegal. There was no actual amendment added to the constitution when legislature approved those "coin operated amusement devices."
Inevitably there was a lawsuit that ended up in the hands of the Idaho Supreme Court. The ruling was that slot machines were considered as lotteries and lotteries were indeed illegal. Oh, and they also deemed them as ‘a well-recognized evil and mischief.’
Remember, this town was literally built on the gambling business and any buildings that had to with gambling were declared ‘a moral nuisance’ and were shut down. The town had to do something before its entire economy sank so they started welcoming in less desirable business to the area just to keep the place afloat. Soon all kinds of all business from junkyards and slaughterhouses to nightclubs and adult bookstores became Garden City, otherwise known as, Garbage City.
To it's credit, Garden City has really turned itself around in the last couple of decades as it tries to shed itself of that less than honorable nickname. I say... we bring BACK those Chinese gardens!