Capturing Las Vegas

Home movies.  Those wonderful 8mm and Super 8 celluloid treasures that we have from our childhoods.  Christmas morning, Easter Sunday, vacations at Disneyland.  It's fun to look back at the fads, the clothing, the hairstyles.  But most importantly, they capture a time and place that have faded into history.

It's one reason that I am excited about Las Vegas participating in Home Movie Day this week.  Las Vegas has long held out the lure of second chances and the possibility of re-inventing self.  But, few other cities in the world, re-invent themselves on the scale of Las Vegas.

 Twenty five years ago there were still motels and gas stations on the Strip.  A lot of them.  Places like the Lone Palm, the Desert Rose, the Kit Carson, the Gaslight.   Now the buildings are gone but luckily some of the signs have been saved by the Neon Museum.

 I've been putting together some of the footage that I have bought on ebay.  Other people's home movies.  People, at first, ask why are you buying other peoples' movies?  But then I explain that most people traveling west stopped in Las Vegas.  In between seeing shows, dining out and gambling, they often took a drive Downtown and then back to the Strip.  And, quite often, they took their handy movie camera with them.

Because of that, I have spent the last day looking at the Las Vegas I remember.  The City of Neon.  Places that are long gone and some that are still around.

Helldorado Parades when Helldorado was as big as the Tournament of Roses Parade.  The Hotel floats were elaborate.  Everything from sailing ships to ice rinks, all topped by beautiful showgirls.  Marching bands from around the country.  And crowds so deep you can't see the sidewalks.  But looking east on Fremont Street with the floats coming towards you is to capture the essence of what Downtown used to mean to all of us of a certain age when it was the only place to go to shop, cruise or grab a burger. 

I have seen the wonderful old Aladdin sign.  The team of designers from Yesco, included Brian "Buzz" Leming.  They dubbed the sign the "Ice Cream Sundae" and spent an afternoon at Wonderworld looking for material they could cut up to make the mock up of the sign.

The original front of Caesars Palace with the soldiers on the bottom of the marquee sign.  Buzz and the other designers spent an afternoon at a store buying toy soldiers as a gag for the sign.  When Jay Sarno saw the mock up he wanted to keep the soldiers.  Just wanted them to look Roman.

The magnificent Dunes sign pushing neon into the night sky.  It was always supposed to be there.

The Sands, the Bonanza Hotel, the Stardust (with its planetary front) and the Mori statue advertising the Aku Aku, the La Concha and the Algiers, the camels that used to be near the original Sahara sign.  The Flamingo Capri motel with its very similar sign to its next door neighbor, the Flamingo Hotel.  The old Frontier Village.

Jack Dennison's Copper Cart Restaurant.  Looking at footage of Downtown, there was the Lucky Strike, the Monte Carlo, the Fremont Theatre.  5th Street Liquor.  Before the Union Plaza was built at 1 Main Street it was the Union Pacific Depot and in some of the home movies you can see the Union Paciific sign glowing neon at the end of the street.

It's all there.  In color and in black and white.  The way Las Vegas was.  The Las Vegas of our collective memory.  The City of Neon. 

Join us for Home Movie Day, Saturday Aug. 12th.

Three convenient locations (all air conditioned).

Bring your home movies to share or just come watch them.

It's a trip down Memory Lane you won't soon forget.


Home Movie Day is from 10:00 am - 5:00 pm at the following locations:

Nevada State Museum

700 Twin Lakes Dr

Lorenzi Park (Twin Lakes to us old timers)


Winchester Cultural Center

3101 McLeod

Las Vegas 


Clark County Museum

1830 S Boulder Highway

Henderson, NV


You'll be glad you did.