"It was a city of neon" Sen. Richard Bryan, interview 2005
I am haunted by places that I remember. As I drive around Las Vegas in the 21st Century, I am constantly reminded of the Las Vegas of the 20th Century and the places that were once there and now only live in my (and maybe yours) memory.
It's not easy driving by a new box store or a new faux-Tuscan shopping mall and remembering the businesses that were once there.
There seems to be a trend in this new century to make every city look the same.
When I was growing up, one of the joys of going on a road trip was to see some place different. From roadside architecture to signage to mom and pop businesses, the highways and byways of America were filled with unique businesses and only a smattering of chain restaurants such as Sambo's, Howard Johnson's or IHOP.
Today, the uniqueness is almost all but gone and the roadways of America are filled with places such as Home Depot, Loewe's, Target, Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Office Depot, Staples, Ramada Inn and many more all done in the lastest faux-Mediterran/Tuscan architecture.
I remember the little motor motels that used to dot the Strip. This, of course, was back in the day when you drove the Strip. The then resort hotels were surrounded by expanses of desert and you could not walk from one to the other the way you can today. That Strip was built for the automobile. With wonderful neon signs that glowed in the night, that Strip welcomed the weary traveler to come in off the road, it didn't matter if it was the Sands Hotel or the Desert Rose Motel. Those little motels with their dancing neon signs were just as much a part of the Las Vegas Strip of yore as the gas stations, restaurants and wedding chapels.
I remember Fremont Street when it was still open to traffic and cruising on Friday and Saturday nights. Kids began cruising Fremont Street in the late 1930s. As Fremont Street grew beyond 6th Street and all the way down to Boulder Highway, there was the Blue Onion Drive-In (down near where the Blue Angel Motel stands today) and kids would start there and head west on Fremont trying to hit the green lights. As they neared the train depot the idea was to hit the green light at Main, go around the circular drive in front of the depot, hit the green light again and head back to the Blue Onion. Then, grab a coke and start the ritual all over again.
Long before the canopy was put over Fremont Street and traffic cordoned off, the neon used to shoot into the sky and the street was known as Glitter Gulch. Small gambling halls competed along side the better known places such as the Horseshoe Club and the Golden Nugget. There were retail stores like Coronet and Woolworths, Sears and JC Penney's and our own homegrown, Ronzone's.
Restaurants, motor hotels and gas stations lined the fabled street where once houses had stood. Today, some of the facades still stand but more and more are falling to the wrecking ball as developers with high-rise/mixed use fever move in.
Here are some of my favorite memories:
This wonderful restaurant had been at three different locations before its final location across the street from the Las Vegas Convention Center Rotunda.
When architecture and signage wasn't homogenized.
Today, I wonder why Americans ever leave home any more if every where they travel to looks like where they live.
Special Thanks to RoadsidePictures for letting us these images.