Las Vegas has changed a great deal over the last twenty-five years. Growing from the sparsely populated city many of us grew up with in the 1960s into a sprawling metropolis of over two million.
Back then, the Las Vegas Strip was revered as the “Entertainment Capital of the World”. Up and down that five- mile stretch of Boulevard, some of the greatest names in entertainment played the hotel showrooms. From Frank Sinatra to Judy Garland to Lena Horne and Harry Belafonte, they entertained guests twice night, first at the 8:00 dinner show and later in the night, at the 12:30 am Late Show (there was even the occasional Late, Late Show on Saturday nights). They often were booked for two weeks or more and the hotel marquees were in constant rotation.
Performers such as Louis Prima, Keely Smith, Sam Butera and Freddie Bell and the Bellboys and the Mary Kaye Trio kept the various lounges jumping from late night to early in the morning. They often rotated throughout the night with comedians such as Don Rickles, Buddy Hackett and Shecky Greene.
There was no walking the Strip back then. In those days the hotels catered to tourists in automobiles. There were often large expanses of desert between hotels. Gas stations, bars, diners and family run motels dotted the landscape between the larger hotels.
Giant neon signs that could be seen up and down the Boulevard danced in the dark night skies providing a show all their own.
Back then, people dressed up to go to a show, with the men sporting tuxedos and the women draped in sparkling evening gowns and draped in furs and jewelry.
It was a party that was never supposed to end.
Today that has all but vanished from the famed Las Vegas Strip as giant resorts built out to curb appeal to the modern tourist in search of fun, shopping and fine dining.
You can revisit those days in the new paperback version of my book, Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip 1930-1955 which covers the histories of the first 10 hotels built on the Strip in those years. The companion DVD offers video interviews with the men and women who were there and helped to make that history.
You can get a personally autographed book and the companion DVD here:
In the meantime, enjoy some images of the way it used to be:
Images courtesy of the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas, UNLV Special Collections, Joel Rosales, and the As We Knew It: Classic Las Vegas Collection