Welcome to the newly revamped Fremont Street History Blog!

It’s been awhile since we last blogged about this fabulous topic! Stay tuned and learn about the rich history of downtown Las Vegas - otherwise known as Fremont Street.

Fremont Street 1905

Fremont Street 1905

The story of Fremont Street harkens back to the birth of Las Vegas...

As the small town found its footing and began to grow, Fremont Street was where the residents would gather to shop, to socialize and to celebrate holidays and other major events. Residents who were born back in the late 1900s and early 1910s remember the big fir Christmas tree in the town square and visits from Santa Clause that included small gifts of fruit and candy.

The fabled red-light district, Block 16 was just off Fremont Street (today where Binion’s parking lot is). Liquor flowed and in the evening, once the glaring sun went down, the ladies of the street would sit out on balconies, fanning themselves and trying to attract the attention of men on the street below. Long-time residents who were young boys delivering newspapers remembered the ladies always getting customers to buy a few newspapers from them.

In 1931, Nevada became the only state with legalized gambling. Soon, small gambling halls popped up on Fremont Street. With the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, alcohol soon became a stable of the gambling halls. It had always been there, but now, no one had to turn a blind eye to it. Side-by-side with the gambling halls were small mom and pop shops, restaurants and retail stores.

After World War II, with Americans no longer bound by rationing, Las Vegas began to change. Tourists began to visit in large numbers, especially from southern California. Fremont Street continued to grow and the small gambling halls became casinos. The Street became known as Glitter Gulch with huge neon signs proudly proclaiming the various properties. The Golden Nugget, Benny Binion’s Horseshoe Club, the Sal Sagev (today the Golden Gate) and the El Cortez all contributed to the neon canyon of light.

Fremont Street in the mid-1940s

Fremont Street in the mid-1940s

Today, much of Fremont Street has undergone significant change. Long gone are the mom and pop shops, retail stores and restaurants of my childhood and formative years. But the history of Fremont Street is still there, often hidden by new facades, and this blog celebrates that history.

Subscribe to our RSS feed and join us as we discover more of the real history of Fremont Street in the months ahead!

Smith Center for the Performing Arts coming to Union Park

On the 61 acres of land that once was home to the rail yards and shops of the Southern Pacific Railroad, Union Park will be built.  Mixed use, retail, condos, the Lou Ruvo Brain Institute and the Smith Center for the Performing Arts all promise to change the face of Downtown forever.

Smith Center for Performing Arts

Smith Center for Performing Arts

From our good friend Kristen Petersen at the Las Vegas Sun:

Arts Center to mix it up
'Eclectic Architect's Test: Make An Impression In Vegas
By Kristen Peterson, Las Vegas Sun
 

Architect David Schwarz knew that designing a performing arts center in Las Vegas would challenge his "neo-eclectic" style, given that we've already created architectural nods to Paris, Venice and other European cities.

So what's a guy with a taste for the classical to do ?

Drive to Hoover Dam, look around, consider its relevance to the area's history and make a few sketches.

More than a year after winning the commission for the Smith Center for the Performing Arts, Schwarz and his Washington, D.C., team presented a scale model at the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center Foundation offices on Monday.

The five-acre site in downtown Union Park has architectural elements inspired by noted European concert halls. There's Art Deco in the metal reliefs, outdoor light fixtures and a bell tower - much of it inspired by Hoover Dam structures built in the 1930s.

Known for incorporating classical architecture in contemporary designs, Schwarz was determined to continue with his trademark style but attempted to make the building stand on its own in a city known for pillaging historic architecture.

"It made life more difficult for us than it's been," Schwarz said by telephone from Prague , the Czech Republic. "We try to make our buildings suit their context - context of what is the building, the context of neighborhood, and for us, the context of music.

"What stumped us (in Las Vegas) is that there are two versions of the Paris Opera House" - the outside at Paris Las Vegas and the inside at the "Phantom" theater in the Venetian.

The three-building Smith campus includes a large hall, a small hall and an education complex. The carillon bell tower juts from the northeast corner of the main building and could provide concerts for people in what is, at least tentatively, called Symphony Park. A pedestrian alley leads into outdoor public space, a courtyard between the three structures. The ground floor of the main building has a grand lobby. Above that is an upper lobby that could seat 300 for dinner or serve as reception space. A spacious veranda overlooks Symphony Park.

The design team is testing stone found near Jean. Myron Martin, president of the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center Foundation, says the stone, called Nevada metaquartzite , costs more than limestone but is indigenous and wouldn't need to be transported across county. That could help the building earn a LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, Martin said.

The $250 million main building, with a 2,050-seat performance hall with four-tiered balcony and wood floors , is expected to break ground in 13 months and be completed in mid-2011. The foundation needs to raise $65 million before this can happen.

Part of that money will be raised through naming rights for various parts of the center, including $30 million for the right to name the main concert hall. Naming rights for the 21 exclusive boxes would go for $2 million to $5 million.

Next in line for construction is the $50 million two-story education complex, which includes a 300-seat cabaret theater with windows behind the stage that overlook Symphony Park. The building also includes a smaller theater and rehearsal space. The third structure to be built is a $75 million facility, which houses a 650-seat theater.

The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation, founded by the former Las Vegas Review-Journal publisher, kicked off the fundraising with a donation of $50 million, including $5 million for architectural design. Don Snyder, a former banker and ex-president of Boyd Gaming , is the chairman of the Las Vegas Performing Arts Center Foundation and is in charge of raising funds. He started the Founders Club with $1 million of his own money. The city provided the land and infrastructure and car rental tax money will be used to pay off bonds.

As was anticipated, the building is fancy in a traditional sense. There are two entrances inspired by Theatre des Champs-Elysees.

Its style? Ecclectic.

"We wanted something timeless, elegant, unique but with contemporary elements," Martin said. "It's the perfect blending of old and new Las Vegas."

Because the large hall will take 30 months to build, Martin said, enough money could be raised before the completion for the education center and it's possible they could open at the same time.

The group will be interviewing bell makers in the next few weeks, including foundries in Amsterdam, London and Cincinnati, Martin said.

Electronic marquee at the old Las Vegas High! Yeah or nay?

It's more bad news from the Downtown Neighborhood (that is on the National Historical Register).  Seems the Las Vegas Academy (the former Las Vegas High School that was built in 1931 and for almost thirty years was the only High School in town), wants to put one of those electronic marquees on the front lawn of the school at the corner of Bridger.

The magnet school, which allows students to major in performance arts, want to have an electronic marquee to advertise their upcoming productions and shows.

The Historic Preservation Commission does not believe that the front lawn and the corner of 7th and Bridger is the best place for the sign.  They believe the sign will interfere with the exterior look of the campus.  (See photo below to see if you agree or disagree).

Las Vegas High School Sign

Las Vegas High School Sign

 Thanks to the Las Vegas Review Journal for allowing us to use this photo.

The sign was reviewed by City Planning staff.  The preliminary design called for a 12-foot-high electronic marquee.  It was proposed by the school at an August 13th meeting.  The City Planning Staff recommended its denial to the Preservation Commission.

The Commission after reviewing the situation tabled the issue at a subsequent meeting, encouraging school staff and Nevada Sign to alter the design to better suit the character of the neighborhood.

This is the neighborhood where the homes date back to the 1920s and the 1930s.  Many of the pioneering families who helped build Las Vegas from a tent city to a small, thriving community lived in these homes.   Though the Neighborhood is on the National Registry, it is not protected by local preservation laws and in the past two years, many of the homes have been torn down for McOffices and McMansions. 

The initial request was recommended for denial because the sign was deemed to be incompatible with the historic architecture of the school.

Planners said its size would have a negative impact on the school's facade and the contemporary technology was not appropriate within the context of the Las Vegas High School Neighborhood Historic District.

School principal Stephen Clark said whether commissioners like the sign is irrelevant. "The code says 'compatibility' and the sign we proposed we feel is quite compatible," he said.

The code to which Clark refers is the Las Vegas Municipal Code, which states that applications for alteration of historic sites can be denied if the proposed work is not compatible with the distinctive character of the overall property.

Compatibility is defined as "a pleasing visual relationship between elements of a property, building or structure."

Nevada Sign, the company commissioned by the school for the project, redesigned the template after planners said it needed to blend with the neighborhood more. Features were added to simulate the building's front entrance. A plaque was also added informing onlookers of the building's historic significance.

The school plans to take the issue to the Las Vegas City Council if the commission rejects the proposal at its next meeting. Despite commission requests to do so, Clark doesn't plan to alter the design again or change the sign's intended location.

The school wants to put the sign where White said is the best view of the Las Vegas High School Historic District's Spanish Art Deco facade.

Constructed in 1931, the building represents the growth and development of Las Vegas during the Hoover Dam construction. Before it was Las Vegas Academy, it was Las Vegas High School. The building was given historic designation in 2002.

What do you think?  Let us know!!  Post your comments below!

What's going on with the Golden Nugget?

We went on an Architecture Tour given by our good friend, Mary Margaret Stratton and the Atomic Age Alliance last Friday.  The double decker bus was filled with folks who love mid-century architecture and signage.  One of the stops was downtown Fremont Street where we took a short walking tour.  Imagine our surprise when we noticed construction at the Golden Nugget.

After much asking around, we have decided to offer a free Classic Las Vegas tee-shirt to the first reader who can acurately tell us why the western bullnose of the Golden Nugget is down and there is a fence around the western corner.

Thanks to Allen Sandquist (RoadsidePictures) for letting us use this picture. 

Golden Nugget

Golden Nugget