9 Shocking Secrets of Old Las Vegas – Fremont Street History Edition
Fremont Street … known for its oversized light display and its somewhat loose slots is a major tourist draw. Bringing Millions of people downtown to try their luck and experience some old school Vegas fun. This small section of Las Vegas played a big part on the building of the gambling mecca that is today known as Las Vegas. It does however have some major secrets!
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Here Are 9 Historical Shocking Secrets of Fremont Street and Old Las Vegas
First State Bank
The northeast corner of First and Fremont streets was where the First State Bank building was located until the Mint Hotel expanded. The Mint Later was bought by and incorporated into Binion’s. This area was located very near the original gambling clubs, bars, brothels, and other business that made up the very young Fremont street.
Clark County Sheriff Sam Gay used to sit in a chair in front of the bank where he could see the most undesirable businesses on Fremont Street as well as the train station. He was famous for saying “No need to chase the bad guys,” “Everybody passes this corner sooner or later.”
Golden Gate First
Now known as The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino and originally know as the Hotel Nevada then the Sal Sagav, Las Vegas spelled backwards, has been the home to many Vegas first! Notably among these are:
The First Telephone in Las Vegas:
This iconic property was the home to the first Telephone Installed in Las Vegas. Charles “Pop” Squires had the new service installed in his office at what was then the Hotel Nevada. The Second telephone in Las Vegas was installed in his home that was just 4 blocks away.
The Golden Gate was the first to serve a fifty-cent shrimp cocktail in 1959, now a Las Vegas cliché.
The Original Shrimp Cocktail consists of a regular-sized sundae glass filled with small salad shrimp and topped with a dollop of cocktail sauce. In 1991, the price was raised from 50¢ to 99¢, as the property was losing $300,000 a year on shrimp cocktails under the previous price. It was later raises again to $1.99.
With the closure of the privately-owned Du-par’s restaurant in 2015, Golden Gate discontinued serving its shrimp cocktail. Derek Stevens, co-owner of Golden Gate, stated the shrimp cocktail recipe is owned by the casino, and that it would return with the next restaurant concept to open at the hotel.
On the site of what was most recently the Golden Goose Gentlemen’s Club and is now part of the expansion of the Golden Gate Hotel and Casio once stood both the Barrel House Beer Garden and the State Café. Since the State Café was opened during prohibition it was barred from serving alcohol.
A solution was just one sawed hole away however. The owners of the establishments cut a hole in the wall separating the two businesses for patrons to order “food”. Its been said however that patrons could also order a special coffee pot full of whisky through the hole if they were known to the owner and could be trusted to keep the secret.
Vegas Vic is a triplet
Outside of what is now a gift shop, on the former spot where the Pioneer Club was previously located during Freemont’s streets earlier days you will find Vegas Vic, a 40 foot high neon cowboy who has been smoking the same neon cigarette for over 65 years. It would be hard to imagine Freemont street without this unique Vegas symbol.
However, Vegas Vic is not as unique as once might think. In fact, he has two other almost identical brother signs in Nevada. His closest relative and vertically identical copy can be found just over 90 miles from Vegas in Laughlin Nevada where the trademark holder for the sign operated the Pioneer Club along the river in this charming gambling destination. This copy of the sign is an exact copy of Vegas Vic except for it color scheme and is called River Rick.
Vic’s third brother called Wendover Will is a sign created for the Stateline Casino in West Wendover, Nevada in 1952. It is now a landmark for the town of West Wendover and can come sign as you enter the town.
The very large parking structure for the Binion’s Hotel and Casino now stands on what was once old Las Vegas’s bloc 16. This block was called block 16 because that was its lot number during the land auction at originally started downtown Las Vegas. Block 16 and block 17 were the only blocks allowed to have the unregulated sales of alcohol in the district. This led to the building of bars and brothels in the area.
The largest collection of brothels in Las Vegas existed on this block from about 1906 till they were also eventually closed in the 1940’s when the US army put pressure on local officials to close them in a deal o bring more military facilities and hence more income into Las Vegas.
It should also be noted that sex was not the only big illegal business for block 16. During prohibition the clubs and bars in the area turned into some of the most notorious underground watering holds in the country and this block was known for its countless speakeasies.
First Casino Hotel Concept
From 1905 to 1946 the business built along Freemont street were mostly bars that featured drinking and some slot machines. If they had rooms for rent, it was mostly because local liquor law dictated that only hotels could serve alcohol outside of block 16 and 17. This caused bars to build a few rooms and call themselves hotels.
What rooms existed were mostly small motels structures in the area and were often used more for prostitution than legitimate lodging. That is until the building of the Golden Nugget. It is the first structure designed from the ground up to be a casino hotel. Under the leadership of Steve Wynn in 1972 to 1977 1900 hotel rooms were built all of them existing to this day.
It is hard to imagine the grand scale of Viva Vision the curved canopy of lights that displays elaborate choreographed light shows above visitors heads on Freemont street. Billed as the largest display screen on earth the Viva Vision canopy is an amazing sight to behold. When it was originally built in the early 90’s it was almost a technological impossibility.
It was originally being make up of some 2.1 million lights and was run from 32 separate computers located in kiosk throughout the Freemont street experience. The original sound system was a mind blowing, for the time, 330,000 watts.
In 2004 Viva Vision was updated and the incandescent bulbs in the canopy were replaced with 12 million led lights, the sounds system was replaced and now boast 550,000 watts of power and the entire show is not run from one central location using only 10 computers.
The Mob ruled Downtown for years!
Like most of Las Vegas the casinos that exist now on Freemont street can almost all be traced back to the Mob when they ran Las Vegas before gaming corporations took over after organized crime were ran out of the gaming industry. Here are some examples…
The D Las Vegas – opened as The Sundance Hotel opened in 1980 on land owned by Moe Dalitz. Dalitz, an organized crime figure, faced difficulty from the Gaming Commission, so the casino was nominally run by his associates, Al Sachs and Herb Tobman, who also owned the Stardust and Fremont casinos.  Later proven to be criminals
Binions, Las Vegas Club, and many others were at one time or another owns or operated by Lester Ben “Benny” Binion (November 20, 1904 – December 25, 1989) was an American gambling icon and mob boss.
El Cortez, downtown Las Vegas’ first major resort, in 1941 for $245,000. The location at 6th Street and Fremont was originally considered too far from downtown, but it quickly became so profitable, Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Gus Greenbaum and Moe Sedway bought the property in 1945 from J. Kel Houssels for $600,000
El Cortez Hidden Suite.
The El Cortez Hotel and Casino, the longest continuously running hotel and casino in the city, a suite that’s a trip back in time is available to book, but only for those in the know.
The Jackie Gaughan suite is a tribute to the El Cortez’s former owner, Jackie Gaughan. He and his wife, Bertie Gaughan, lived in the two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bathroom suite with living room, sitting room and kitchen for 25 years. Jackie Gaughan died in 2014 and the suite has only recently become available for bookings.
But it’s not as simple as simply calling the hotel or booking online. Requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis by management and if it’s deemed a good fit, only then will arrangements be made.
The time capsule of a suite has ’80s decor, with pink-upholstered walls and pink marble and gold bathrooms. The blue kitchen has all its original appliances.