Fremont Street, Downtown Las Vegas, 1960. Oceans 11, Warner Brothers
Fremont Street, the famously glowing thoroughfare that runs through the heart of Downtown Las Vegas, traces its origins to 1905. In its early days Fremont Street was home to a burgeoning business district brought about by the building of a train depot erected at Main and Fremont, where the Plaza Hotel and Casino now stands.
The 1920s saw the nationwide prohibition of alcohol and later the onset of the Great Depression.
Vegas’ proximity to the construction of the Hoover Dam in 1931 meant big business for the growing community, and visitors flooded in to see the massive construction project. As luck would have it, 1931 also saw gambling become more widely legalized in the Silver State, while simultaneously laws connected to marriage and divorce were laxed making Nevada a popular destination for those looking to get hitched (or un-hitched) in a hurry.
In 1933 Prohibition was repealed and made way for taverns and casinos to set up shop along Fremont Street, they built near the busy street to catch the interest of strolling sightseers. Neon signs took center stage in the late 1920s into the 1930s turning the dark desert into a glowing spectacle of light earning Fremont the nickname “Glitter Gulch.”
While neon fell out of fashion in other parts of the US starting in the late 1960s, it thrived along Fremont Street; casino owners, sign designers and fabricators conspired to build iconic signs that reached high into the sky, towering above the visitors walking along the crowded sidewalks. The spectacle of these signs combined with the allure of clanging slot machines, comped drinks and free air conditioning beckoned visitors off the street and into the casinos.
In an effort to revitalize downtown, in 1994 Fremont Street was closed to car traffic and converted into a pedestrian walkway complete with a canopy that provides shade during the day and an LED light show at night to more than 26 million visitors annually. The canopy also helps to protect noteworthy neon signs such as Vegas Vic, the neon cowboy who has been greeting visitors since 1951. The next time you are on Fremont Street stop by and say “Howdy” to this colossal cowpoke.
Fremont Street Featured Properties
Las Vegas Railroad Depot (1905-1969) | The Plaza (1971-Present)
Las Vegas Railroad Depot, 1908. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives
The intersection of Main and Fremont was home to Las Vegas’ first train station, built from a re-purposed train car in 1905. By 1906, the fully operational Spanish Mission-style train depot pictured here was erected to welcome passengers to the growing (but not yet glowing) city. The site would go on to become the home of the Union Plaza Hotel in 1971.
Las Vegas Club (1949-2015) | Circa Resort and Casino (2020-Present)
Las Vegas Club, 1949. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives
The Las Vegas Club installed one of the first neon signs on Fremont Street in 1930 before relocating in 1949 to the northeast corner of Main and Fremont, the former site of the Overland Hotel. Its neon signage received a flashy overhaul the same year (pictured here).
The Las Vegas Club closed in 2015 making way for Circa, which opened in 2020.
Glitter Gulch (1980-2016) | Circa Resort and Casino (2020-Present)
Vegas Vickie, 1981. Las Vegas News Bureau
The home of famed neon cowgirl Vegas Vickie, Glitter Gulch opened in 1980. The property operated until 2016, when it was demolished to build Circa Resort and Casino, which opened in 2020. Vickie was restored and relocated inside Circa to keep her kicking for years to come.
Golden Nugget (1946-Present)
Golden Nugget Gambling Hall, 1963. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives
The Golden Nugget opened in 1946, and received a major neon facelift in 1961 when YESCO sign designer Kermit Wayne wrapped the exterior in glowing neon tubes to create the large “bull nose” sign at the corner of 2nd and Fremont. The “1905” bull nose on display in the Neon Boneyard actually dates to a casino expansion in 1971. All neon was removed from the façade of the casino as part of a remodeling project by Steve Wynn in 1984.
Binion’s Horseshoe (1951- 2005) | Binion’s (1951- Present)
Horseshoe Hotel and Casino, c. 1960s. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives
Binion’s Horseshoe began operation in 1951. The 1961 exterior re-design by YESCO designers resulted in one of the largest displays of neon in the world, complete with rotating horseshoes and a three-story “H Wall.” Examples of both are on display in the Neon Boneyard. The property shortened its name to “Binion’s” in 2004. Many of the original neon elements found in the 1961 re-design can be seen on Fremont Street today.
The Pioneer Club (1942-1995) | Vegas Vic (1951-Present)
The Pioneer Club, c. 1950s. UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives
The Pioneer Club was built in 1942 and changed its footprint along Fremont Street many times over the years. But it is best remembered for the iconic neon cowboy Vegas Vic, which was added to the exterior of the building in 1951. While the casino closed in 1995, Vic himself has remained as a timeless reminder of the glory days of “Glitter Gulch.”
Fitzgeralds (1987-2012) | The D (2012-Present)
Fitzgerald’s, 2008. Las Vegas News Bureau
Fitzgeralds opened on the site of the former Sundance Casino in 1987. Following Fitzgeralds’ 2001 bankruptcy, the property was purchased by Don Barden, an African American casino owner based in Gary, Indiana. Barden became the first Black casino owner in Downtown Las Vegas. Following Barden’s death in 2011, the property was purchased by Derek Stevens, who opened the space as “The D” in 2012.
El Cortez (1941-Present)
El Cortez Hotel and Casino, 1958. Las Vegas News Bureau
The El Cortez opened in 1941, becoming Downtown Las Vegas’ first major resort. In 1945, the El Cortez was sold to Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and his associates, and used for training employees at the soon-to-be-opened Flamingo Hotel. In 1946, the property was sold again. In 1952, the El Cortez installed its neon arrow, marquee and scaffold-style roof sign – which is still on display today.