When I was a kid growing up in Las Vegas, the Las Vegas Strip was very different than it is today. Today, the property is so expensive that hotels build right out to the sidewalk, trying to utilize every square foot. The Strip has become the domain of pedestrians walking from hotel to another.
When I was younger, the hotels were designed for the automobile driver. They had large neon signs that beckoned you to pull off the highway, come out of the heat and stay for awhile. The long drive-ways led to a porte cochere where bellmen raced to unload your car and take your bags. The swanky air-conditioned lobby could be seen through the floor to ceiling glass panes.
No one walked the Strip, the empty land between the the properties was huge and made that all but impossible. There were the original hotels that had staked their claim to this five mile strip of desert and that would be responsible (along with television and the Las Vegas News Bureau) for making Las Vegas "the Entertainment Capital of the World".
Also dotting the landscape amidst all that open space were dozens of small motels, often family owned and operated, such as the Lone Palm, the Desert Rose, the Mirage (which became the Glass Pool), the Kit Carson, the Flamingo Capri and many others, now all lost to history. Also, there were gas stations like Texaco, Union 76, Gulf and Standard promising the road weary traveler that they would not run out of gas before getting to their destination.
There were restaurants like the Villa Roma and places like the Grace Hays Lodge along with the occasional liquor store and sports book.
But most all, there was neon everywhere. From the giant Hotel marquees that announced to the world who was gracing their showroom stages to the smaller motels, neon was king on the Strip. Every hotel had a large marquee sign and, some like the Sahara retained their smaller, original roadside signage. The Texaco station at the El Rancho Vegas had a fire truck in moving neon. The Silver Slipper had its large rotating Slipper (that would be shut off so that Howard Hughes could sleep in the mid-1960s) and a large marquee sign with a slipper and a working slot machine.
The motel signs all competed with moving neon signs in bright, primary colors so that traveling down the Strip all the way to Downtown was an eye-popping kaleidoscope of color, lights, neon and movement.
Those days are gone now. Almost all the original hotels have been destroyed or are endangered. The large neon signs for the most part have been destroyed or in the Neon Museum boneyard awaiting restoration. Large LCD screens have replaced the neon and wonderment as the Las Vegas Strip has evolved from America's Playground via the 1950s and 1960s to what Americans want in their favorite vacation spot in the 21st Century.
This section will chronicle the original hotels, offer a little real history on each property and how they evolved to keep up with the times.
This is a Brief History of the Las Vegas Strip!
View of the Las Vegas Strip circa 1963
The Thunderbird Hotel
The El Rancho Vegas
The Desert Villa Motel, torn down to build the Barbary Coast
The Southern Strip about twenty years ago
Special Thanks to EarlyVegas.com and RoadsidePictures (Allen Sandquist) for allowing us to use these images.
For more pictures from Roadsidepictures go here: www.flickr.com