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A Brief History of Fremont Street (cont.)

North Side of the Street

Fourth to Fifth (Las Vegas Blvd South), the El Cortez and Honorable Mentions:


Where Neonopolis is today used to be a thriving business community.  On the corner across from Trader Bill's was one of the favorite hang-outs of teenagers in the 1950s. Corey's Restaurant.  Locally owned, Corey's served up hamburgers, fries and milk shakes as well as the usual steak dinners.  Next door was everyone's favorite department store, Ronzoni's.

 Corey's Restaurant with Helldorado horses copy.gif

Ronzoni's had originally been located up on Second Street (now Casino Center) and Fremont but with the expanding saloons and gaming joints, moved further east and expanded their store.  Owned and operated by the Ronzoni family, they had come down from Tonopah where the matriarch of the family had supplied the miners in Tonopah with clothes and supplies.  When business in Tonopah began to wane, she packed up the family and believing that Las Vegas was the next boom town, headed south.  Ronzoni's had everything.  When I was a kid, that's where you went to get back to school clothes, they would x-ray your feet to see how much they had grown and fit you for a new pair of shoes.  Above all else, they prided themselves on customer service.

On the corner of Fifth and Fremont was Woolworth's.  With it's shiny wraparound Streamline Moderne front proclaiming 5, 10 and 25 cents and its name in the terrazo sidewalk at the ront door, it was a beauty to behold as it anchored the corner.  It had a soda fountain and grill inside where many a youngster could be found twirling on the bar seats enjoying a frosty root beer float.  It opened in 1948 and stood proudly on that corner for almost fifty years.  In 1968, with the changing face of Fremont Street giving way to more gambling and less family oriented business, Woolworth's opened a store in the Boulevard Mall.  That store finally closed in 1997 when the chain closed the remaining Woolworth's around the country. 

On the corner of Sixth and Fremont sits the El Cortez.  It's brick facade dates back to 1941 when J. Kell Houssels, Sr built the small casino with 59 rooms.  When Bugsy Siegel finally made that long drive up the highway in the early 1940s, it was not to have a fever dream about building a carpet joint on the Strip but to muscle his way into the race wire at the El Cortez.  But the Hollywood story sounds better no doubt.   Siegel finally got his hands on the El Cortez when Houssels sold the property to him in 1946. Renowned Southern California architect, Wayne McAllister did the remodel on the El Cortez in 1946.  In 1963, young Jackie Gaughan, who had come to Las Vegas in 1943 when he was stationed at the old Air Base (that would become Nellis).  He moved his wife Roberta and two sons, Michael and Jackie, jr to Las Vegas in 1951.  He bought a small 3% of the Boulder Club and 3% of the Flamingo with partner Eddie BarrickJackie had a knack for sports books and handicapping.  In 1961, he and partner Mel Exber bought the Las Vegas Club and in 1963, they bought the El CortezGaughan hired Wayne McAllister to oversee the design and construction of a new room tower.

Jackie invented the Fun Book, filled with coupons for free drinks, free slot pulls and two for one dinners.  Like Benny Binion, he had a knack for understanding and treating his customers like kings.

Today, the El Cortez still stands and is still owned by Jackie Gaughan and his family.  Gaughan lives on the 15th floor.  He still goes into the offic everyday and can often be seen talking with guests and can usually be found at one of the poker tables betting with his customers.

The El Cortez is one of the favorite spots of the CheapoVegas/Big Empire crowd and they are holding their annual Soiree at the El Cortez this June:


To buy Chris Nichol's new book on Architect Wayne McAllister:



McAllister book.jpg 






El Cortez in the 1940s.jpg 

El Cortez in the 1940s


El Cortez in the 1950s.jpg 

El Cortez in the 1950s


El Cortez roof sign.JPG 


El Cortez today at night.JPG 

The El Cortez today

Jackie Gaughan as airman.jpg 

Jackie Gaughan in the Air Force

Jackie's Funbook.jpg 

Jackie's Fun Book


Honorable Mentions:

The Rancho Market on Fifth Street (Las Vegas Blvd) which was an operating market from the late 1940s until it was torn down for Neonopolis. 

Rancho Market.jpg 


 World's Largest Watch Display:

Not for what it is today but because of the pole.  On that pole used to revolve a three-sided sign for the Horseshoe, the Fremont and the Golden Nugget

Fremont Medical Center:

This was the second location of JC Penney's.  The Catalogue Pick Up and Elevator entrance was on 6th Street across the street from the El Cortez.  It had all glass windows that fronted on Fremont Street.   A couple of the windows broke during one of the above ground Atomic Tests in the 1950s.

fremont medical center.gif 

The Former JC Penney's, today the Fremont Medical Center

Penney's catalogue.jpg 

The former entrance to Catalogue Pick-Up and the Elevator Entrance


Special thanks to Allen Sandquist, Cheapo Vegas, Chris Nichols and LA Time Machines. 



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Reader Comments (6)

This is an absolutely wonderful detailed account of downtown Las Vegas. Thank you for this marvelous site about my favorite city in the world. I love Las Vegas as if I were born and raised there, as I wish I had been. I will truly enjoy continuing to read all the info included herein.

Thank you again.

What a great site. I remember a lot of what you talk about. I want to know the name of the shoe store that was on the alley I think between 7th and 8th in the 50s or 60s. I got my first pair of "heels" there, they were white springolators. I lived on north 8th Street. My Grandfather was the head of the Highway Patrol and he used to walk from his house (No. 8th) up to the train depot and back every day. He knew everyone along the way. Most of the time I walked with him.

I would like some information on getting involved with this project. If you need people, please e-mail me.

Thanks again for a great site.
June 29, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterSharon Seche
Greetings from Oregon's beautiful Willamette Valley. What a fantastic Web site! I grew up in Las Vegas, and lived there from 1949 through 1976. I went to kindergarten there (Fifth Street Elementary) and graduated High School there (Western High '63). Also attended Las Vegas High for two years. My dad owned the Club Bingo on Fremont Street when I was in High School. He and Jackie Gaughan were business partners from 1963 all the way up to January of this year, when dad finally retired at 84. I consider him to be a pioneer in the gaming industry. He was an owner in the Union Plaza (he had all the slot machines), the Western Hotel/Casino and several other operations in downtown Las Vegas for 45 years. His name is Johnny Jones, and he and mom are still there. Dad has been in love with Las Vegas for sixty years now. He knew all of Vegas' legendary figures, you name 'em. He has an amazing story himself. A very interesting history. Anyway, your terrific Web site has brought back a flood of memories for me. I worked in the casinos (New Frontier Hotel; El Cortez and others, on and off for fifteen years through the '60s and '70s. Those were great years in Las Vegas. I appreciate the amazing amount of work you have done to create this Web site, and I will return to it often. Thank you.

Huff Jones
Eugene, Oregon
September 8, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHuff Jones
I remember an old, dirty Woolworth store on Las Vegas Blvd. and Fremont St. as a child. I miss that store greatly, and I miss the Montgamery Wards that was O'Bannon and Decatur.
December 24, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTyrone L. Warbasse
The Medical Center is now gone as well. It's a coffee shop/art gallery. It's kind of weird, as I used this medical facility quite a bit in the early to mid 90's. Spent a ton of time in that waiting room. They use the exam rooms as places to display art. Interesting. I didn't know that it used to be JC Penney pre-med building though....that is VERY interesting. I also remember as MISS Woolworth...there and I believe there was a Woolworth in the Meadows Mall as well. Wasn't there a CORONET store somewhere downtown as well. Ahhh, the good old days. Don't like what's happened downtown or on the Strip.
June 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle S
A wonderful historic account about the changing faces of the Fremont Street neighborhood. I've posted a few photos on my website documenting some of the "landmarks" that are now part of the "new" Downtown Las Vegas.
I look forward to reading/seeing more updates about Las Vegas history.
February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAimee

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