Las Vegas Centennial Commission marker reads:
Standing on Fremont Street today, it's hard to visualize the canvas tents with hand-painted wooden signs that lined this dusty street and served as hotels, saloons, shops and banks in the early 1900's. During the transition from a frontier town to a neon-lined gambling extravaganza, Fremont Street, named after explorer John C. Fremont, has remained at the heart of downtown Las Vegas. For many decades, Fremont Street was where residents shopped, teenagers cruised, and tourist played.
Early on, canvas tents were replaced with wood, brick, and concrete block buildings in the Romanesque, Victorian and Greek Revival styles. Like a typical western town, wide arcades and broad canopies with carved balustrades extended from high false fronts over the boardwalk. Corner buildings had angled entrances to take advantage of the busy intersection. The most historic survivor of the era is Golden Gate Hotel & Casino (then Hotel Nevada), which open in 1906 at One Fremont Street. The hotel was built using concrete as the primary building material by John F, Miller, who bid successfully on the corner lot at the 1905 land auction that created the new town of Las Vegas.
The sudden influx of tourism triggered by the construction of Hoover Dam and the legalization of gambling in the early 1930s fit perfectly with a "Wild West" theme that Las Vegas promoted, attracting thousands of visitors. Soon "sawdust joints" with wooden swinging or sliding glass doors replaced most of the smaller businesses along Fremont Street. Businesses had names like The Frontier Club and Hotel Apache, with signs rising above the rooftops with ornate western lettering and bright contrasting neon colors.
During the 1940s, Fremont Street exploded with neon as signs became larger and more innovatively arranged, battling to catch the consumer's eye. Modern streamline styles appeared in sign design and many casinos featured lighted overhead canopies and large, rounded, ever-flashing bull nose corners. The height of signs kept increasing, with the famous Las Vegas Club sign rising 120 feet above the sidewalk. Open frame signs appeared on rooftops, and combined with large marquees, they created neon "wraps" that covered the entire building façade with dazzling light. The most spectacular "wrap" was created at the Golden Nugget in 1956.
In the 1950s and 1960s the introduction of high-rise towers forever changed the scale of Fremont Street. Casinos expanded, absorbing neighboring businesses, exemplified by the Horseshoe Club's takeover of Boulder Club and later the Mint. Wild West imagery remained popular, personified by the 1951 "Vegas Vic" sign, which waved at visitors with a friendly "Howdy Podner" from atop the Pioneer Club.
Due to its roots of spectacular lights, the biggest big-screen on the planet, Viva Vision, dazzles over 25,000 visitors nightly with free light and sound shows, and has become the signature attraction of the Fremont Street Experience. This canopy was built in 1995 and contains over 12 million LED lights and has a 550,000-watt sound system. Even with all these profound changes over the last 100 years, much of the history of Las Vegas still exists under the layers of neon on Fremont Street.
Las Vegas Centennial Commission marker reads:
Neon lighting, introduced in Paris in 1910, offered a brilliant, and efficient, alternative to the incandescent light bulb. In the United States, neon's popularity soared, used to advertise motels, restaurants, theatres, and it even appeared on the Goodyear Blimp. The spectacular signs of Broadway's "Great White Way" became the ultimate neon display. Then, just as quickly, its popularity faded. After World War II, skilled neon craftsmen retired and were not replaced; less expensive, mass-produced plastic signs became common. As the use of neon declined around the country, it found a new, unexpected life in Las Vegas. The first neon sign in Las Vegas was built in 1929, probably for the Oasis Café at 123 Fremont Street. The 1940s and 1950s saw the birth of the Las Vegas Strip and "Glitter Gulch" downtown. The hotels raced each other for the biggest, tallest, and brightest casino sign.
Las Vegas wanted to project an image of lights, glamour, and excitement, and neon played a large role in creating that image. The signs dwarf the very buildings they are advertising; at night in Las Vegas, the signs themselves become the architecture. Neon has gaiety, joy, and pageantry. The canvas is the night.
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