THE HISTORY OF VEGAS - One Fremont Street
by Byron Craft
Long ago, a town came into being in Southern Nevada. Only a set of train tracks existed in a god-forsaken outpost called, “The Springs.” An auction took place in 1905, and the town sprang up. Las Vegas was its name, and a hotel was built on the corner of… since it was the first structure built in the area, you could hardly call it a corner… nonetheless, it now exists at the corner of Main Street and Fremont Street: What is now the entrance to the Fremont Street Experience.
That first hotel opened in 1906 as the Hotel Nevada. Room and board was a whopping one dollar per day. In 1907, it was assigned Las Vegas’ first telephone with the phone number of 1. By 1927, the Hotel Nevada installed a large outdoor electric sign, a forerunner of the neon lights that would one day dazzle Fremont Street.
In 1931, with gambling becoming legal again in Nevada, the hotel was expanded and re-named Sal Sagev, which was Las Vegas – spelled backwards. During the depression years, the downtown economy was boosted by an influx of workers building the Hoover Dam; then, the tallest dam in the world. The repeal of prohibition coincided nicely in 1933, because after a long absence, gambling and whiskey came back to Vegas in a big way.
As corny and contrived as it may seem today, the hotel kept its reversed name until 1955. The hotel name changed again when a group of Italian-Americans from the San Francisco Bay Area took it over and christened it the Golden Gate Casino. Over the years the Golden Gate undertook many casino upgrades and hotel room renovations. The Golden Gate was the first to serve a fifty-cent Shrimp Cocktail in 1959, now a Las Vegas cliché. It has become a mainstay at the hotel and is a favorite of both locals and tourists. It is what the Golden Gate is best known for. The idea came from Golden Gate partner Italo Ghelfi, who based it on Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.
The Golden Gate was the first to serve a 50¢ Shrimp Cocktail in 1959.
In 1991, the price was raised to 99¢.
The price was raised again seventeen years later to $1.99.
Mark Brandenburg and partners, Derek and Greg Stevens, acquired the Golden Gate, launching a new chapter in the history of downtown Las Vegas. They announced plans for the hotel’s first major expansion in 50 years, promising a 35,000 square foot luxury tower with 16 suites, a new porte-cochere, and a lobby displaying artifacts from its historical past.
The Shrimp Cocktail is still their biggest seller. They have served more than 40 million of them. Locals vote their Shrimp Cocktail “Best of Las Vegas” year after year. The Original Shrimp Cocktail is served at the Du Pars Diner in the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino, and boasts a heap of ocean shrimp in a classic “tulip” sundae glass, served with their secret cocktail sauce and a wedge of fresh lemon. The price nowadays is only $2.99.
Happy Birthday, Las Vegas, as the first hotel and casino in Las Vegas is still up and running after 170 years, welcoming a colorful procession of characters over the centuries, which have helped build Las Vegas into the vibrant and diverse city it is today.