Visiting the Fremont Street Experience is an essential part of any Vegas trip – but how did it come to be that way? Fremont Street wasn’t always a world-class attraction. In fact, it started out as a humble downtown area of a tiny town that valued function over flash. Dating back to before the Prohibition, this area’s seen it all – from the ban (and lift of the ban) of gambling to Vegas’ first casino.
So, what did Fremont Street look like back in the day?
On May 15th, 1905, Las Vegas, Nevada was born. However, the image of Vegas today hardly represent this city’s humble beginnings. Las Vegas began as a tiny town void of the glitz and glamour with a population of only a few hundred people (a pretty huge difference from today’s 600,000+). Dirt roads paved the way to the town’s historic Downtown Las Vegas, which only had basic shops for the townspeople – until Hotel Nevada opened in 1906. Now known as Golden Gate, Hotel Nevada served as the towns first taste of gaming. However, the ban on gambling in 1910 and the enactment of Prohibition in 1919 hindered the city’s transformation into the Entertainment Capital of the World.
This time period proved to be a pivotal point in both Las Vegas and Fremont Street history. Fremont Street, the old Strip, was paved in 1925 as the downtown area developed. The ban on gambling was lifted in 1931, which would later spark a massive casino development movement in downtown and what would later be known as the Strip. In 1933, Prohibition was repealed. The exciting development of the city and legalized drinking and gambling is perhaps how Vegas’ infectiously adventurous culture was born.
The mid-1930’s saw a development boom that would eventually transform the city into what it is now – a world-famous entertainment mecca. Part of the city’s rapid growth can be attributed to the construction of the Hoover Dam, which drew workers to the bars and casinos downtown.
1941 saw the opening of El Cortez, while the Last Frontier was born the following year. The Golden Nugget opened in 1946 and was the largest and most luxurious casino in Vegas at the time. The area’s tallest building, called the Fremont Hotel, was erected in 1956. These developments were beginning to make a name for the city as a fun, glamorous getaway where visitors could see their favorite performers, gamble, and let loose.
To commemorate this Vegas boom, Betty Willis designed the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, which would serve as a widely-recognized symbol of Vegas. The Pioneer Club erected the now-famous Vegas Vic neon sign on the exterior of their building in 1951. In 1966, The Aladdin opened, which would later hold the wedding of Elvis and Ann-Margret.
In 1994, with the intention of attracting more tourists, the city closed Fremont Street to traffic in preparation for a huge project that would transform the area from a small town mainstreet to a glittering desert oasis.
In 1995, after injecting $70 million into the new development, Fremont Street Experience opened. Executives of the Fremont Street Experience envisioned a performance-style attraction encompassing the project. After nixing the idea of a sky parade, they stumbled upon the concept that would set Fremont Street apart for years to come – a massive, spectacular light show from above. The project consisted of a giant canopy covering four blocks and about 2.1 million lights that would work together to put on a stunning show.
The Fremont Street Experience light show opened on December 14th, 1995. In the early 2000’s, permanent stages were added to accommodate the frequent performances. In 2004, $17 million was invested in LED displays that allowed for more color combinations and a more vivid, intricate show. Even though lights, sound systems, and other technologies have been enhanced, Fremont Street Experience still maintains its original magic!
Today, Fremont Street offers guests the best of all worlds – nostalgic charm, modern tech marvels, world-class gaming, and spectacular shows. Taking a look at Downtown Vegas history along with what sparked the development of the area and how this renowned attraction came to be enriches the Fremont Street Experience today.