Bonneville Street

[VR Morph by Howard Goldbaum]

Although Bonneville has never been Las Vegas's most important street, its story mirrors the city's growth. It once lay almost at the western end of the original townsite auctioned off on May 15, 1905 the only street west of it was Garces. Like almost every other original east-west thoroughfare, it was named for a western pioneer explorer-in this case, Captain Benjamin Bonneville, leader of an important fur-trapping party in the early 1830s. As the photo montage to the right shows, Bonneville was unpaved for its first quarter of a century; the only street the Las Vegas Land and Water Company fully paved during that time was Fremont from Main (the street at the base of these photos) to Fifth (now Las Vegas Boulevard).

Despite its dusty appearance, Bonneville was at the center of the early development of Las Vegas. The city was a railroad town—the San Pedro, Los Angeles and Salt Lake Railroad was the main local employer during Las Vegas's first two decades and greatly influenced economic, political, and social life, much as the gaming industry does today. Just below the bottom of the photo, west of Main Street near Bonneville, the railroad built its ice house and repair shops. The ice house, built in 1907, included the town's tallest structures, a 175-foot-high smokestack, and supplied not only all railroad stations from San Bernardino to Salt Lake, but also local residents, and their saloons. The repair shops remained Las Vegas's major employer until the railroad moved them north to Caliente in the wake of a nationwide Railroad Shopmen's strike in 1922.

Bonneville also became an important residential street, as the first photo suggests. Between 1909 and 1911, the Las Vegas Land and Water Company built 120 cottages along Second, Third, and Fourth streets on either side of Bonneville to house railroad workers. For the railroad, the houses provided a new source of income and an attraction for workers looking for a home. For the workers, the bungalow and square-cottage designs provided all of the modern features of early twentieth-century housing. Built with wood frames, rectangular layouts, and right-entrance porches, the cottages included concrete-block walls to insulate residents against the scorching summers and cold winters, and porches and eaves for shade. They cost about $1,700 apiece to build and rented for up to $20 a month for the four-bedroom model, but only to railroad employees.

Bonneville's development was slow. It became a more important residential area as Las Vegas grew during the booms related to Hoover Dam, World War II, and the postwar gaming industry. As casinos spread along Fremont Street, professional offices also spread throughout downtown, along and crossing Bonneville. And as Bonneville went west, it turned into Alta, making it a key traffic corridor by the 1970s and 1980s, when the area west of the railroad tracks came to include such popular upscale developments as the Scotch Eighties and Rancho Circle.

Today, Bonneville includes fewer residences and more offices. Most of the old railroad cottages have been torn down or converted into offices, especially by attorneys (the black building in the center of the contemporary photo houses a major law firm). Bonneville also is tied to the Lloyd George and Foley Federal Buildings on Las Vegas Boulevard South between Bridger and Clark, both vocationally and historically. The tallest building along Bonneville, the rust-colored building on the right, houses federal offices and is named in honor of Alan Bible, a U.S. senator from Nevada from 1954 to 1974 and the father of the Southern Nevada Water Project. Bible grew up in Lovelock and Fallon, smaller northern Nevada communities that resembled the old Las Vegas represented by the original photo of Bonneville.

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