Golden Gate Corner

[VR Morph by Howard Goldbaum]

Watching this morphing animation, you might think downtown has changed a lot. So it has, but not entirely.

In the original photo, taken in the 1940s, several men are perched along a fence enclosing a park located on the east side of the Union Pacific Railroad depot. Today, that spot is part of the Plaza Hotel, built in 1971 as the Union Plaza.

On the left is the Overland Hotel, one of the first hotels in Las Vegas. John Wisner built it soon after the townsite auction of May 15, 1905. It burned in 1911, just before Las Vegans voted on whether to incorporate their city, and the fire helped convince voters that incorporation would improve city services—such as fire protection. The Overland's owners rebuilt and, in the 1920s, added what was then a unique feature, the "Big Free Sample Room" where salesmen could promote their products—a primitive forerunner of the conventions that now comprise a crucial part of the Las Vegas tourist economy. In the late 1940s, the Overland became the Las Vegas Club when J. Kell Houssels Sr. and his partners moved their operation across Fremont Street to the northeast corner of Main and Fremont. They sold it in 1961 to longtime casino operators Jackie Gaughan and Mel Exber, who expanded the property, eventually adding a tower that gave it four hundred rooms and more than 49,000 square feet of casino space before they sold it and several other downtown casinos to Barrick Gaming in 2002.

To the right in the photo is the Hotel Sal Sagev, the oldest hotel in Las Vegas, which opened early in 1906 as the Hotel Nevada. Operator John F. Miller was an important early Las Vegas businessman involved in community and political activities, including the Lincoln County Division Club, which raised money and built support for creating Clark County. The Hotel Nevada also was the site of the first telephone in Las Vegas—appropriately enough, its phone number was 1.

Early in the 1930s, the hotel's name was changed to the Sal Sagev (if that looks strange, read it backward). It operated under that name for more than three decades. Meanwhile, in 1955, a group of Italian-American businessmen from San Francisco came to Las Vegas and opened the Golden Gate Casino on the ground floor, much as Benny Binion ran the Horseshoe on the ground floor of the Hotel Apache at Second and Fremont. Italo Ghelfi ran the casino for nearly forty years, with partners Robert Picardo, Al Durante, Dan Fiorito, and Leo Massaro. One of their innovations in 1959 was a 25-cent shrimp cocktail; now the price is 99 cents, and millions have been sold.

In 1990, Ghelfi's family bought out the partners and removed the metal-screen facade they had earlier built to cover the original building. In 2005, as Las Vegas celebrated its centennial, the Golden Gate was under the management of Ghelfi's son, Mark Brandenburg, operating in the same building that John Miller erected ninety-nine years earlier. The Fremont Street Experience has been added, the depot and the park are gone, and the two hotels on the corner have changed. But as early as 1905, with the depot at Main and Fremont, hotels were catering to locals and travelers alike. Some things about Las Vegas have not changed, and are still standing.

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