I live in the penthouse in Caesars.
This is my standard response to everyone who asked which hotel I live in when they discover I was born in Las Vegas. Since my family has lived here since 1936, I tell them we had first dibs on the Palace’s penthouse. They believe me!
Silly people, residents don’t live on the Strip. Well, Howard Hughes did but he was the exception. Honestly, most residents avoid the Strip unless they’re going to work. Downtown, however, is a different story. It was the hub of the community. Before the Boulevard Mall was built in the late 1960’s, Downtown Vegas was the place to shop, eat and greet visitors arriving at the train station where the Union Plaza now stands.
My Grandparents lived on Park Paseo until I was 9 and my Grandpa’s air conditioning company, Pahor Air Conditioning & Sheet Metal, was on Utah Street so I remember a few things about the neighborhood and the town he helped build. While a lot has changed, some things remain the same.
The Huntridge Theater, which opened in 1944, is making a long-awaited comeback. The old post office still has pictures of criminals on the walls in its reincarnation as The Mob Museum. The corner of Fremont and 6th, which once housed J.C. Penney’s and Fremont Medical Clinic, is once again a favorite gathering spot now occupied by The Beat Coffeehouse & Records and Emergency Arts.
Fremont Street remains a corridor for cruising - on foot instead of in a convertible - and street performers are more prevalent than streetwalkers. For a joke, on Halloween in 1982 a group of friends dressed up as the characters from The Best Little Whore House in Texas and we trick-or-treated on Fremont Street. The tourists loved it! With the growing number of watering holes on East Fremont, maybe pedestrian traffic is better but I still miss driving down Fremont and wish someone would implode the canopy.
Another tradition that returned to Downtown after a brief hiatus is Helldorado, originally brought to town by the Elk’s Lodge to entice Hoover Dam workers and their families to stay in Southern Nevada. My Grandpa was a longtime member of the Elk’s and I remember walking from their house to watch the parade on Las Vegas Boulevard. Today, Life is Beautiful is launching a new type festival anchored in Downtown. Unlike the Strip, which seems to implode the old to make room for the new, Downtown works to preserve some of our city’s history through the Neon Museum and Vegas Vernacular.
I love the energy and optimism that surrounds Downtown today. Pioneers gambled on a little patch of desert and built this city from the ground up. Today, a new group is of trailblazers are betting on Las Vegas. Instead of lumber, steel, asphalt and air conditioning they are relying on Internet connections, community building, creativity and serendipitous collisions.
The one thing I know for sure about Las Vegas is that it is still a small town. I wish I paid more attention to the stories shared by my family . . mom babysitting for a retired mobster who lived next door; the ‘family members’ my dad caddied for on the golf course where he taught for more than 45 years; the notable characters who hired my Grandpa’s company including Rex Bell and Clara Bow, Howard Hughes, Benny Binion, and Jay Sarno just to name a few. Everyone knew everyone back then. They all went to school together and worked together to build this town.
What a coincidence that the number one song the year I was born was Downtown. This historic area is once again becoming a hub for the community, reuniting old friends and creating new connections. A familiar excitement is in the air. I love my town! I hope everyone visits to experience the magic.