Downtown demolition zone signals changes that aren’t necessarily improvements…
A familiar phrase regarding Las Vegas is “The only constant is change”. That observation has traditionally applied to the Strip, but historic Downtown is undergoing its own cycle of reinvention…at the cost of what made it unique.
While revitalization of the Fremont East zone has brought a welcome influx of new ideas (cool restaurants, hip bars and Downtown Container Park), that same influence has resulted in dramatic differences to the Fremont Street Experience corridor that aren’t necessarily welcome.
Demolition and construction on and around Fremont Street now faces the same scrutiny that took place when it was closed to vehicular traffic and topped with the current video canopy. Purists lamented losing the ability to drive their cars down Fremont Street to bask in historic hotel architecture and glorious neon.
In 2017, that same area is now choked with outdoor bars/patios, vendor kiosks, street performers, homeless beggars and a hideous eyesore known as SlotZilla. That thrill ride re-purposed the Viva Vision screen as a tunnel for the zip-line attraction.
For this writer, one of the saddest developments on Fremont was the closure of longtime favorites Mermaids Casino, sister operation La Bayou and the Las Vegas Club Casino Hotel. All were sentimental go-to’s that represented value, history and a true vintage-Vegas feel.
Now two of them, along with “gentlemen’s club” Glitter Gulch, are being leveled along with nearby structures for construction of a brand-new casino/hotel. La Bayou‘s demo resulted in the soon-to-open expansion of adjacent Golden Gate Hotel, the oldest remaining building on Fremont Street. That one-time favorite had already gotten a major modernization and expansion a few years back that resulted in removal of wonderful Bay City Diner and the beloved 99-cent shrimp-cocktail counter.
It seems that whenever I fall for a business or landmark in Las Vegas, my affection guarantees it’ll wind up in the demolition cross-hairs. Sure, renovation brings new visitors and attention to an area, but for some of us, “progress” feels like a slap in the face.
Mermaids was an absolute must on my Fremont Street stops. Cocktail waitresses Gabriella and Ling Ling were bright spots each and every time. They took care of me like nobody on the Strip ever would.
Now, 99-cent hot dogs and the endless supply of free drinks have been taken away. Those friendly ladies who once recognized me from trip to trip have literally disappeared.
The grungy smell of Las Vegas Club hotel, along with its creaky elevators and humble rooms, was a minor but tolerable drawback of staying there. LVC was a serviceable option whenever I needed clean, simple budget lodging. Just a few years back I was able to stay there for only $14 a night…with no resort fee, free parking and gloriously-easy in/out access.
The newer North Tower, which I got upgraded to on that particular stay, was easily on par with the rooms at 4 Queens and Fremont Hotel. Plus, they were absolutely massive by Downtown standards and a had recently been modernized. Both towers of Las Vegas Club were fortunate enough to get refreshed up with the same carpeting and furniture that Plaza Hotel had obtained from the failed Fontainebleau project.
This summer, the Las Vegas Club is being brought down by the same ambitious innovators who added $20 resort fees and intensely-loud music to their Downtown hotels. While many view Derek and Greg Stevens as saviors, to myself and many other historic Downtown fans, they’ve become mixed blessings.
Nobody enjoys seeing the places they fall in love with being torn down for the sake of progress. No matter what rises in those locations, it won’t be the same. They’ll be expensive, more Strip-like and less of what made Fremont Street an alternative.
So say goodbye to Vegas Vickie and other glorious pieces of neon art that once shone down on visitors. No matter when or where they end up, they won’t be in their original home.
As for the structures that will eventually rise from the footprint of Las Vegas Club and Mermaids…they’ll only be “lip-service improvements”. New hotels can never fill the void left by long-lost favorites that were just fine back in the day.
Photos: [A friend]