Although most people know exactly where the Vegas Strip is, many are not aware of the rich history that Las Vegas surrounds it. For example: What is the oldest hotel in Las Vegas? That honor goes to the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino downtown. But when was it built, by whom, and what other historic Las Vegas hotels and buildings are there?
Chances are good that you’ve heard a lot about Vegas, or “Sin City,” as it is often called. Most people are aware of the casinos, hotels, and nightlife on the Las Vegas Strip; upwards of 40 million people make Vegas their vacation destination each year. But let’s take a look at its early days and those of Las Vegas’s oldest hotel, the Golden Gate.
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Table of Contents
- 1 First Casino and First Hotel Built in Las Vegas
- 2 From Wild Meadows to Modern Las Vegas
- 3 Hotel Nevada at One Fremont Street: A Lot of “Firsts”
- 4 Legalization Changes the Face of Downtown Las Vegas
- 5 Other Historic Las Vegas Hotels, Resorts, and Casinos
- 6 What is the Oldest Hotel in Las Vegas – The Golden Gate
First Casino and First Hotel Built in Las Vegas
Some claim that the hotels and casino resorts on the Strip today actually got their start at a casino known as El Rancho Vegas. It was on a stretch of Highway 91 now known as the Las Vegas Strip.
It was the dream of Thomas Hull, a California businessman who’d built successful hotels all over the state. It started as a casino only, meaning that it was not the first Las Vegas hotel. The large resort that he imagined never really came to fruition. The plot of land El Rancho Vegas stood on has yet to be fully developed six decades later.
Hull’s resort idea opened in 1941, and many people still mistakenly think that it was the first hotel in Las Vegas. Another Las Vegas hotel had already claimed that title, however.
The first hotel in Las Vegas opened in 1906, several decades after Nevada became a state in 1864. The Golden Gate Hotel and Casino was known by a different name (Hotel Nevada) when it first opened, however, and would not become a major resort for quite some time yet.
From Wild Meadows to Modern Las Vegas
In the beginning, the area that is now known as Las Vegas was far from being one of the brightest cities on the planet. The modern strip and downtown Las Vegas were all once just lush marshlands inhabited by Southern Nevada Native Americans.
In fact, the name “Las Vegas” is Spanish which means “The Meadows,” and it was named by a Spaniard named Rafael Rivera. Rivera stumbled across the location sometime in 1829 while searching the hot landscape for water, long before Fremont Street ever existed. No one had any idea that the world-famous Golden Gate Hotel and Casino would one day stand there.
By 1890, the area had turned into a railroad camp, and it was decided that Las Vegas would become a major hub along the tracks to the big cities on the West Coast. The little camp sprang into a railroad town, full of boarding houses, stores, and salons, where men drank, gambled, and enjoyed the nighttime entertainment.
In 1905, an auction was held on the corner of Fremont Street and Main Street for property in the downtown area of Old Las Vegas. For $1750, the piece of land was purchased that would eventually house the oldest hotel and casino built in Las Vegas. It was here that John F Miller created a hotel the likes of which had yet to be seen in the area.
This was the true “first hotel in Las Vegas,” unless, of course, you count the temporary Miller Hotel, a tent hotel opened on the property in 1905 by Miller as he worked to build his hotel. This dream became the first concrete hotel in Southern Nevada and the first hotel in Vegas.
The hotel opened its doors in 1906 as the Hotel Nevada. It would later become the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino.
Hotel Nevada at One Fremont Street: A Lot of “Firsts”
That’s right, the first concrete building and first real hotel built in Las Vegas didn’t start out as the Golden Gate Hotel. In fact, it wasn’t given that name until 1974. The building, which holds the oldest hotel in Las Vegas, was first known as Hotel Nevada when the hotel officially opened. It was constructed at One Fremont Street.
Room and board at the Hotel Nevada in 1906 was just a dollar a day. It quickly became known as a first-class establishment, likely because of its electricity, steam radiated heat and well-ventilated rooms.
In 1907, the first telephone installed in Las Vegas was at the Hotel Nevada. Its phone number? “1.” Until 1909, when gambling became illegal, a casino also operated out of the hotel.
First hotel, first phone, and first casino are by far not the only paths that were forged by the Golden Gate’s early days. The first outdoor electric sign in the town went up in 1925 in front of the hotel just two years after the road was paved. They had no way of knowing that it would be the predecessor of the neon lights that Vegas is so famous for now!
Legalization Changes the Face of Downtown Las Vegas
It seems everything downtown changed, and yet it stayed the same. The fact that gambling wasn’t legal again in Nevada until 1931 never stopped it from happening in secret in Las Vegas, although the hotel did unwillingly put away its roulette and poker tables in 1910 in order to remain a legal establishment.
Exciting things happened to the Hotel Nevada in 1931. Construction began on the Hoover Dam, gambling was once again legalized in the state, the poker and roulette tables came back out, and the building was expanded. When it reopened, it was given a new name, the Sal Sagev Hotel, which was Las Vegas spelled backward.
In 1955, several Italian Americans came to Vegas and tried their own luck at the Sal Sagev site. Dan Fiorito, Leo Massaro, Italo Ghelfi, Al Durante, Robert Picardo, and a few others all moved from San Francisco to Vegas to sublease the ground floor of the hotel from Miller’s son and opened their own casino.
These men called their business the Golden Gate Casino, after California’s Golden Gate Bridge. The hotel kept the Sal Sagev name, however, until the entire property was rebranded as the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino in 1974. Ghelfi ran the casino for four decades, and it was he who introduced the original Shrimp Cocktail to the fast-growing downtown area.
With the building of the dam and the legalization of gambling in 1931, and the end of prohibition in 1933, the streets of Las Vegas opened wide for new growth. The Golden Gate’s many firsts helped pave the way for places such as Caesars Palace, The Frontier Hotel, Imperial Palace, Tropicana Las Vegas, Golden Nugget, Sahara Hotel, Flamingo Las Vegas, and many other Las Vegas hotels and casinos.
Other Historic Las Vegas Hotels, Resorts, and Casinos
Although it was the first, the Golden Gate Hotel and Casino is just one of many historic Las Vegas Hotels that helped change the face of Sin City forever. From wetlands to the Vegas Strip was quite a trip!
If not for the adventurous, entrepreneurial spirit of John F Miller, a lot of “firsts” for Las Vegas may never have happened. He cleared the way for others to follow and make Vegas what it is today. Let’s take a look at a couple of other famous historic hotels, resorts, and casinos in Las Vegas.
The Last Frontier Hotel
The second resort built on Highway 91 was the Last Frontier Hotel, completed in 1942 not far from El Rancho Vegas. It was built just a mile South of the El Rancho, making it the first hotel that travelers would see when coming from California to Las Vegas.
Their plan paid off, and unlike the El Rancho, their dream of a resort was made a reality. Elvis played his first Vegas show here, and Diana Ross and the Supremes played their last. The Frontier Hotel closed in 2007.
The Flamingo Las Vegas
While most of the other famous Old Vegas hotels had a Western theme, the Flamingo Hotel had a more modern vibe. It was designed to be one of the most well-known luxury hotels on the planet, with its tropical flamingo decor. Gangster Bugsy Siegel opened the Pink Flamingo Casino in 1946, and the hotel opened in 1947.
Since the Casino on the grand floor of the Golden Gate didn’t officially open until 1955, some call Flamingo Las Vegas the “first Hotel and Casino” in Vegas. Gambling in a smaller casino had been going on inside the Hotel Nevada long before it was the Golden Gate, however, so that subject will always be up for debate.
What is the Oldest Hotel in Las Vegas – The Golden Gate
Despite the claims that other hotels in Las Vegas were first, The Golden Gate has proof, since they saved that piece of history in ten of the rooms from the original hotel. The Original Ten rooms date all the way back to 1906, when railroad men, ranchers, mobsters, and stars all spent their time there.
It was all the Hotel Nevada then. Since the Golden Gate first opened its doors, the popularity of these rooms has skyrocketed. Of course, you can’t stay there for a dollar a night anymore, but how much fun would it be to stay in the very first building ever constructed in Las Vegas?