Much like the rest of America, Downtown Las Vegas has grown and prospered from its humble beginnings as a distant desert city with big dreams.
When Las Vegas was founded on May 15, 1905, Henry Ford had yet to produce a Model T and Theodore Roosevelt had just been reelected as the president. The city, spread over a mere 110 acres, functioned mostly as a rest stop and refueling station for the railroad, thanks to its accessibility to water. The heart of Las Vegas formed around Fremont Street and began to slowly grow outwards.
In the early 20th century, Fremont Street was lined with seedy saloons and became the city’s first paved street to handle carriage traffic. The Hotel Nevada, the street’s first hotel, was built in 1906. Las Vegas already had a reputation for illicit gambling and vice, and in 1910, the local government simply had to outlaw gambling.
While the city grew steadily in the following decades—the result of railroad lines running nearby—there was little to indicate it had parted with its roots in gambling, which went underground and flourished. In the meantime, Fremont Street became home to Las Vegas’ first elevator and traffic light, and boasted the first official gaming license.
Las Vegas began to grow once the Hoover Dam was commissioned in 1931. Workers flocked to Nevada during the Great Depression, but the state’s sagging economy needed a boost. When the state legislature legalized gambling that same year, the state began its ascent to its position as a major getaway destination in the U.S. Insulated from the economic distress, the city became a target for luxury development by tycoons, gangsters and teamsters alike after World War II.
In 1941, El Rancho Vegas opened on what would later be known as the Strip. The first hotel and casino to open on the Strip became famous for its lavish buffets and mammoth accommodations—a record 110 guest rooms.
While the hotel may have triggered development on the Strip, the Golden Nugget was the first dedicated casino to be built in the city, ushering in a new era in gaming travel on Fremont Street.
“Golden Nugget opened in 1946 and it was just a gambling hall at that point in time,” says Amy Chasey, vice president of marketing at Golden Nugget. “There were no hotel towers added until the late 1970s, when Steve Wynn took over, and added three of the hotel towers; he owned the property until 2000, after which MGM Mirage took over.”
Wynn helped the Golden Nugget return to prominence in Las Vegas, as the hotels on the Strip, like Caesars Palace and the MGM Grand, began to attract visitors seeking the most modern amenities and guest services.
“The Golden Nugget is on Fremont Street, which is different from the Strip but is certainly considered a Strip property, just located downtown,” says Chasey. “We’ve held the Four Diamond award consistently since 1977. In 1996, they put in the canopy and light show that is five blocks long, the largest sound and light show on the planet. It made for a fun reason to come downtown beside the Golden Nugget.”
In 1993, Fremont Street was turned into a pedestrian mall with a futuristic entertainment system. In 1995, after a $70 million renovation, the Fremont Street Experience opened as an open-air pedestrian mall spanning seven blocks in Downtown Las Vegas. Today, it is one of the most popular attractions in Las Vegas.
More than 12 million LED lights make up the Viva Vision canopy, which also produces 550,000 watts of sound during events. Shows run every night on the street’s two permanent stages, and can be viewed on the 90-foot LED towers lining the mall.
Ten casinos and more than 60 restaurants line the street, along with thousands of slot machines. A recently installed zipline lets visitors see Fremont Street from a new perspective.
While most of the new properties have been built on the Strip, Downtown Las Vegas has a tangible legacy and prestige no other part of the city can match. Today, Fremont Street is home to Vegas mainstays, including the Fitz Casino & Hotel, Fremont Hotel & Casino and Golden Gate Hotel & Casino.
Every top Vegas hotel has something unique to differentiate it from its peers, but Chasey said timely renovations have been key to the Golden Nugget’s continued success.
“In terms of the Golden Nugget, we have all the amenities of any Strip property,” said Chasey. “Our pool has a 200,000-gallon shark aquarium, making us one of the top pool hotels in the world. The pool is definitely the number-one attraction at the hotel.”
Chasey adds: “Since 2005, when we were purchased by Landry’s, the entire property has been renovated. Last year, we opened a fourth tower, the Rush Tower, and even though there’s a lot of history, it’s a very modern, updated property. We’re constantly evolving.
“We finished three phases of renovation and expansion over the last five years, keeping the product modern and fresh. Unfortunately in this economy, some of our competitors have not been able to reinvest money into their property.”
And just because the Golden Nugget offers four-star amenities, it doesn’t mean the hotel charges a four-star price.
“We are a really good value. Our rooms start as low as $39 midweek, and the new tower starts at $69 midweek. For a Four Diamond product, we are a very good deal,” said Chasey.