Beyond the Strip: Documenting Vegas’ Past

They say change is good. Progress keeps us moving forward and growing. But what happens when progress involves demolishing pieces of Las Vegas’ past? Where one iconic motel once stood is now little more than a dirt lot unless something new has taken its place.

Old Vegas is disappearing and it’s doing so at the hands of developers determined to change Las Vegas and help it continue to grow.

While I and several others understand this is a part of life and change must happen, we can’t help but feel upset when signs are removed and former businesses meet the wrecking ball.

In recent months, two businesses have been demolished and one had their signs removed.  Another was the site of two separate businesses; both of which were popular in their heydays.

Some of these places are spared or their signs live on at the Neon Museum but most fade into obscurity and are generally forgotten by most.

Although I was unable to capture many places while still standing, I was able to photograph a couple in their demolished state. To start off, the former Glass Pool Inn and Casa Malaga located at Las Vegas Blvd. and Russell Rd. The image below is one of my all time favorite shots I’ve captured.

This past May the Glass Pool Inn and the Casa Malaga signs were cut down. The Casa Malaga sign was completely destroyed in the process whereas the Glass Pool Inn was supposed to go to the Neon Museum. Unfortunately, the sign was stolen from the lot with no leads on who could have stolen a sign that large.

The feature image in the linked article above is similar to my shot. Fellow photographer Joel Rosales of LeavingLV.net shot his image the same day and time I did. He commented on a cell phone shot of mine and met with me at the site not long after that tip.

Heading Downtown along Fremont Street is the site of the former Orbit Inn on the corner of Fremont and 7th. In January 1967, it was the scene of a horrific explosion that killed 6 people .

Unfortunately I never got a good shot of this site before it was torn down. I’m hoping some of my fellow photographers out there do have a few good shots of the entire property.

The images below show the site of the former Holy Cow/Foxy’s Firehouse located on Las Vegas Blvd. and Sahara. What you cannot see in the first image is the back of the building which has already been torn down. The second image shows the site one week later when the rest of it has been reduced to rubble.

I am not sure whether my source was correct; however, I have learned a Walgreens will take its place. There are already several Walgreens lining the Vegas Strip so this news bugs me.

Also on the list, the Reyrex Hotel. This has not yet met its fate with a wrecking and only time will tell if it does. I found out from another person who documents these parts of Vegas that inside is a disgusting mix of cockroaches and refrigerators likely filled with stuff guaranteed to make you upchuck your last meal. Yea, no thanks.

There are so many more aspects to cover and write about I can’t even begin to post all of them on this blog. I do what I can and hope others will gain some insight and perhaps set out on their own to uncover the history of these places. They may be nothing more than seedy motels today but their history is rich and full of sordid tales from the past.

I’ve recently teamed up with a small handful of individuals who are also committed to documenting this side of Las Vegas. People are who passionate about this city’s history and want to show others.

Friend and fellow photographer Nick Leonard introduced me to the Vegas Vernacular Project in the past month. Their goal is to document and exhibit the history of Las Vegas down to every tiny detail. I’ve joined this project and look forward to the months ahead with a great team of people…even if these first few months do involve running around in good ol’ desert heat.

We’re all in a race against time, as cliché as that is, to capture what is left of the old Las Vegas before it’s forgotten. I’ll take roaming around the city in 110 degree temps to document as much as I can than kick myself later for not getting a shot of something.

Comments

  1. What a fascinating project! Thanks for sharing!

  2. These buildings and flags and advertisements look like a scenery from a movie. I would feel sorry of they disappeared, I like them so much.

  3. What an awesome project you’re part of. I was doing some research on my town and discovered that a ton of perfectly good (and beautiful) buildings were torn down back in the 70′s and 80′s because they were deemed old-fashioned and they wanted to modernize the city. I wonder how much different our city would be if they’d been allowed to remain standing. Maybe by now they’d be in the same shape as these buildings and Vegas and they’d be torn down anyway. It’s sad we’ll never know.

    • To me it’s such a shame when they tear them down. Look at many cities/towns in the South and on the East Coast. They repurpose so many of these historical buildings and it looks fantastic. Modernization be damned. The architecture from as early as 50-60 years has far more creativity and interestingness than the boxy, uncreative crap that’s built today.

  4. Love the blog name! Really enjoyed the old photos of Vegas. Stopping by from SITS!

  5. Stopping by from SITS. Love your Vegas photography project.

  6. stopping by from SITS :)

    What a great post! I was in Vegas last month and I love the history there (I’m from Chicago so I get how the old charm can be stifled by the modern approach) I enjoyed your post! Thanks for sharing :)

  7. Love your images and your passion for these great old places. So sad when money crowds them out.

    • Unfortunately, money tends to rule everything…especially when the idea for progress is involved. Such a shame.

      Thanks for stopping by, Louise!

  8. Stopping by from SITS, great pictures…haven’t been to Las Vegas in 8 years, but it was changing when I was there.

  9. How wonderful that you and others are capturing this. Thanks for sharing

    Stopping by from SITS. Have a great weekend.

  10. Popped in from SITS! I’ve always loved going to Vegas and I love to see a look at more than just the strip…it’s such a cool place.

  11. My husband and I were just wondering about the Reyrex Hotel. Excellent post!

    • Thanks, Andrea! I’m trying to find out more about the Reyrex. At one point over the past few years it was actually the Conrad Hotel. I need to do more digging.

  12. ANOTHER Walgreen’s? The number of big box drug stores appearing on the strip is ridiculous. There is NO NEED for this many. I imagine a good 75% of their business is from the “tourist” aisle.

    • I’m hoping my source was wrong. There is absolutely no need for another Walgreens along the Strip, north or south. Just ridiculous.