THIEF! The Gutsy, True Story of an Ex-Con Artist
Friday, December 18, 2009
Slick's Las Vegas Then & Now: 5th in Series
The Union Plaza Hotel and Casino in downtown was the beginning of Las Vegas as people came to know it. Glitter Gulch was the nickname for the casino area bordering Fremont Street and beginning at the Union Plaza. It wasn’t always that way. The Union Plaza opened in 1969. But the original site was the Union Pacific Railway depot.
When you got off the train, you looked down a Fremont Street open to the sky. The Fremont Street Experience wouldn’t happen till years later. On your left was the Las Vegas Club and on the right, the Golden Gate. Going east on Fremont was the Pioneer Club then the Golden Nugget. Across the street was the Mint and Horseshoe. A block down stood the El Cortez.
Vegas Vic, a waving cowboy sign in front of the Pioneer, boldly greeted visitors until 1966 when Lee Marvin, who was filming The Professionals and staying across the street, complained that the sign was too loud. After that, Vegas Vic only waved his arm. The arm stopped waving in 1991.
Fremont Street was quite the place. The Horseshoe took any bet you wanted to make from 25 cents to $10 million. Your first bet set your limit. The Golden Nugget had a floor inlaid with real silver dollars. Every May, Glitter Gulch celebrated its frontier heritage with Helldorado. (Pictured above right.) People went to “jail” if they weren’t wearing a Western outfit. Needless to say, many came with cowboy boots and hats in order to stay out of the poky. The celebration continued until 1990.
Not only were the downtown casinos a place for dealers to learn their profession, you could find all the good old boys there playing poker and cutting deals.