A Living Time Capsule on Fremont Street
There is little doubt that the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino is a living, breathing time capsule of Las Vegas history. A hotel so inextricably tied with the history of the community itself that it would be foolish not to acknowledge the two in tandem. For a city that has done a spectacular job in imploding much of its architectural past, the Golden Gate stands as a testament that some things are still sacred. If anything can be said about the little hotel on Fremont, it’s that it had a front row seat to the 20th Century.
The hotel was inaugurated in January 1906, just seven months after Las Vegas was founded and at the height of the Edwardian Age and towards the latter half of La Belle Epoch, an era of optimism, scientific discoveries, wealth and the expansion of the United States towards its Manifest Destiny.
Originally named the Hotel Nevada, with just a little over a dozen rooms, one could stay the night for a whopping one dollar. The hotel was the first of many things in Las Vegas. It was the first building on Fremont Street made of brick and mortar. It had interior electricity, steam radiators, ventilation and it was the first building in town to have a telephone. When one arrived in Las Vegas, via steam locomotive that is, the hotel would be the first thing travelers would see. The address is still 1 Fremont Street, and the land under the hotel is still owned by the Miller family, the same family that purchased it during the great land auction that established the town of Las Vegas in 1905.
In the early years the hotel would witness the creation of Clark County in 1909, the incorporation of the City of Las Vegas in 1911, the beginning of World War I in 1914, prohibition and women’s suffrage in 1920, the beginning of the Great Depression, the construction of Hoover Dam and so much more. In 1931, the year that gambling was legalized in Nevada, the Hotel Nevada would be expanded and renamed the Sal Sagev, Las Vegas spelled backwards. But it was in 1955 the hotel would be renamed to its current moniker the Golden Gate, an homage to the city of San Francisco from where the new owners arrived.
The rebranding of the hotel and its subsequent expansion would also harken its most famous addition to Las Vegas’ fledgling culinary scene, the introduction of the shrimp cocktail. From its introduction in 1959 till today, the shrimp cocktail would make the Golden Gate world famous. People would line up from all over to pay 50 cents (now $3.99) for the delightful treat. Many making way for seconds and thirds!
During a recent visit of the hotel, I was fortunate enough to tour the property with Golden Gate President Mark Brandenburg. Mark’s passion for the granddame of Fremont Street is electrifying. You can tell he is very proud of the hotel and its storied past. As he walked me through the property I got a sense of the history, from its casino floor to its subterranean levels to its vintage rooms and its newly expanded tower with tastefully decorated selection of deluxe suites. The hotel exudes boutique class in a spectacularly curated experience for those looking for a more authentic Las Vegas experience. Through the ups and downs of the 20th century and well into the 21st, the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino continues to shine ever brighter.
Brian Paco Alvarez is a Las Vegas native and a graduate from the UNLV Department of Anthropology. He’s the former curator of the Las Vegas News Bureau Photo and Film Archives and currently the art curator, corporate historian and z’boutique buyer for the online company Zappos.com, Inc.