Vegas has a bit of a reputation for blowing things up to make room for newer, bigger, flashier things. However, a lot of Vegas’ history is still preserved in these old buildings. While some of these pre-1950s buildings are obvious stops on any Vegas trip, many are out-of-the-way attractions or even a short drive away from Vegas itself– but they’re worth checking out if you really want to see another side of this town.
In 1855, a group of Mormon missionaries from Utah built a fort near the Las Vegas Creek. Rising tensions and difficulty growing crops would cause them to leave, but the fort they built would go on to be used by the Army, Bureau of Reclamation and several local families over the years.
While most of the park exists in replica form, the beige and red ranch house portion is the oldest standing building in Nevada, containing many of the tools the settlers used during their time in the Las Vegas Valley, as well as a replica 19-star American flag with a large central star representing the Mormons’ proposed state of Deseret.
The Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort Historic Park is located just steps away from the Cashman Center and near several other museums in the city’s Cultural Corridor. Admission to the park is $1.
Golden Gate Casino (1906):
Ironically, this home to some of Vegas’ firsts is largely a tribute to another city in another state.
The address of 1 Fremont St. says it all. This place is small even by Fremont St. standards, but it has a cozy ambiance and its many tributes to the The City by the Bay are actually rather charming. This is the home of Vegas’ (and Nevada’s) first telephone number, and Vegas’ first shrimp cocktail, which it still offers for two bucks at Du-par’s Deli.
And before you ask, yes, its phone number was 1.
Victory Hotel (1910):
A short distance away from the Golden Gate Casino on Main Street, the Victory Hotel-Motel was one of the first sights visitors coming in through Las Vegas’ old railroad would see. It’s a simple, otherwise unassuming Mission Revival style building, but its storefront captures a look that typified early 20th century Las Vegas architecture.
Las Vegas Grammar School (1923):
Not to be confused with the later (1936) Las Vegas Grammar School, Las Vegas’ oldest remaining schoolhouse, located on the corner of Washington and D Street, currently houses the public nonprofit radio station KCEP-FM. This was the first school in Las Vegas to have integrated classes in the 1940s, a first-time experience for many students at the time.
El Portal Theater (1928):
Among all the lights and dazzle of Fremont Street, you might not even notice this one. This was once considered the cultural center of Las Vegas, screening movies and hosting events. Today, it’s a gift shop, with only the original exterior and vintage neon sign remaining.
Boulder Theatre (1931):
The first air conditioned building in Boulder City was built to entertain workers who were working on Hoover Dam. Though it was used as a movie theater throughout its life, today it’s mostly ballet performances that can still be seen here. It is now owned by Desi Arnaz, Jr.
Boulder Dam Hotel (1933):
This historic building was used to accommodate official visitors during the building of Hoover Dam, and has seen celebrity visitors including Boris Karloff, Shirley Temple and the then-Crown Prince Olav and Princess Martha of Norway. Today, you can stay at the hotel, grab a meal or take a tour of the Hoover Dam museum located on the first floor.
This resort, still a Downtown Las Vegas hotspot, was once owned by “Bugsy” Siegel. The original Spanish colonial-style exterior can still be seen, as can the genuine neon sign atop the resort advertising the resort and their coffee shop. Today, they poke fun at their long and interesting history by advertising themselves as a premier destination since “Bugsy ran the joint.”
Little Church of the West (1942):
The oldest original building on the Las Vegas Strip has hosted weddings for Zsa Zsa Gabor and George Saunders, Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Dudley Moore, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford. The chapel has married more than 100,000 couples in its nearly 70-year history and has been relocated several times just to keep up with the ever-expanding Strip.