Ten historic spots in Las Vegas

Las Vegas is a city where everything appears shiny and new — where old hotels regularly make way for megaresorts and implosions aren’t out of the ordinary (though it’s actually been more than five years since our last implosion — that’s like 35 in Vegas years).

Believe it or not, this shimmering city does offer quite a bit of history as well as many historic landmarks. Here are 10 worth checking out:

Vegas, baby! No really.

1. Floyd Lamb State Park
This oasis of grass, ponds and cottonwood trees has been popular since prehistoric times. Home to Tule Springs Ranch, the springs were visited by mammals from the Pleistocene age. Fossils of extinct mammoths, bison, horses, camels, giant sloths and more have been found here.

The springs later served as a watering hole for prospectors and then in 1916 became home to a blacksmith shop. In the ’20s it was a self-supporting ranch and a retreat for prospective divorcees.

Today it’s a fantastic spot for picnics, fishing, barbecues, volleyball, farmer’s markets and peacock sightings.

2. Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort Historic Park
Las Vegas was once a dusty stop on a mail service trail between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles and a series of natural springs refreshed travelers en route. In 1855, the Mormon Church settled in this area and built a permanent structure.

The oldest non-Indian structures in Southern Nevada, these adobe buildings — such as the beige and red house portion — are also the oldest historic buildings standing here today. They are open to visitors interested in exploring Las Vegas history. It’s just steps away from Cashman Center and located near other museums in the city’s cultural corridor.

3. Springs Preserve
This is the birthplace of Las Vegas — the site of the natural springs where life first flourished in our dry desert climate.

Visitors to the 180-acre cultural and historic attraction learn all about the city’s rich heritage, its present condition and its future through state-of-the art exhibits, galleries, hiking trails, live animal shows and botanical gardens.

Bungalow-style cottages designed as residences for railroad workers in the early 1910s now reside along the Springs Preserve’s trails. These cottages are in the process of being restored and will eventually become part of a historical, narrated train ride. Springs Preserve is also home to the Nevada State Museum.

4. Golden Gate Casino

Once upon a time.

Long before Fremont Street had a fancy shmancy LED-style roof, there was the Golden Gate Casino. Located at 1 Fremont Street , the Golden Gate opened in 1906 under the name Hotel Nevada.

Although the name change to Golden Gate seemed to pay tribute to another city in another state entirely, this was the first Las Vegas casino. Over the years, the Golden Gate would be the site of a number of Las Vegas firsts, including its first telephone and its first shrimp cocktail.

Although the same building structure remains, it has seen many changes — including a major $12 million expansion.

5. Las Vegas High School
The old Las Vegas High School, now known as the Las Vegas Academy of International Studies, Performing and Visual Arts, is Las Vegas’ best example of Art Deco architecture. The façade features concrete cast and stucco friezes depicting animals, vegetation and medallions. The building is listed on both the National Register of Historical Places and the state Register of Historic Places.

Until the 1950s, this was the only high school in Las Vegas. Today the city has more than 70 high schools and continues to build more.


6. Hoover Dam
One of the Top 10 Construction Achievements of the 20th Century and a National Historic Landmark, Hoover Dam was built ahead of schedule and under budget in less than five years. Construction on this mammoth structure began in 1930.

Named for America’s 31st President Herbert Hoover, Hoover Dam is the highest concrete dam in the Western Hemisphere, standing at more than 725 feet above the Colorado River.

Construction on the Mike O’Callaghan – Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge was completed in 2010, offering views of the dam from an entirely new vantage point.

More than a million people visit the dam a year, and tours are available.

7. The Mob Museum
Built in 1933, the historical downtown post office on Stewart Avenue and Third Street was converted into The Mob Museum in 2011. The building was also the city’s first federal courthouse and one of the sites of the 1950 Kefauver hearings on organized crime.

The Mob Museum is an interactive attraction that showcases the history of organized crime in Las Vegas and around the world.

8. El Cortez
Named to the National Register of Historical Places earlier this year, the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas  opened in 1941 and much of the Spanish style of the original building still can be seen. The casino was once owned by Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, who sold it to fund the construction of the Flamingo Hotel.

The casino underwent renovations in 2009 and also expanded into the Ogden House across the street by adding the Miami-retro-style Cabana Suites.

The El Cortez received its first repainting in 30 years in 2011.

9. Little Church of the West
Built of cedar and California redwood, Little Church of the West was designed in 1942 to look like an old mining town’s church.

Over the years, the church has been the site of numerous celebrity weddings, including Zsa Zsa Gabor and George Saunders; Judy Garland; Mickey Rooney; Dudley Moore; and Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford. It was also the setting for Elvis and Ann-Margret’s wedding in the movie “Viva Las Vegas.”

Listed in the National Register of Historical Places, the chapel had to physically move three times to make way for progress and implosions on the Las Vegas Strip.

10. Neon Museum
Talk about a sign of the times. Visit the Neon Museum and tour a boneyard of some of the coolest vintage Las Vegas signage. See the Moulin Rouge sign, the Treasure Island skull and the “atomic” Stardust sign and learn all about their fascinating histories.

Though established in 1996, the two-acre Neon Museum has since added a visitor’s center and offers an array of tours.