Photographs by Adam Shane
It’s easy to forget about the other Fremont Street.
We spend so much time marveling at the fresh face of Downtown Las Vegas—the hip new bars and comfy restaurants, the flaming mantis and colorful murals—that it’s easy to forget there’s another world, just minutes away.
But walk a few blocks past the hub of Downtown development, past Container Park; the new, old Atomic Liquors; and the Bunkhouse, preparing to reopen in August, and you’ll find a neighborhood largely untouched by all the buzz up the street.
It’s a neighborhood that saw its heyday in the 1950s and ’60s, when tourists overflowed Downtown’s Glitter Gulch into roadside motels with sparkling pools, big neon signs and exotic names like Sky Ranch, Star View and Safari.
Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin remembers cruising that stretch of roadway back in the early ’60s, when the area was bustling and local kids would spend their evenings in their cars, all very American Graffiti.
“The triangle was Fremont Street to Las Vegas Boulevard or Main to Charleston. ... The cruising scene was truly our life. We just got in the car and drove.”
Joyce Hsu’s parents bought the Towne & Country Motel at 2033 E. Fremont St. in the early ’80s, and Hsu and her two siblings grew up in the motel, living next to the office and helping out, from answering phones to cleaning rooms.
“I loved it,” she remembers. “My parents were really, really nice. People always came to the hotel knowing my mom and dad wouldn’t kick you out if you needed the help. They lost a lot of money that way.”
Hsu lived in the motel until she was in her 20s, and says growing up on Fremont Street taught her a lot about hard work and not judging people by the way they looked or the money in their pocket.
“People said [the neighborhood] was dangerous, but I didn’t think it was dangerous at all. I would walk down the street without blinking. All the motels, they all knew each other. … It was like this really strange little interconnected family.”
Today, many of those motels are fenced off and boarded up, the pools filled in with dirt, signs unlit. While the other end of Fremont Street is having a cocktail- and tech-fueled Renaissance, here many businesses sit vacant, decaying in the sun. Still, there are signs of life: the neatly manicured grounds of Sterling Gardens motel or Latin dancehall Club 2100 on the corner of Fremont and Eastern.
We sent photographer Adam Shane to document this once-vibrant stretch of Downtown Las Vegas, the other Fremont Street.