|Maps: Putting Las Vegas on the Map
Throughout the 1940s, beginning with the El Rancho Vegas casino, casino owners, many transplanted from Los Angeles, built up the area to the south of Las Vegas on Highway 91 -- just outside the official city limits to avoid taxes, and also to be the first to attract drivers from L.A. Guy McAfee, proprietor of the 91 Club and the Golden Nugget, remarked that it reminded him of the famous Sunset Strip in Los Angeles and the "Las Vegas Strip" became an iconic stretch of roadway. The resorts featured inviting swimming pools, glamorous style and distinctive architecture to attract traffic from Los Angeles.
No area of Las Vegas morphs more regularly than this stretch of road. From the original western themed casinos of the 1940s to the swinging palaces of the 1960s to the virtual cities of the 21st century -- the Strip is what most people think of as Las Vegas. The popularity of the Strip shifted the entertainment center from the Fremont Street area downtown, to this four mile stretch.
El Rancho Vegas (1941)
In 1940 city officials began coaxing Californian hotel mogul Thomas Hull to build one of his successful El Rancho hotels in Las Vegas, recommending spots near Fremont Street. Hull surprised them by purchasing a massive tract of land south of the city on the Los Angeles Highway. By being officially outside of the city, Hull was able to avoid certain city taxes. The El Rancho Vegas, a huge, sprawling resort, opened in 1941 and was soon joined by other opulent resorts including the Last Frontier, Flamingo and Thunderbird.
"Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada" Sign (1959)
In 1959 Betty Willis, a commercial artist, created the neon sign that has greeted countless visitors with the words, "Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas." The sign has been moved several times to accommodate the Strip's growth, finally moving to southern end of the strip in Paradise, one of the unincorporated towns outside Las Vegas established by Clark County. The sign faces the south, greeting visitors coming in from California. The reverse of the sign states "Drive Carefully, Come Back Soon." In commemoration of Las Vegas' centennial in 2005, Nevada released license plates that bear the image of the iconic sign.
Caesars Palace (1966)
Despite efforts by Las Vegas City to bolster the downtown area with new hotels, the Strip continued to steal the limelight -- and the traffic. Jay Sarno of the Cabana Motel chain wanted to make a statement with an over-the-top resort. Sarno showed no restraint in building Caesars Palace -- importing tons of marble, statues and other adornments. The opulent rooms were complemented with top-level international cuisine and A-list entertainers.
The Mirage (1989)
By the 1980s the Strip had lost much of its luster and prominence. Atlantic City, New Jersey gambling had lured East Coast visitors away from making the cross-country trip to Nevada and deadly hotel fires further eroded Las Vegas' charm. Steve Wynn, who had revived The Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas, set out to raise the bar on the Strip, as Jay Sarno and Thomas Hull had done decades earlier. In 1989 Wynn opened the Mirage -- a true mega-resort in scale -- and an outlandish entertainment experience complete with working volcano, dolphins and white tigers. Wynn's follow-ups (including Treasure Island, the Bellagio and Wynn-Las Vegas) found competition in mega-resorts like New York-New York, the Luxor and the Venetian. The Las Vegas Strip was once again unlike any other place in the world.
The Las Vegas Monorail (2004)
In 2004, the Las Vegas Monorail Company, a non-profit corporation, opened a four-mile, seven-stop long monorail route through the Las Vegas Strip, replacing a one-mile monorail between Bally's and the MGM Grand that opened in 1995. Officials plan to extend the route north to Fremont Street and south to McCarran airport.
The Little Church of the West (1942)
In 1942 the Little Church of the West wedding chapel opened as part of the Last Frontier Hotel, the first wedding chapel on the Las Vegas Strip. The hotel closed in January 5, 2000, but the chapel remains and continues to tie the knot for couples. In recognition of its status as the oldest existing structure on the Las Vegas Strip, the U.S. Department of the Interior added the chapel to its National Registry of Historical Places on September 14, 1992. There are over thirty chapels along the Strip.
Desert Inn Golf Club (1952)
The 18-hole Desert Inn Golf Club opened in 1952 as the only golf course on the Las Vegas Strip. It is the only course in the world to have hosted the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour and the Senior PGA Tour. The Desert Inn Golf Club closed in 2002, but Steve Wynn resurrected it three years later as his own Wynn Golf Club.