The Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas is the historical heart of that city, famous for its elaborate neon signs and lights which have earned it the nickname “Glitter Gulch.” It’s been closed to vehicular traffic since 1994, and the pedestrian mall now features an LED-covered covered canopy.
The night we were walking around downtown, we managed to catch two LED displays — Queen and Bon Jovi. That these would be cheesy was inevitable, but the panning lyrics set in novelty type, criss-crossing the screen along with clip art and PR shots of the bands, were truly cringe-worthy.
The best moment, so jaw-droppingly terrible that I forgot to even try to take a photo, was when Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” showed the band performing the song composited in front of a Zion-type landscape with space ships flying in the night sky. WTF? Someone got paid to visually vomit on the largest screen in the world?
Everyone around us seemed to be entranced by the spectacle, so maybe I just don’t know what I’m talking about. Also, I’m not 100% positive, but I think the displays include their own vigorous applause — there was applause after every song, but I never noticed a single person clapping. This seemed to be a minor fake detail in a place built on fakery.
The Fremont Street Experience is seven blocks long, with air conditioning but no places to sit. The street is crowded with tourists, souvenir booths and street performers, and the sides are lined with both old casinos and historic signs that bear no connection to the businesses below them. It’s an appropriately confusing place that pays homage to vintage Vegas in all its brightly lit glory.
The plethora of signs is incredible, during the day when the intricate armatures can be seen, and at night when the displays focus on blinking, flashing lights.
Vegas Vic is the city’s unofficial icon:
The Neon Museum has an outdoor installation of refurbished signs called the Fremont Street Gallery, including Andy Anderson, the old Anderson Dairy mascot:
We wanted to experience “old” Vegas, although that’s a bit of an oxymoron in that town. We spent the night at the nearby California Hotel and Casino because, well, it’s California in Nevada and is also popular with Hawaiian tourists, containing a Hawaiian restaurant, snack shop, and a Lappert’s ice cream parlor. It seemed like the perfect cultural mashup, and it did not disappoint.
Fremont St. turns into the recently established Fremont East District, which includes El Cortez Hotel and Casino, “the longest continuously running downtown hotel-casino in Las Vegas.” It also features amazing lettering:
Way back in the tail end of the last millennium, one of my projects at my first design job was the first-ever web site for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. The current site, of course, bears no resemblance to my work but, because of that project, I’ve known quite a bit about the Fremont Street Experience, which was a brand-new attraction at the time.
Since we had been immensely enjoying nature on the Great American Road Trip, we weren’t even sure that we wanted to switch gears and stop in Vegas. I’m really glad we did because, although Vegas did not surprise me in the least, and although it’s just not my kind of city on any level, I’m happy to have experienced it in person.
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