Las Vegas Sun

December 15, 2018

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Downtown Vegas plans history you can walk on

Las Vegas history includes colorful characters and world-changing events.

Tourists and locals soon will walk on reminders of that past - 18 bronze medallions. They will be embedded in the Fremont East District sidewalk as part of a $5.5 million beautification project.

The medallions will honor people such as Benny Binion and Wayne Newton, who shaped the entertainment that has become synonymous with Las Vegas, and events such as atomic testing, which had a more far-reaching impact on history.

"This is going to be an entertainment district, so we wanted the history of Las Vegas, but we wanted it to be entertaining as well," said Steve van Gorp, Las Vegas' redevelopment manager.

The subjects of the medallions were selected by representatives from the business owners association, the city's Office of Business Development and the historical society.

Medallions will also recognize the railroad land auction that created Las Vegas, construction of Hoover Dam and the opening of the Fremont Hotel, the first downtown high rise.

Some of the plaques will depict the city's more nefarious characters as with the medallion that highlights Bugsy Siegel's purchase of the El Cortez.

Others show the city's transition from a no-holds-barred, Wild West town. One immortalizes the 1938 law that prohibited saddled horses in casinos. It is unclear if unsaddled horses were still allowed in gambling halls after the ruling.

Between Sixth and Seventh streets, there will be a medallion that recognizes the Army's successful effort to shut down the infamous red-light district known as Block 16.

The area of North First Street between Ogden and Stewart avenues was known as Block 16. When the city was established in 1905, it was the only area outside of hotels where liquor could be sold. The emphasis in the area quickly changed from liquor and gambling to prostitution, which flourished until the Las Vegas Army Field opened in 1941 and the government forced the closure of the brothels.

The diverse choices are a tribute to the city's rich and varied history, said Councilman Lawrence Weekly, whose ward includes part of the area to be renovated.

"I think it's very creative," Weekly said. "I'm pleased with all of the choices."

The medallions are just a small part of the multimillion-dollar project in the district, an area bordered by Las Vegas Boulevard, Eighth Street and Carson and Ogden avenues. It includes gateway arches, curbs, gutters, sidewalks, streetlights and decorative signs, including a giant illuminated martini glass.

Weekly said the project shows the city is genuine in its efforts to renovate the area. A portion of the cost and expenses of the project will be paid by special assessments levied against property owners in the district.

Groundbreaking is set for late February, and the project is scheduled to be completed by late summer.

The medallions, which are inch-thick cast bronze, are expected to cost about $3,600 each. Most will be 24-by-15-inch ovals and placed in sidewalks throughout the district, while four 18-by-18-inch diamond-shaped medallions will be located at midblock crosswalks.

The earliest event depicted will be the 1905 land auction; the most recent, the 1995 opening of the canopy at the Fremont Street Experience. The medallions will be placed randomly along the sidewalk, allowing pedestrians to discover history at their whim.

At a recent recommending committee, community activist Tom McGowan also questioned why none of the local musicians who performed in Las Vegas were included. Newton was the only Las Vegas performer selected. Van Gorp said additional medallions and possibly a walk of fame might be considered by the city as the downtown renovation continues.

City officials pointed out that Las Vegas has a rich history and a limited number of medallions.

Notable absences from the list include such legendary Las Vegas performers as Liberace and Frank Sinatra - whose medallion was included in sketches in beautification plans.

Face it. If Ol' Blue Eyes didn't make the cut, it's hard for anyone to feel slighted.

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