Desert Inn at Boulder Highway. Photo: PtD
Las Vegas has ghosts in its roads. Hacienda, Sahara, Desert Inn, Sands, Riviera are streets that still bear the names of places that built the town’s reputation and notoriety. The signs are now just echoes and fragments of what was once here. . .public art memorials for those who frequented Las Vegas or worked at the hotels and casinos. They carry some meaning for anyone with a fascination of the retro history of Las Vegas. The roads give scale and position to where the landmarks that had influence and political clout were, giving context to old postcards and rumors.
After these historically significant casinos descended from the tourism economy of new Las Vegas, or once they were unable to withstand the reputation of new investors, these Mid-century gaming temples were stripped from the Strip, often in spectacular implosions, then methodically pieced apart as assets were sold off. Whatever was left over was trashed as rubble.
Nevertheless, the names still stand as part of the Las Vegas language. Desert Inn Road, Sahara Avenue, and Hacienda Avenue are shortcuts for day-to-day living now, not a long desert driveway to a destination that had its own celebrity as a connector to a casino. They are reduced from headliner to background player, service worker instead of pit boss.
Flamingo and Tropicana are still long roads anchored by namesakes, and you see how they function as wayfinders to resorts when you drive along Boulder Highway. Sands Avenue hasn’t been anchored by the Sands Hotel and Casino since 1996, but the short footprint is a dutiful servant to the Sands Expo and Convention Center. Riviera Blvd was short and functional, then it lost its muse. Originally named after the hotel and casino that opened in April, 1955, Riviera Boulevard was changed to Elvis Presley Way after ‘the Riv’ closed in 2015. Sadly, the name change has the road be a celebrity impersonator.
For the roads that are still here, the street signs are accidental modernist memorials in a city that internalizes industry history, a form of archeological public art based on public memory. They don’t mark place. They do mark time.
West Hacienda Avenue west of the Strip: Photo by PtD