Vintage Las Vegas: From Humble City To Desert Metropolis
By Kiri Picone | Edited By Savannah Cox
Published January 4, 2015
Updated October 28, 2019
Before towering hotels and brightly lit casinos covered the strip, vintage Las Vegas was a humble gambling town in the middle of the desert.
In 1900, only 22 people lived in Las Vegas. In fact, it wasn’t until 1930 when President Herbert Hoover–in the midst of the Great Depression–commissioned the Boulder Dam (renamed the Hoover Dam), that people began flooding to the city. Though a small but dedicated gambling community had existed for years, the Nevada state legislature only legalized local gambling in 1931.
After the law was passed, casinos and hotels began popping up along Fremont Street, marking the birth of today’s beloved Strip.
These days more than 39 million people visit Las Vegas each year. Check out these vintage Las Vegas pictures to see the modest gambling city take shape over the past 80 years, eventually forming the desert metropolis it is today.
In 1931, the first Nevada Gaming License was issued to Mayme Stocker and J.H. Morgan. They opened the Northern Club five years later. Source: Las Vegas Sun
An aerial view of the Las Vegas’s iconic Fremont Street, sometime around the 1930s. Source: Vintage Las Vegas
Fremont Street in the early 1930s. Many of Las Vegas's first establishments were located on this street, including Eldorado Club, Golden Gate Hotel and the Pioneer Club. Source: Vintage Everyday
Women at one of the casinos off Fremont Street in the early 1940s. Source: Vintage Las Vegas
Even in 1940, Las Vegas was a spectacular evening attraction. Source: UNLV
In 1944, the Hotel Last Frontier embodied an old western theme. Eventually the hotel reopened as the New Frontier Hotel, transforming from an old-west theme to a space-age theme. Source: Vintage Las Vegas
A gambler and Faro dealer in 1940. The man standing up was the game’s “lookout,” a person who was charged with making sure that players didn’t cheat. Source: Offbeat Oregon
Sands Hotel and Casino (seen here in the 1950s) was the seventh resort to open on the Las Vegas strip. Source: Vintage Las Vegas
The entrance to the Thunderbird Hotel in the 1950s. The Thunderbird Hotel was the only resort that contained a bowling alley. It was also the first to feature a porte-cochere. Source: UNLV
This vintage Las Vegas postcard (postmarked in 1958) depicts Fremont Street at night. Source: Postcard Roundup
For a few years, horse race results were listed on boards, allowing gamblers to bet on the races at any time. Source: SFGate
The Golden Nugget in 1960. Originally built in 1946, it is one of the oldest casinos in Las Vegas. Source: Gorillas Don't Blog
Patrons at a Las Vegas casino in 1960. Source: iBytes
Jackie Gughan, posing here in front of El Cortez Hotel and Casino, was considered one of the fathers of Las Vegas. He had stake in about a quarter of downtown Las Vegas, and owned multiple casinos and hotels. Source: LA Times