Sunday, July 3, 2016

The Lost Vegas Motels of East Fremont

The fifties. The sixties. Big fast rocketship cars. Whimsical post-modern atomic design, full of flair, playfulness, but still reaching for the stars with angular fonts, sweeping curves, pastel colors, and abstract elements from the heavens themselves.

I explored Las Vegas' Fremont Street east of the downtown canopy and found the remnants of what was once a string of businesses that embody the American dream. Mom and Pop motels with cheerful names and optimistic Googie-inspired signs.

These speak of their time, when Americans vacationed and saw their world by car. A time here in Las Vegas of thriving downtown casinos that spun off a mini-strip of commerce on their periphery.
I imagined cars pulling into courts, next to clean swimming pools and maybe a bit of playground equipment for the kids, getting a room for a night or two. I imagined families making a stand in the world, running their own business, putting their vision of the future into the name and the design of their advertising.

There is still a lot left standing of what thrived some sixty years ago, dry rotting in a no-man's land of blistering heat, abandoned buildings, run-down housing, homelessness, drug use, and prostitution.

In the blocks of East Fremont, the vacationers are long gone, replaced with the downtrodden, those that barely scrape by, existing on the margins of Las Vegas.

But the elements of hope still stand. I got in a silver rental Mustang and drove East Fremont to see what I could see, and imagine what it must have been like, once upon a time.

As I walked among the ruins of these hopes and dreams, I saw a lonely beauty. Someone loved these places once, and now, the caretakers act to cover windows and doors with plywood on the abandoned stretches of motel rooms.

But even they engage in a kind of whimsy, with brightly colored animals and cartoonish painted doors, visually appealing while serving to keeping the homeless firmly out.

More than one sign features these figures, frozen in time, hanging on for dear life, or perhaps climbing to escape.

Just north of Fremont, this lonely sign hangs, all that is left of a business, of a home, the property itself reduced to rubble.

My flashy silver Mustang gave sickening counterpoint to someone's possessions.

The Downtown Project has bought many properties in the area. Some have had new life breathed into them. Some have held new start-up businesses which have already failed. And some are just empty lots, waiting for a time when no-mans-land is regentrified in some way.

The Blue Angel spins in the wind, turning this way and that with the breezes, ready to wave her wand for someone lucky. But there is no one. And her dominion is nothing but flattened rubble. One wonders how long her delightful form will survive up on its perch.

The signs themselves, in their decay, have a patina that can only be brought on by decades spent in the desert heat of Las Vegas. Wisps of peeling paint hang, fragile, part of a lost era - once they fall, another part of the sign dies.

Photos by Royal Flusher

Read about the  photo-taking expedition in Royal Flusher Vegas.

I didn't do any research in particular before setting out to photograph these lost motels of East Fremont street, other than looking at google street view and discovering that they existed.

No doubt the fantastic Neon Museum knows about these and has plans for those that are of significance, and that they have funds to obtain. (The Neon Boneyard Tour is fabulous, and any Vegas history buff must make a visit there.)

Others signs will just be destroyed, I suppose. (The Blue Angel sign was designed by Betty Willis, who also designed the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. Thanks to Tami W. for telling me this.)

There are lots of avenues for research to find out the true history of these places. For the most part, I like to leave it to my imagination, at least, while I am still getting to know these wonderful sites.

However, The Gables kept calling to me, perhaps because it still looks rather cute. I did a quick bit of research and found property records that show it was owned by Michael and Helen Somers in 1966. A bit more research turned up Helen's obituary, and a bit of family history, which indicated, along with six children, Michael and Helen moved from the Qu'appelle valley in Saskatchewan to Las Vegas and ran The Gables.

And there's the connection, with my family roots also in Saskatchewan.

In my opinion, their time was a very special time. May the Blue Angel watch over their family.

Royal Flusher


  1. When I was a child in thelate fifties and sixties our family trips from L.A. Always started in Vegas and we frequented this type of motels. Thanks for the memories!

  2. Absolutely love this article. My grandparents, Mike and Helen have passed, but they would be overwhelmed reading this. Your research is very accurate. Well done!

    1. Thank you Tarra. How exciting to hear from family of Mike and Helen! I sure wish I could time travel...

      I've heard recently that some money has been set aside to preserve some of these signs. These memories must be kept!

  3. Absolutely love this article. My grandparents Helen and Mike would have loved to see this. That motel was their love. Their time was definitely special indeed. Thank you.