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US 95 Vegas to Blythe, Part 2: Tonopah Hwy, Fremont St and Boulder Hwy to Henderson (Old US 95, BR 95, NV 599, NV 579, NV 582)

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[US 95 in Las Vegas, 1966.] US 95 was not the first Federal highway to reach Las Vegas. That honour goes to US 91, which was routed through Las Vegas in 1926 and was the major arterial connecting Las Vegas to California. Eventually, US 91 would also be co-routed with US 466 when that route was created in 1935. US 91 was replaced by I-15 in the 1970s, but the remnant of US 91 retains its preeminence in Las Vegas as the modern-day Strip, today's Las Vegas Blvd (NV 604, although in the process of being decommissioned).

US 95's emergence in Las Vegas occurred in 1940, as part of the signage that extended it to Blythe, CA. Originally, US 95 as signed in 1926 ran entirely in Idaho between Weiser, ID (then-US 30N) and the Canadian border at Eastport, ID. In 1940, US 95 was extended to Blythe through Las Vegas, commissioned to the Arizona-Mexico border in 1945 via San Luis as we will discuss later, and finally completed by 1961. Within Nevada, US 95 replaced (north to south) NV 8, NV 1/US 40, NV 1A, NV 3; and finally NV 5 from Beatty south to the California state line. The inset map at far right dates from 1939 and shows NV 5 during its last days before its replacement by US 95, along with some of the older Nevada route numbers (for example, NV 156 and NV 157 were NV 52 and NV 39 respectively). By this time, US 91 and US 93 were well-established, and US 466 was already in existence.

[NV 5 through Las Vegas, 1939.] Old US 95 in Las Vegas is moderately well marked for a defunct route. Much of it has been replaced by state highway (primarily NV 599 and NV 582), even if ill-signed state highway, or equivalent business route alignment (Business US 95). The map inset at left shows its routing through Las Vegas in 1966, although its original routing was slightly different as we will discuss momentarily. Its trek through Vegas is a time machine as it enters areas of Vegas rarely seen by today's tourist, having been relegated to obscurity by the bright lights of the modern-day Las Vegas Strip. Old US 95 has some bright lights of its own, however, which we'll save as a special treat since the former routing went right down famous Fremont Street by the doorstep of our friend Vegas Vic.

Back to the Ann Rd/Rancho Dr exit, all the way back on the northern end of Las Vegas. This portion of Rancho Dr represents the surface street alignment of old US 95 and the former Tonopah Highway (NV 5 before 1940), and is now Business Route 95. It is also signed as NV 599. Tonopah Hwy refers to the town of Tonopah far to the northwest where US 95 intersects US 6; you can see pictures of Tonopah in the Summer of 6 exhibit.

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When taking the exit, it comes to an intersection with Ann Rd; going straight ahead yields this small interchange. The EXIT sign in the background warns people that the exit is for Rancho Dr, and is not numbered.

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Crossing the freeway.

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NV 599 (Tonopah Hwy/Business US 95)

BEGIN NV 599. This route is due for reliquishment back to Las Vegas and probably will not exist for many more years; as it is, it is very poorly marked.

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SB on Rancho Dr/Tonopah Hwy.

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One of the few reassurance shields along NV 599. This is apparently of recent vintage (or, at least, not appallingly old vintage) based on the oversized first letter on the SOUTH direction banner, which is a relatively new change in the MUTCD.

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As we get closer into town, notice how the casino signs start trying to outdo each other.

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Bonanza Rd. NV 599 continues past this point to end at Sahara Ave and I-15, but despite being called BR 95, this portion of Rancho Dr is not the original alignment of US 95 nor NV 5. Instead, the alignment veers left and we will follow, onto Bonanza.

This was the original northwestern terminus of the Gragson Expwy before its expansion.

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Just for completeness, this is the end of NV 599 (unsigned at this time) at I-15.

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NV 579

Bonanza Rd is also designated NV 579 and is similarly poorly signed. In the days of NV 5/old US 95, it was apparently named Clark Ave.

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EB NV 579 Bonanza Rd at Martin Luther King Blvd. I-15/US 93, now north of the Spaghetti Bowl, is visible in the distance.

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A fun old viaduct just after the Interstate.

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Old US 95 and old NV 5 turn right onto Main St, into old Las Vegas' downtown. Main St is former NV 601, decommissioned completely in 2006, and is bordered by the former alignment of NV 604 (Las Vegas Blvd, old US 91/US 466) on either end. Plotted out on a map, this looks an awful lot like it could have been an alternate alignment of US 91/US 466, and indeed was, carrying the official title of "Historic Alternate US 91-466."

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For its part, NV 579's definition states that it ends intersecting former NV 604 (Las Vegas Blvd) a block or so later, and here is the END. The 1966 map shows US 95 deviating here, but this was not its original routing and I'm not sure when it was changed (likely when US 91 was moved from Main St, which was probably in the 1940s).

NV 604 still exists, btw, just not in Las Vegas proper (except for the Tropicana Ave/NV 593 intersection which is still state maintained and still appears in the routing definition).

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Main St (Old NV 601)

Main St and old Las Vegas downtown. The original Strip ran in this area but for many years lost much of its economic and tourist importance due to most of the later redevelopment occuring further south where space was cheaper and more abundant. Recently there has been a shining exception, "shining" of course being the key word.

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Here at famous old Fremont St, US 95 and old NV 5 turned east to the Boulder Highway alignment.

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A little past here on Main St, the gaudy casinos turn into flophouses and the Greyhound depot.

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To counter the haemorrhage of gaming and tourism dollars south, the casinos on old Fremont fought back with the Fremont St Experience, which we'll look at in a second. The name comes from 19th century Fremont St (now the "Fremont St Experience"), named after 19th century explorer and general John Charles Fremont, who led an expedition near the Las Vegas Springs headwaters in 1844. We talk about John C. Frémont in US 395 Part 2. Fremont St was actually the first street to be paved in Las Vegas, in 1925.

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Some of the other casinos alongside the Fremont St intersection.

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It's not as glittery as some but the Plaza still shines in the sun. The Plaza used to be a real dump but they've cleaned up quite a bit, as I can personally attest to having been a guest there for vintage conventions.

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At the Plaza is this marker for the original 1905 Auction. On this site on 15 May 1905, the San Pedro-Los Angeles-Salt Lake Railroad (the same one we mentioned was founded by Montana senator William A. Clark in Part 1, the Clark in "Clark county," along with his brother J. Ross) auctioned off land lots surrounding their new train depot to several thousand buyers, the beginning of the 'tent city' settlement around the depot that would become the modern city. The original depot no longer stands; the Clarks sold out the SP, LA & SLRR to Union Pacific in 1921, and the depot was subsequently demolished in 1970 to construct the Plaza Hotel in 1971. A replica depot is next door.

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Ironically, despite its history, Fremont St was permanently closed to vehicular traffic between Main St and Las Vegas Boulevard in September 1994, and the reason is the aforementioned shining exception ...

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Fremont St and the Fremont Street Experience: Old Vegas at Night

... its conversion to the Fremont Street Experience, a pedestrian mall built 1994-6 as a civic redevelopment partnership between the city of Las Vegas, Fitzgerald's, Lady Luck, Golden Nugget and several other casinos along the old Strip. Its centrepiece is the 90-foot-high central barrel vault shown here, stretching for 1,400'. The vault canopy is supported by sixteen weight-bearing columns, themselves weighing 13 tons and capable of supporting 200, connected up by 43,000 struts.

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Even the Plaza gets gussied up at night.

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[Vegas Vic in 1971, from Diamonds are Forever.] [Click for a 157K .jpg of Fremont Street in 1971.] Fremont St's most famous permanent resident is almost certainly the Pioneer Club's "Vegas Vic." Keeping elements of the gaudy old Fremont St and most of the same winkingly saucy style but in a cleaner, slicker atmosphere, the Experience has managed to create for itself a niche distinct from the modern strip at large by attracting a more adult audience (but still "only" PG-rated).

It's probably a good thing, then, that the old seamy Vegas is now a lost curiosity in photoessays and older films. For me, old Vegas appears particularly alive and slimy in the 007 Vegas outing Diamonds Are Forever (1971); Fremont St appears in this film where James Bond (Sean Connery) is being pursued by the less-than-inept Clark County Sheriff's department (no offense to our men in uniform today, I wasn't the one who wrote the script), along with most of the casinos that lined it and that are, in their fashion, still preserved within the Experience. Click the thumbnail at left for five frames (157K) showing the street and its appearance during its twilight.

Vegas Vic himself hails from 1951. Originally the Pioneer Club had "simply" the words Pioneer Club and a neon hat as their sign during the 1940s, but was looking for a new eyecatch to attract visiting gamblers and distinguish themselves (which was pretty hard to do in Vegas even then). To this end they hired the Young Electric Sign Company (YESCO), the oldest and largest producer of electronic signage in Vegas and still around today. Designer Pat Denner drew his inspiration from an earlier 1947 cowboy sign used by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce, but swelled it to an arresting 75' complete with moving arm, moving cigarette, and a voice booming out, "howdy, pardner!" every 15 minutes. (The voice of Vegas Vic was the president of the Chamber of Commerce, Maxwell Kelch.)

Vegas Vic became an instant landmark, even though today he ain't what he used to be. In 1966, actor Lee Marvin objected to the volume of the recording and it was duly turned off; it was briefly resumed in the 1980s but then ceased to function and has not been repaired. In 1991, Vic's arm stopped working, and even his beloved hat lost a little off the top when the Experience roof was added in 1994. Still, the old man got a little consolation when he got to marry his opposite number, Vegas Vickie (nee Sassy Sally) on nearby Glitter Gulch during the ceremonies of the Experience construction. Considering that the years have kept her in fine shape, Vic didn't do too badly after all. We'll say hi to her in a minute.

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About that roof -- after dusk, roughly every hour, the lights go down ...

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... and VivaVision comes on. Viva Vision is, as of this writing, the world's largest electronic display system. Originally composed of a whopping 2.1 million incandescent lights, a $17 million redevelopment switched it for 12 million high-intensity LEDs, 180 strobes, 64 variable colour lighting fixtures, 32 mirrors and sixteen skytrackers driven by ten computers with a combined storage of 9.6 terabytes. No one does half measures in this town, goldurnit.

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As of this writing, Viva Vision has seven shows in its schedule. Backing the surfeit of images is a 220-speaker, 550,000-watt sound system suspended from the ceiling.

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Viva Las Vegas!

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Binion's and the Golden Nugget (with a Starbucks).

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Finally, Sam Boyd's Fremont and the Four Queens Hotel.

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And, last but not least, Vegas Vickie herself atop Glitter Gulch. Seems like the old man made out all right. The video screen beneath her was captured at, uh, a tame moment.

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NV 582 (Modern Fremont St)

Junction Fremont Street Experience (behind the camera), modern Fremont St (NV 582, old US 93/US 95/US 466), and Las Vegas Blvd (former NV 604, old US 91, old US 91/US 93/US 466). This is the historic union of US 91, US 93, US 95 and US 466, proven by the modern designations for the streets (Main St being Historic Alternate US 91-US 466 and Las Vegas Blvd being Historic US 91-US 466). To the left, US 91 and US 93 proceeded north along Las Vegas Blvd. Straight ahead, US 95, US 93 and US 466 proceeded east towards the Hoover Dam, and to the right, US 91 and US 466 proceeded south towards California. We proceed straight ahead along modern day Fremont St.

For its part, US 466 is a footnote in Nevada road history as it was never signed as an independent route within the entire state. Although extant since 1935, its alignment in Nevada was always piggybacked on either US 91 or US 93, and due to this redundancy was decommissioned in 1972 at the same time as Arizona (California had long since decommissioned it in 1964 as part of the Great Renumbering).

This 7-Eleven is now gone, but I loved the gaudy neon, so I'm keeping the picture up.

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Leaving the old Vegas downtown.

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Gambling? In Vegas? Say it ain't so!

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SB Fremont St.

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There's an awful lot of cheap hotels out this way. Off-Strip really takes on a new meaning along Fremont.

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Eastern Ave, former NV 607, deleted in 2006.

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Immediately after that is Charleston Blvd, NV 159, connecting Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area to the west with Nellis Air Force Base (via Nellis Blvd) ...

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and following that is Sahara Ave (NV 589).

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At NV 589, Fremont St changes names to the Boulder Highway. Incidentally, did you notice all three of these junctions were unsigned? Maddening. We will also pass Flamingo Rd, unsigned NV 592.

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SB Boulder Hwy.

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Junction I-515/US 95/US 93. This is the Boulder Hwy exit seen in Part 1.

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Reassurance shield south of the junction.

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Visible in the background is this distance sign, an obvious holdover from the US 95/US 93 days, as the control city is given as Kingman, AZ.

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SB Boulder Hwy. We also pass by the similarly unsigned NV 612, Nellis Blvd. Nellis Boulevard connects up with Nellis Air Force Base on Las Vegas' north end, named for Lt. William Harrell Nellis, born 1916 in Searchlight (Part 4), in posthumous honour for losing his life strafing a WW2 German convoy over Luxembourg in 1944's Battle of the Bulge. Nellis was unanimously chosen by local civic organizations for the honour, and the base was dubbed as such 30 April 1950. Today, it is the site of the USAF Air Warface Center of the Air Combat Command, a primary training location for American and foreign pilots alike. It covers approximately 11,300 acres.

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Must not be enough money in whiskey these days.

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Leaving Las Vegas. The most famous one of these is along old US 91, but US 95 now has its own set.

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Looking back at the city sign as we proceed south towards Henderson.

Continue to Part 3

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