Have you ever wondered what inspired the names of the streets in Las Vegas? Some names seem obvious- such as Dean Martin Way or Frank Sinatra Drive, which are named after the famous crooners who once graced the lounges of Las Vegas. Also, who can’t figure out that Sahara Avenue, Sands Avenue, Tropicana Avenue, Flamingo Avenue, and Desert Inn were named after the casino resort hotels that are or were located on those thoroughfares?
What may be less known, however, is that a key reason that these casino-themed streets were given their current monikers is to alert tourists driving into town when they had reached the right street for their hotel/casino destination in an age when you could not advertise a casino on a billboard, and that most of those streets originally had other names that pre-dated the casinos. For example, Sahara Avenue had previously been named “San Francisco Street” and Tropicana Avenue had been named “Bond Road,” thus named because it led to land owned by the Bond family.
In researching these casino-themed streets I came upon some 1962 news articles that chronicled the contentious fight at the County Commission level that took place when the executives of the then Sahara Hotel petitioned to change San Francisco Street to Sahara Avenue. This name change request was hard fought by the El Rancho Vegas and its owner, Beldon Katleman. The El Rancho, which had also been situated on San Francisco Street, by that time was no longer in operation. Katleman, however, argued that the El Rancho was the oldest hotel in Las Vegas and would be better memorialized with the street name than the Sahara Hotel. We all know how that battle turned out…
Another interesting fact I turned up when looking into the history of Sahara Avenue is the fact that the street’s original name, San Francisco, was given to it as part of a naming scheme for the streets near the Stratosphere, including New York, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and San Francisco, which were named after cities with major league baseball teams.
Other fun naming schemes by early developers include downtown streets like Clark, Fremont, and Carson, which were named after historical Nevada figures: Sen. William Andrews Clark, who established the railroad that linked Los Angeles with Salt Lake City through Las Vegas, the explorer and politician John C. Fremont, and the famous frontiersman, Kit Carson. There is a whole area of town just west of the Strip that has streets named after stars, like Polaris, Procyon, Regulus, Sirius, Pollux and Alderbrran. And old Henderson, which was originally called “Basic Township,” got many of its street names from its founding industry, the Basic Magnesium Plant. This includes, of course, Basic, and Water Street (which is where the water for the Basic plant flowed), and a number of mineral-derived names, such as Lead, Silver and Perlite.
But what about your street? Some of us live on numbered streets, so have no real wonder there. But if you happen to live downtown on Colanthe or Gilmary Streets, near the intersection of Oakey Boulevard and Rancho Drive, wonder no more: your streets are named after developer Larry G. (“Gilmary”) McNeal and his friend Colanthe “Florence” Murphy. (for this last fun fact, we thank author Mark Hall-Patton, who discovered this history in his research for his book “Asphalt Memories: Origins of Some of the Street Names of Clark County.”)