Las Vegas Street Names – the History Behind the Signs You See Every Day

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.”)

14 Comments

  1. Leslie Peluaga on September 8, 2017 at 1:41 am

    Do you know the meaning behind rainbow blvd. Why was it changed from lorenzi st .

  2. april d raz on September 15, 2017 at 5:55 pm

    capsule street.

  3. Harry Mcgee on September 18, 2017 at 7:35 pm

    Where did the street name Jelsma come from?
    Thanks

    • Michelle Larime on October 10, 2017 at 6:35 pm

      Thanks for the comments everyone! These are great questions and I don’t know the answers at this time. We’ll do a little research and try to post a follow up blog soon with some more information.

  4. Becky briare on January 4, 2018 at 1:42 am

    I live in the westleigh neighborhood on Douglas drive. Built in 1951 – any clue who the streets are named after? We are just around the corner from mcneil where I lived on mason for 8 years colanthe for 12 years – I know who those streets are named for but westleigh always drives me crazy!! Any clue?

  5. Judy Newman on February 7, 2018 at 2:14 am

    This is black history month. I wanted to know about the African Americans of Las Vegas. Why is it that the African Americans names only get a letter?
    “A” Street…
    “D” Street and etc.

    • Michelle Larime on February 23, 2018 at 12:08 am

      Hi Judy. The Historic Westside is the site of the first Las Vegas townsite, which was surveyed by J.T. McWilliams. Originally, the Westside did have numbered streets. However, once William Clark filed his Las Vegas townsite, which was the more successful of the two, the streets in Clark’s townsite were given the numbered streets and the ones on the Westside were changed to letters of the alphabet. You will notice, however, that the east-west streets in the Historic Westside are named for early pioneers and influencers in Las Vegas, including McWilliams himself.

  6. Claudia Oakey Humphries on June 5, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    Do you know who Oakey ave. Or Oakey blvd. Were named after?

    • Michelle Larime on June 6, 2018 at 8:33 pm

      We don’t. But our resident expert on street names, Mark Hall Patton, will be presenting this week at the Clark County Library on historic places in Las Vegas. It might be a great opportunity to ask him. https://www.facebook.com/events/577734209280615/

  7. Amanda on July 25, 2018 at 10:15 am

    Hi. I wondered if you know anything about the source of names for Giles Street, Reno Avenue, or Casa Blanca Road?

  8. Angelica on August 6, 2018 at 8:47 pm

    Do you know the history of madarang ave.?

  9. Joyce on October 29, 2018 at 6:23 am

    Is Warm Springs named after ‘Tulle Springs’ which was nicknamed ‘warm springs’ by locals in the 50-60’s?

  10. David Winnick on November 24, 2018 at 7:21 pm

    What about Winnick Avenue? Who was that named after?

Leave a Comment