by Roland Gilmore
photo by Dana Edmunds
Today it’s billed as the World’s Largest Street Party, but The Fremont Street Experience began a bit more humbly. Named after John C. Fremont, who literally put the name las vegas on a map to describe the "fertile valleys" he found here in 1844 as a surveyor for the U.S. Army, Fremont Street was one of downtown Las Vegas’ original dusty thoroughfares, there at the city’s founding in 1905.
In 1931, with the construction of Hoover Dam underway and the railyards that serviced it located a few blocks away, Fremont Street was ideally situated to house what would become the city’s economic engine: That year, the first Nevada gaming license was issued to The Northern Club, on 15 East Fremont Street.
Since then, the street went from sitting at the core of Las Vegas gaming industry to being somewhat on the outskirts—that is, until 1993, when a $70 million revamp began the process of turning the street into a combination of living museum, shopping center and wide-open street faire. At the heart of this latest incarnation is the electric light show that pulses down a canopied, five-block segment of the street at the top of each hour, beginning at dusk. Open only to pedestrian traffic, the show runs between Main Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, and features more than 2 million light bulbs controlled by some thirty computers and backed by a 540,000-watt sound system. The end result is a canvas allowing for endless variations in color and image … and provides a sky-scape that can only be described as electrifying.