Doris Hancock Photo Collection / UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

A Vintage Downtown Winter Wonderland

We are feeling a little guilty to be enjoying such comfortable winter temperatures when our Midwest and East Coast friends and family are freezing after a continual barrage of blizzards and snowstorms. There have been times, however, over the past eight decades, when snow has blanketed our valley during the winter months.

During these rare occasions, we are all like children (unless we’re driving, perhaps), enjoying the novelty of winter activities that others take for granted, such as building a snowman, having a snowball fight or making snow angels. As illustrated by these charming archival images, there was an almost magical quality to snowfall in our desert city.

Back in January 1930, these industrious Las Vegas school children, bundled up against the cold, were hard at work making a snowman on a rare snow day. In the photo above, they are standing outside of the Las Vegas Grammar School complex where the Fifth Street School now resides.

An Oakes postcard from the McWilliams Photo Collection / UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

This stunning image with snow-covered trees looking east from the railroad depot in January 1937 provides a unique view of Fremont Street prior to the installation of the many neon signs that would transform it into Glitter Gulch in the following decades. Just barely visible on the left-hand side is the sign for the Overland Hotel, which would later become the Las Vegas Club.

Two photographs of Fremont Street in the snow a few decades apart show the dramatic changes that became apparent after gaming took hold in Las Vegas. The first image shows Fremont Street just east of First Street, identifiable by the distinctive presence of the First State Bank on the opposite northeast corner. It was likely taken between 1910 and 1920, due to the fact that the auto was not yet a ubiquitous sight on city streets, and shows the rather ordinary “main street” quality of Fremont Street.

Squires Photo Collection / UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

Elbert Edwards Photo Collection / UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives

Contrast that with the image below it taken in the late 1940s, which shows a slushy Fremont Street looking west with numerous cars parked along both sides of the street. The large Golden Nugget Gambling Hall sign, which towers over Fremont Street, and the cluster of neon signs poking into the skyline, along with the parking meters and street lights, highlight the city’s transformation from railroad town into gambling destination.

Su Kim Chung, Ph.D., has been immersed in the history of Las Vegas since she began work in the UNLV Libraries Special Collections & Archives Division in 1999. She is the author of multiple editions of the book Las Vegas Then and Now.

Vegas Seven