LAS VEGAS - As you approach Las Vegas, Nevada, the glow of this gambling capital can be seen from miles away ... from both the air and the ground. It seems as though the pulse of this desert Mecca is based on gambling and entertainment that is advertised by neon lights. This town was long known for never turning off those lights, but today, in one area the city, lights are cut several times each night, to allow visitors a chance to enjoy a new tradition.
The Fremont Street Experience (FSE) is a pedestrian mall attraction in downtown Las Vegas, covering five blocks of the western end of the famous street, including the area that was known for years as "Glitter Gulch." The appendages of FSE also extend slightly into some parts of other streets but stay mostly "close to home."
The center of the attraction is a vaulted LED canopy that is 90-feet high at its peak and about 1,500 feet in length. That equals out to be four blocks of "BIG" screen television!
T-L Photos/KAY SEDGMER
CARL “Safe Sax” Ferris wows the crowd with his musical talents during a show at the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.
Each night the show gets underway at dusk when, prior to the main event, all outside lights are shut down ... including welcoming signs at each casino which line the street. Once the area is enveloped in darkness the show begins.
The awe inspiring light and sound entertainment which appears on the canopy features a variety of different shows including one titled "Lucky Vegas" and another popular patriotic tribute to America's heroes. There are numerous other shows, so you shouldn't be forced to see the same offering twice if you are there as a tourist!
Although the shows are amazing, the real story may be the canopy screen itself.
When first FSE canopy or ceiling contained nearly 2.12 million lightbulbs which were controlled by 32 computers located in kiosks along the street. And, the original sound system for the experience was provided through suspendended speakers which together were rated at 350,000 watts.
Over the years the display has been tweaked and in 2001 the sound system's power was raised to 555,000 watts and features an amazing 220 speakers. In 2004, the display was upgraded to 12.4-million LED lights and the old kiosk-projection system was replaced by a central control room which uses 10 computers.
The canopy is held aloft by 16 columns, each weighing in at 26,000 pounds.
Even with this impressive addition to Fremont Street the real stars of the show may just be the live entertainment ... and the people who arrive to enjoy the experience along with hope of returning home as big winners!
There are at least three stages boasting shows every night along Fremont Street and the entertainment is, well, very entertaining. From talented musical performers to painters to comedians and dancers, there is always something going on ... not to mention the casinos and the food.
But, if you are a people watcher, this is the place to be. It's guaranteed that you will never be bored even if you do nothing else. The street is alive with people in all shapes and sizes and from all walks of life ... 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The street itself is rich in history, a history that is advertise in the pavement itself. Brass plates are scattered along the walkways sharing historical information. According to the markers, Fremont Street was the site of the very first hotel in the city: The Hotel Nevada (1906) which is now known as the Golden Gate.
Fremont was also the first street to be paved in Las Vegas way back in 1925. Other Fremont Street firsts include the first telephone, traffic light, elevator, high-rise and the first structure designed from the ground up to be a casino - The Golden Nugget.
The street earned the moniker "Glitter Gulch" because of its large number of neon signs which still brighten the dessert sky today. But many of this neon works of art have been retired as the businesses the advertised have closes.
Since 1996, FSE has served as the city's Neon Museum when the Hacienda Horse and Rider sign was placed at the intersection of Law Vegas Boulevard and Fremont Street.
Many of the "old" casinos and businesses signs had been stored away at the Young Electric Sign Company. As they are slowly and lovingly restored, the signs are reappearing at the museum which isn't a museum at all, but is just the continuation of Freemont Street without the now famous canopy.
The experience of seeing the signs outdoors at night could never been duplicated in a museum and, since it's on a public street, there is no fee charged for perusing this brightly colored pieces of Vegas art.
Other activities at FSE includes a zipline that propels adventure seekers along the street high above the heads of those at ground level for about a 400-foot ride.
Many "squeels" of delight can be heard as the bravest of tourists sip along the Fremont Street Experience, just a few feet below the canopy that has brought new life to the downtown area of Sin City.
Sedgmer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org