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Hotel spans decades as downtown fixture

From its roots as Hotel Nevada in 1906 to the property it is today, the Golden Gate, 1 Fremont St., has seen Las Vegas undergo major changes, especially downtown. The hotel has been through changes of its own, from the property’s name to renovations planned to be completed this month.

Mark Brandenburg, president and co-owner of the Golden Gate, said the hotel’s history makes it different among others downtown.

“Going back to the roots makes Golden Gate something very unique,” Brandenburg said. “The Golden Gate is the original Las Vegas hotel and casino. It gives a special meaning for us to be able to look back and preserve Las Vegas history.”

Land at 1 Fremont St. sold for $1,750 in 1905. The Hotel Nevada’s doors opened in 1906 with room and board costing customers $1 per day. The first telephone in Las Vegas was installed at Hotel Nevada in 1907 with the number “1.”

“When you think about the Golden Gate, it’s Las Vegas’ oldest building,” said Derek Stevens, one of the hotel’s majority owners. “It has that 1 Fremont St. address and the first telephone. These are things that are unique and can’t be replicated.”

In 1909, gambling was outlawed in Nevada. When it was re-legalized in 1931, the manager, John F. Miller, expanded and re named the hotel to Sal Sagev, which is Las Vegas spelled backward .

“With the hotel expansion going on, J.F. Miller changed the name, because at that point, he wanted something more specific to the city,” Brandenburg said. “It brought gambling back to the hotel.”

The Sal Sagev name stood until 1955, when partners from San Francisco took over the casino and renamed it Golden Gate for the Golden Gate Bridge. Italo Ghelfi, one of the original partners and Brandenburg’s stepfather, ran the casino for almost 40 years. Brandenburg said his stepfather and his partners thought of the hotel as a gateway to Las Vegas.

Ghelfi and his partners, however, brought more than a name change to downtown’s oldest hotel. In 1959 he instituted the Golden Gate’s famous shrimp cocktail, which was served in a large sundae glass with Ghelfi’s original cocktail sauce.

“My stepfather was from the Bay Area, and he liked to think about food,” Brandenburg said. “He tried to think about something different from the desert and wanted to do something different in a big way. He thought about Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco and started selling the shrimp cocktail.”

The shrimp cocktail sold for 50 cents for 32 years. Brandenburg said the price increased to 99 cents in 1991, when the hotel was losing $300,000 a year on its shrimp cocktails. Customers can purchase the cocktail for $1.99 today at the hotel’s San Francisco Shrimp Bar & Deli.

Other than the price of the shrimp cocktail and its past names, the Golden Gate has seen little change – that is, until its recent renovations. The hotel still has its original 106 rooms, but two penthouses and 14 suites are slated to open this month. A new hotel lobby, elevators and bars also are featured additions in the renovation.

“Mark and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what the key elements with these renovations are,” Stevens said. “We have the old slot machines, the old bottles of booze, which are part of the cool, rich history we want to maintain and show off. There are certain amenities that are more 2012. I think it gives us the ability to provide (frequent) customers with the history they enjoy and modern-day amenities while bringing new customers downtown.”

Brandenburg said although the Golden Gate is receiving a face-lift, its history will continue to be visible in the new additions.

“I think we’re presenting aspects of unique architectural design themes that really span the century (in which) the hotel has been here,” Brandenburg said. “We’re getting ready to start a new era. This is the year of downtown. People are talking about the downtown renaissance, and we’re here to remind people that renaissance means the rebirth of a classic.”

Contact Paradise/Downtown View reporter Lisa Carter at lcarter@viewnews.com or 383-4686.

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