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Las Vegas Boulevard north of Sahara becomes a scenic byway

The section of Las Vegas Boulevard from Sahara Avenue to Washington Avenue is only about 3.5 miles long.

But in that distance one can find an internationally known casino, gleaming new buildings, shuttered old ones, historic sites, pawn shops, high- and low-end bars, two no-frills nude dancing joints and enough neon to read the sports page at midnight.
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And now it’s a National Scenic Byway.

The designation, reserved for roads with historic, cultural or scenic significance, was bestowed Friday, capping off a nine-year effort to join the program. The Strip south of Sahara Avenue was already a designated byway.

In naming the road to the byways program, the Federal Highway Administration noted its importance in Las Vegas’ development and the vintage neon on hotels and wedding chapels that makes the boulevard one of America’s more unique streets.

There soon will be more of that neon. Rep. Shelley Berkley’s office has announced a $300,000 grant to pay for restoring two more signs from the Neon Museum.

Three other signs were recently restored and put on display in the median of Las Vegas Boulevard north of Bonanza.

“Neon is to Las Vegas what skyscrapers are to Manhattan,” said Berkley, D-Nev. “These signs along Las Vegas Boulevard enchant visitors and locals alike and each tells the story of our past in its own way.”

Eventually, restored signs will decorate the median all the way to Sahara.

The byway designation doesn’t impose new requirements on properties along the route, according to a city spokeswoman. It’s expected to make Las Vegas’ grant applications for work in the corridor more competitive.

The city has imposed its own rules, however, saying that new signs must have at least 75 percent exposed neon or animation.

There’s more to the byway designation than neon.

The old Mormon Fort sits at Las Vegas Boulevard and Washington. Originally built in 1855, it was the first permanent non-native settlement in the valley. It’s now a state park.

Farther south is the Fifth Street School, which opened as the Las Vegas Grammar School in 1936 to serve a population that was growing because of Hoover Dam’s construction. It was restored and reopened last year, and is now used for office and meeting space.

And there’s Wee Kirk O’ The Heather wedding chapel at Bridger Avenue that has been open since 1940 and served as a minister’s house for 15 years before that.

Chapel manager Michael Lambermont said Las Vegas Boulevard is different from most scenic byways, but it deserves its place among them.

“It’s a little obscure, but it’s part of the new American arcana,” he said.

There’s new stuff too, such as the striking federal courthouse just across the street from Lambermont’s chapel.

But there’s also plenty of evidence of tough times — vacant lots, empty storefronts, homeless people passing the time.

This stretch of road offers Las Vegas in microcosm, including half-realized high-rise condo dreams, the glitz of the city’s temptations, and the pawn shops some turn to when ends don’t quite meet.

And, since it’s Vegas, you’ll find young women doing what they can to make the route more scenic. Talk of the Town, a combination strip club and adult video retailer, has swings and a mechanical bull in the parking lot that female employees use to draw attention.

A few blocks down, Showgirl Video has gotten into the act too, with scantily attired women standing out front to advertise its nude dancing booths.

One of those dancers, who goes by the name Georgia Peach, declared that Las Vegas Boulevard deserves the designation.

“Of course!” she said when asked if Las Vegas Boulevard is scenic. “It’s lots of fun.

“We have (us). We have all the chapels and the hotels. I love it.”

Contact reporter Alan Choate at achoate@reviewjournal.com or 702-229-6435.

 

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