There are a few weird buildings downtown, but this one, at 125 Las Vegas Blvd South, is easy to decipher. That’s because my dad worked there in the 1970s, when it served as offices for Centel, the local telephone-service provider. According to county records, the building has been owned since September 1957 by the telephone company, first known as Southern Nevada Telephone Co., later as Central Telephone Co. (shortened to Centel for consumers). Centel later moved to the southeast corner of Sixth and Fremont streets, and the Las Vegas Boulevard building (which is not actually windowless; the mid-century metal shutters hide them) began to be used primarily as a communications-equipment facility, which is its role today.
The building to which Centel moved, at 601 Fremont St., was originally a multistory Sears department store. Centel took it over in 1968 and held ownership until 1985, when a new office opened on Valley View Boulevard near the Meadows Mall. Many will remember the Fremont and Sixth Street location as its later incarnation, Metro’s Work Card facility. The City of Las Vegas has owned 601 Fremont since 2005; several times it has tried to sell or lease the spot to condo and nightlife developers. Today, construction is progressing on the Fremont Country Club and Backstage Bar & Billiards. Fingers crossed that it gets completed. The area’s recent progress bodes well.
Why does the myth that Las Vegas is devoid of culture persist, especially given the developments of the past few years?
Saying that Las Vegas has no culture is so 2000. And 1990. And 1980. Things have definitely improved, even when you remove my Vegas cheerleading from the equation. But despite the ground we’ve gained, there will always be someone who insists that The Smith Center isn’t bringing “real culture” to Las Vegas, or the artist who thinks they have to move to a “real city” to be successful, overlooking K.D. Matheson, Tim Bavington, Jerry Misko, et al. (When I hear that, it translates as, “Being successful in Vegas requires substantial effort by a self-starting go-getter, and I am not that person.”) Admittedly, Vegas is not where you move if you want a ready-made arts establishment on which to lean, but to ignore the progress or blame the city is cultural snobbery and laziness, plain and simple.