107 N. 4th Street. Photo by Krystal Ramirez.

Stripped Storefronts and Questionable Boundaries

What’s the story of Downtown’s Coach Room, where White Castle is building a new restaurant?

Thanks to a tweet from @ecgladstone, I spent time scraping layers off another tidbit of Vegas history. Gladstone sent a photo of 107 N. 4th Street, where construction has peeled away the facade of two closed storefronts (a jewelry shop and a cigar factory) to reveal weathered Wild West lettering reading “Coach Room.” Was this the horse-drawn version of an automobile dealership? A Vegas location of Orange County’s venerable live music venue, the Coach House? Nah.

My research suggests the Coach Room was part of the facade of Trader Bill’s, the legendary souvenir shop owned by Margaret Mirabelli. Originally opened in 1912, a 1930s UNLV Digital Libraries photo depicts it as a tiny souvenir stand attached to the back of the El Cortez. By 1943, Bill’s had moved to a new building at Fourth and Fremont Streets. Trader Bill’s was a classic souvenir outpost, selling western wear and Native American “curios” to eager tourists back when the world was a larger place and the west was still wild. By the 1960s, the exterior of the relatively huge Trader Bill’s was themed to look like an old west village. The “Coach Room” was undoubtedly part of that theming.

Today, a Trader Bill’s sign, featuring bright yellow incandescent bulbs arranged in the shape of an arrow, still adorns the Fremont Street side, but since the 1990s, most of the building was a Harley-Davidson store. White Castle is currently under construction in the jewelry and cigar shop portions facing Fourth Street, while a remodeled Harley-Davidson store may reappear on the Fremont Street side. And, if we are lucky, the Trader Bill’s sign will remain as a mysterious non sequitur along a pedestrian mall that was once the most unusual main street in America.

Where are the borders of Downtown (again)?

Growing up, Downtown was a small place centered around Fremont Street (casinos, lawyers, retailers), City Hall and various public utility offices nearby. You could live at Charleston and Las Vegas boulevards and still say, “I need to go Downtown!” Today, some might say the Springs Preserve is Downtown. And the news media? Every time something goes sideways anywhere in Las Vegas other than Summerlin, they headline reads “near downtown.” Clearly, Downtown needs a better PR machine.

Here are my boundaries (for now): Sahara Avenue, Valley View Boulevard, Washington Avenue and Maryland Parkway. And when a crime happens at Decatur and Charleston? The headline had better say “near Summerlin.”

Have a question or comment about Las Vegas past, present or future? Send them to askanative@vegasseven.com.