Luxe Life Blog
Photos: Golden Gate strives to preserve and enhance L.V. legacy
Golden Gate casino owner Mark Brandenburg says his multimillion-dollar gamble on expanding and renovating his downtown casino, the original one in Las Vegas, will preserve and enhance the legacy of the city.
“It’s not only this classic 106-year-old building, but the Las Vegas spirit and the mystique it embodies,” Mark told me amid the noise and celebration of its reopening last week. “Throughout the renovations, our goal was clear: Remain true to our Vintage Vegas character and deliver an experience that is original, people-centric and bursting with energy.”
Robin Leach: Has everything turned out the way you wanted it to?
Mark Brandenburg: Honestly, it really did exceed my expectations. That is just mostly because when we set out to design this expansion and renovation, we really did have a challenge trying to figure out how we were going to blend the historic character of the hotel with the contemporary, cutting-edge Las Vegas feel.
How was that mix going to work? It was very difficult to visualize early on, and it was very, very important because we didn’t want to renovate it and lose that historic character. We are Las Vegas’ most historic hotel and casino. We are the Las Vegas original. It is very important to us and very important to the people that visit us here, yet we had a need; it was important for us to give it that cutting-edge Vegas feel. The end result exceeded my expectations. I am really happy.
R.L.: What is happening downtown that you made this leap of faith to justify bringing this out of the roaring ’20s into the great new century?
M.B.: Well, first here the intent to renovate the Golden Gate as a first-class boutique hotel really went back a few years ago when my partners, Derek Stevens and Greg Stevens, first joined me. They came here and joined the property with the intent that we do just that, that we upgrade the property and give it a fresh new boutique feel. So, we started and took steps in that direction, but our timing in that respect with everything going on downtown just couldn’t have been better.
People are just now rediscovering downtown. There is a lot of new energy, a lot of new investment, all of which is good for us and good for downtown as a whole. … When people would come downtown, they like the difference between us and the Strip. They like the intimate feel, they like the fact that you didn’t have that Strip mega hassle, you didn’t have to give up a half an hour out of your evening if you just decided you wanted to go across the street to the next place. Here everything is so easy and convenient. So now that people are rediscovering that downtown is here, we are able to introduce it to people who used to only know about the Strip.
R.L.: Is Tony Hseih and Zappos going to make a huge difference when they move into downtown?
M.B.: I think he already has. He is somebody who is committed to doing positive things. He’s got a lot of great ideas, but he’s already refocused the whole attention on downtown, and he has refocused the whole image of downtown with what he’s done already. He’s one of the reasons people are rediscovering downtown, so he’s already done a lot for us.
R.L.: It just keeps on growing, it just keeps on getting better, but how do you deal with the complaints about vagrants, bums, X-rated shops and all the talk of the rundown and the seedy?
M.B.: I think a large extent of those issues are overstated. Any place whether it is here or on the Strip, we enforce the law, we try to provide people with a safe and clean environment, and there is no difference from managing those issues here than in any other town, to a large extent.
R.L.: Is it getting cleaned up down here?
M.B.: Yeah, I think we are absolutely moving in the right direction.
R.L.: Mayor Oscar really started something, and Mayor Carolyn will carry it on to the next stage?
M.B.: I think that is a very important part.
The Golden Gate’s land was purchased for $1,750 in an historic May 15, 1905, land auction that signaled the birth of Las Vegas. When the hotel opened, room and board was just $1 per day. You can take a stroll through Golden Gate’s colorful history including the world’s first ever shrimp buffet.
It first opened in 1906 as the Hotel Nevada. In 1907, it was assigned Las Vegas’ first telephone with the number 1, but was shuttered for 21 years when gambling was outlawed in Nevada. In 1931, the roulette tables and blackjack tables were dusted off from storage, and gambling was legalized again. The hotel gained its current name in 1955 when an investor group from San Francisco started the Golden Gate Casino.
The 106-room, four-story hotel was renovated in 2005. In March 2008, owner Mark sold a 50 percent interest in the property to Derek and Greg Stevens’ investment company. They also owned the Las Vegas 51s, a stake in the Riviera and now the former Fitzgeralds downtown renamed the D. This year, Golden Gate began its first major renovation in more than 50 years: the $12 million renovation includes a 35,000-square-foot, five-story hotel tower .
Historically, what happened in Las Vegas began at Golden Gate -- the first Las Vegas casino in 1906 at 1 Fremont Street has spanned the roaring ’20s, the Prohibition, the Rat Pack eras and now the rebirth into the 21st century.
The landmark now has 14 new super-suites designed as a tribute to such notable guests as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin and two vintage showgirl-inspired penthouses taking over the entire fifth floor. They come with large outdoor patios with lounge seating, a state-of-the-art gas grill, a wall-mounted fireplace, a full wet bar and a 50-inch flat-screen TV. The expanded casino floor features a new 1920s, flapper-inspired, high-limit gaming room with dancing dealers .
Our thanks to contributing photographer Tom Donoghue for his tour of the Golden Gate and videographer Richard Corey’s coverage posted on YouTube.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.
Follow VDLX Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.