This is one of my favorite photos. Taken in the summer of ’11, it was one of my first attempts at “noir”, at trying to create atmosphere, above and beyond just trying to take a decent shot. I remember dodging the window to bring out the detail in that sheet, working the levels to bring up that setting sunlight pouring through the courtyard, really massaging the tones. I worked this, and I really think that work paid dividends. I really felt I was making art.
And here is the Town Lodge Motel today.
Closed. Shut down.
In fact, many of the seedy motels like the Town Lodge are being shuttered. Part of the ongoing gentrification of Downtown Las Vegas, I guess.
I grew up coming to Downtown. I come from a gambling family, on my mothers side. My mom and her mother came here in the 50’s and 60’s. Growing up, my family’s idea of a vacation was to drive to Vegas. I remember we mostly stayed at the Orbit Inn, 7th and Fremont. What a dump. Every morning we would walk all the up Fremont to the Las Vegas Club to have breakfast. They had the best Keno, or something like that. From there my mom, her brother and their mom would usually hit the casinos. Lady Luck and El Cortez were their favorites. They never went to the Strip. Ever. “The REAL gamblers are Downtown”, they would all say. I was, like, six. I couldn’t care less.
Dad didn’t gamble much so he was stuck watching me. Which was kind of cool. I remember going to see Jai-Alai together. Later, in the 80’s, I either got left in the lobby of the hotel to play video games, or dad and I would scour the valley for arcades. Dad loved Mrs Pac-Man. I learned to love Downtown.
I learned to love the seedy, low down vibe of the place. I learned to love that juxtaposition between the bright lights on the marquees and the dark shadows in the alleyways. I loved the feeling like there was everything and nothing on Fremont Street. I learned that there was no place like Downtown.
Obviously the Fremont Street that I grew up with is long, long gone. In 1994, they blocked off five blocks, from Main (above) down to 4th, covered it with a hideous canopy and play a pandering and tacky light show at the top of the hour all night. I hate what they’ve done to the place.
The problem is that I’ve only got my memories to go on. I wish I had more photographs.
I’ve always felt I was more of a documentarian rather than a fancy-schmancy “photographer”. I like being able to know that years down the road my work will show the evolution of places. How streets used to look, what buildings were like, where the open spaces were before they were filled with stuff. I like that I have that picture of the Town Lodge Motel, like it used to be. Not all that long ago.
Downtown is in the midst of great change right now. I was there when they razed the Orbit Inn. My childhood. It’s an empty lot now. “They” are tearing down a lot of the older buildings. There are going to be a lot of empty lots pretty soon.
So, let’s get out there and try to freeze that change while it’s still in motion. Let’s make sure we get those shots of the Town Lodges of the world, before the corporations and money men tear them all down. And, if we try hard enough, we can even make art while we are at it.