Why call it FRANCISCO SQUARE?
The “square” footprint “duplex” portion of the very first Francisco Park development, has been affectionately nicknamed “Francisco Park Square” or “Francisco Square” after a long gone, but not forgotten Vegas landmark. It is named as an homage to one of the oldest strip malls in Clark County, and a historic meeting place in the history of Vintage Las Vegas. The original Francisco Square mall at 2424 Las Vegas Blvd. was built by Richard Tam in 1950. It was originally a supermarket with shops flagging either side: Charlie Shelton’s Rowel clothing store, David Ming’s Import Shop, and a pharmacy. Across the street were two other icons of the 1950s: The original El Rancho Vegas Hotel and the Sahara Hotel.
Francisco Square occupied the corner which is now occupied by the Bonanza Gift & Souvenir Shops (which moved there in 1980). In between, it was the Jolley Trolley saloon with dining and burlesque. And at one point Francisco Square hosted Honest Johns and Big Wheel Casino complete with a ferris wheel on the roof, where patrons could ride, and the infamous Centerfold Casino in the 1970s where an all nude show (photo by Peter Stratmoen)
In 1959, John Fish Jewelers moved to Francisco Square on the northwest corner of Sahara and Las Vegas Blvd. They did business with locals and celebrities alike including Elvis, Liberace, and Fats Domino. Also taking up residence in Francisco Square was Vintage Joe Julian Liquors Bar, Miss Bobbie’s Dress Shop. However, the place that probably most put Francisco Square really on the map was 1959 Garwood Van’s MUSICLAND: “The Record Shop of the Stars.”
Musicland quickly became one of Nevada’s largest music stores. Musicland was operated by Joan “Manning” Marian Van, one of the original Las Vegas showroom dancers, dancing at the El Rancho, New Frontier, Silver Slipper and Flamingo Hotel, and her husband American big band leader and musician, Garwood Van. the Van Band played all the best venues: the St. Francis and Mark Hopkins hotels in San Francisco, Trocadero, Ciro’s or Florentine Gardens in Los Angeles. He took a job at the El Rancho Vegas in 1942 and helped pioneer the rise of dance band music in Las Vegas. He was the leader of the house band at the Frontier Hotel from 1952 through 1957 and lead the band playing with Nat King Cole. Following their entertainment careers, Joan and Garwood opened what became the FIRST record store in Vegas, across from the Sahara Hotel. Garwood also opened the city’s first rock ‘n’ roll club in Vegas – the Pussycat A Go Go – in 1964.
Looking Northeast and South East on Las Vegas Blvd and Sahara:
During this same era, across the street from Francisco Square was another iconic corner:
“Abe Fox opened Foxy’s Deli in 1955 on the northeast corner of San Francisco (Today, Sahara Blvd) and Las Vegas Blvd South. He had a 30 year lease from the property owners, the American Legion. Across from the deli was the San Francisco Square, a small shopping center. Kitty corner from Foxy’s was the El Rancho Hotel and across San Francisco stood the Sahara Hotel. According to family lore, Fox had been given a tip that the San Francisco Square Shopping Center was going to open and realized that more traffic would be generated by the center. Not knowing much deli food, Fox went to Los Angeles’ Fairfax district, studied Cantor’s deli and came back to Las Vegas with an idea of what he wanted to serve.
“When he opened Foxy’s Deli, it quickly became a celebrity hangout. It was the only deli in town and it was open 24 hours a day. It was a meeting place not only for celebrities like Shecky Greene but men like Moe Dalitz as well as the movers and shakers of Las Vegas politics and real estate. Legend has it that half the business deals in Las Vegas were done on Foxy’s Deli napkins and a handshake during the late 1950s.”