Late in 2017, with the demolition flag flying, the site of where the historic Northern Hotel and Bar once stood on Fremont Street, in downtown Las Vegas, is almost ‘restored’ to when the town was created in 1905.
In 1905 it was a flat piece of land covered in alfalfa, today, 2018 bits and pieces of old tile mark the spot where history was made, several times over.
For decades the rough and tumble development of gambling was made at the Northern. Now it is just an empty space behind a billboard, hiding ….progress.
An aerial map of central Nevada farm land? Nope! Just what is left of the site where the Northern Hotel bar once was.
No plaque marks the spot, no effort has been made so far to reveal to the passing public, the history that occurred on this spot.
It is a sad and unnecessary way to put a period after the words Northern Hotel and Bar.
The Northern’s history, on Block 3, lot 27, began in 1912 by starting a beer war.
The Northern would become home to colorful, and infamous characters from Groesbeck, to the Stockers, to the Stearns, to Sedway and Siegel.
Add in Las Vegas resort visionary, Wilbur Clark and you have a building that often changed names and most certainly changed history.
(And, if you like, throw in mobster ‘Russian Louis’ for good measure.)
A review of the details of the story of the Las Vegas “Northern” reveals one the downsides of history on the web.
Once errors are made they get repeated over and over. Then with many sites making the same mistakes, the fiction get footnoted as fact.
The focus of this series of reports will be, hopefully, to separate facts from fiction covering the first 30 years of the Northern’s life, plus its moments in the Hollywood spotlight.
As we dig into the history of the Northern and its owners, there are natural transitions in the story. Currently this is the outline, but, it has changed several times since we started this project, and will likely change several more times as more information is unearthed.
Chapter one. 1912 The Northern Hotel and Bar Opens on Fremont Street.
Chapter two. Northern Hotel and Bar – Raids –Illegal gambling and alcohol.
Chapter three. The Stocker Era Begins. ‘Three wild and crazy guys!”
Chapter four. The Northern and the Roaring Twenty’s Las Vegas Style
Chapter five. The Northern. 1930’s, The Stocker Brothers buy from Mom and Dad.
Chapter six The Northern and its role in legalizing Gambling.
Chapter Seven. The 1930’s The Brothers lease to other Brothers.
(There is a lot to cover in the 1930’s. Chapter 7 is likely to turn into chapters 8 and maybe 9.)
Tentative Chapter eight. The Northern- Bugsy Siegel first door to Las Vegas.
Tentative Chapter nine. Wilbur Clark changes name of Northern.
Tentative Chapter eight. The Northern following World War II.
Tentative Chapter ten. The Northern becomes ?
Tentative Chapter Eleven. Tomorrow. and Opinion Piece.
Before Chapter One, here is an image of the Northern’s days of glory and a look at Block 3, lot 27’s most recent role on Fremont Street, “a grind joint.”
A link to images of Lay Bayou being torn down.
Courtesy UNLV Special Collections
Chapter one. 1912 –
The Northern Hotel and Bar Opens on Fremont Street.
In mid-December of 1911, the Utah based “Salt Lake Brewery Company” purchased a lot on the south side of the first block of Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas.
With an alley separating the two properties, the land was adjacent to the then Nevada Hotel, now the Golden Gate Hotel-Casino.
When the “Salt Lake Brewery” purchased the land the “Baltimore Restaurant” was sitting on the lot. Lot twenty-seven in Block 3. The building, owned by Peter Buol, was moved off the property and the land readied for a new structure. [i]
Las Vegas became an official incorporated city a few months earlier in June of 1911 and Buol was elected became its first mayor.
The land itself was owned by J. F. Dunn, identified as the Superintendent of the Oregon Short Line railroad.
That railroad was part of the Union Pacific Railroad system, which in turn was half owner of the Salt Lake Route railroad, which in turn was the most powerful entity in Las Vegas. Which in turn would directly impact the the soon to be built Northern Hotel and Bar.
Stories about the railroad and its alleged concern about who owned the Northern would become part of the colorful history of the club.
Fred Leonard a Salt Lake City businessman, representing the brewing company, finalized the deal for the land.
Not quite final. Before the decade was out, Leonard’s company would own the Northern.
The Las Vegas Age reported in its December 30, 1911 issue, the sale “marks the highest price yet paid for an unimproved business lot in this city, being at the rate of $140 per front foot.” [ii] Other estimates of the price ran as high as $7,500.[iii] The last estimate likely included the cost of construction.
The brewery company said it planned to build a two-story hotel, with a “cold storage plant underneath.” [iv]
The second story would house the fifteen room hotel, with “all modern conveniences including electric lights, gas, hot and cold water.” [v]
The hotel office and a bar “fitted in a luxuriant manner” would on the first floor, according to the brewery’s press release. [vi]
At the same time, local citizens were informed “Lon Groesbeck, who is known by thousands through the west, will be the local manager of the business and the name, taken from his old friend Tex Rickard, will be the Northern.” [vii]
Groesbeck leased the building, and would furnish the hotel and bar with his own funds.
Then published reports, a week before the hotel/bar would opening confirmed the name; “Las Vegas will soon be in line with other Nevada cities by possessing a Northern hotel and bar. That is the name given to the handsome new hotel being built by the Salt Lake Brewing Co.” [viii]
From its start in Alaska to nearly every town in Nevada, there was a “Northern.” Whether it was a hotel, or a saloon, no self-respecting Nevada mining camp or community was without a “Northern.”
Images from the author’s collection.
On page five of the March 23, 1912 issue of the Las Vegas Age is found; “The building is now practically completed except for some interior painting. After setting the fixtures and completing the interior finish, which, it is expected may be done within ten days, the Northern will be ready to receive the public.”
“Not pretentious in size” Charles Squires, the newspaper’s publisher wrote, “The Northern will be the best appointed and handsomest architecturally of any similar resort in this city.” [ix]
The west wall of the two story building was used as a large billboard for its owners, The Salt Lake City Brewing Company.
Groesbeck announced the formal opening of the new resort would be held the first week in April and invited “everybody” to inspect “the handsome new quarters and enjoying a sociable time.” [x]
His boss, the Salt Lake beer brewer, had a “sociable” surprise for Las Vegas and the town’s saloon owners.
The city’s other weekly newspaper, the Clark County Review, was there opening night; “For a couple of hours Tuesday evening everything was free, including chicken sandwiches, and needless to state, business was rushing.” [xi]
Charles Corkhill, publisher of the Review wrote Groesbeck announced to the already happy crowd he was permanently reducing the price of a glass of beer by more than 50%.[xii]
At that time every saloon in town was charging twelve and a half cents a glass, or two glasses of beer for “two-bits.”
The Salt Lake Brewing Company set the new rate at 5 cents a glass. The moment, Corkhill wrote “marked an epoch in the miscellaneous history of Las Vegas.” [xiii]
“While the five cent innovation” made a “hit with the ultimate consumer,” Corkhill said, “the same cannot be said of the majority of saloon men, nearly all of whom have added arrows of “gloom” to their regular equipment for the entrapment of patrons.” [xiv]
Thus began the Las Vegas Beer War of 1912.
Adding up the saloons along north First Street and the hotels with bars along Fremont Street, there were 19 establishments where you could purchase beer in Las Vegas in 1912.
Two of the largest operations, Al James and his Arizona Club, and Merrit Pollard of the Overland Bar, at the corner of Main and Fremont Streets, immediately dropped their price to 5 cents a glass. [xv]
The night after the opening of the Northern, the competing saloon operators met and agreed to contact the Maier Brewing Company of Los Angeles their main supplier of beer.
They hoped Maier would reduce the wholesale cost of bottles and kegs of beer. [xvi]
In the meantime, the agreed, each saloon operator was free to act as they wished. They also appointed Pollard as their representative to go to Los Angeles and meet with Maier.[xvii]
1911 Maier’s Beer advertisement.
Pollard’s visit was unsuccessful.
Maier’s made “no concessions” in its wholesale prices.
On his return Pollard, whose bar was on the first floor corner of the Overland Hotel, just across from the railroad depot began promoting the new price.
He put up a big banner with two foot lettering announcing the five cent beer.
Over the next several weeks the beer war raged to the satisfaction of the consumer.
Soon most other saloon owners dropped their price. Others held firm on their price, but offered larger glasses.
A couple of retail outlets said their liquid was worth the price, it was just better beer.
John Wesley Horden, owner of the Las Vegas Hotel and Bar said, he would “meet all competition in the price of beer.” And to celebrate the five cent beer he would throw “a grand lunch and the best orchestra music the town affords. Manager Horden says he does not propose to remain in the rear of any procession that he is in.” [xviii]
The last holdout was the Lincoln Hotel on Main Street. (The building, now known as the Victory Hotel, is still standing, as of February, 2018.)
The price of beer was now five cents a glass and stayed that way for many years.
The Beer War of 1912 marked the beginning of a long and colorful history of the building that started life as the Northern Hotel and Bar.
While Alonzo,“Lon” Groesbeck made many friends in Las Vegas with his five cent beer he also made important enemies.
In Chapter two, “The Northern Hotel and Bar – Raids –Illegal gambling to alcohol.”
Also coming up later in Chapter Three, recently uncovered documents reveal one of Stocker brothers was in prison while another brother, as a teenager, was working the casinos in Mexico.
[i] “Salt Lake Brewery Can Come Back,” December 30, 1911, Clark County Review, page two, “Salt Lake Brewing Co.,” December 30, 1911, Las Vegas Age, page one.
[ii] “Salt Lake Brewing Co.,” September 30, 1911, Las Vegas Age, Las Vegas Age, page one.
[iii] “Salt Lake Brewery Can Come Back,” December 30, 1911, Clark County Review, page two, “Salt Lake Brewing Co.,” December 30, 1911, Las Vegas Age, page one.
[iv] “Salt Lake Brewing Co.,” September 30, 1911, Las Vegas Age, Las Vegas Age, page one.
[v] “Salt Lake Brewing Co.,” September 30, 1911, Las Vegas Age, Las Vegas Age, page one.
[vi] “Salt Lake Brewing Co.,” September 30, 1911, Las Vegas Age, Las Vegas Age, page one.
[vii] “Salt Lake Brewing Co.,” September 30, 1911, Las Vegas Age, Las Vegas Age, page one.
[viii] “The Northern,” March 23, 1912, Las Vegas Age, Page five.
[ix] “The Northern,” March 23, 1912, Las Vegas Age, Page five.
[x] “Northern Opening,” March 30, 1912, Las Vegas Age, page four.
[xi] “Five Cent Beer, Latest Innovation, Causes both Cheer and Consternation,” April 6, 1912, Clark County Review, Page one.
[xii] “Five Cent Beer, Latest Innovation, Causes both Cheer and Consternation,” April 6, 1912, Clark County Review, Page one.
[xiii] “Five Cent Beer, latest Innovation, Causes Both Cheer and Consternation,” April 6, 1912, Clark County Review, page one.
[xiv] “Five Cent Beer, Latest Innovation, Causes both Cheer and Consternation,” April 6, 1912, Clark County Review, Page one.
[xv] “Five Cent Beer, Latest Innovation, Causes both Cheer and Consternation,” April 6, 1912, Clark County Review, Page one.
[xvi] “Five Cent Beer, Latest Innovation, Causes both Cheer and Consternation,” April 6, 1912, Clark County Review, Page one.
[xvii] “Five Cent Beer, Latest Innovation, Causes both Cheer and Consternation,” April 6, 1912, Clark County Review, Page one.
[xviii] “Las Vegas Hotel Meets the Issue,” April 13, 1912, Clark County Review, Page one