From hosting the premiere of the 1960 American classic Ocean’s Eleven, to standing against racial discrimination, the history of the Fremont Theatre is a lost treasure in the Las Vegas desert.
The Fremont Theatre was located inside a hotel of the same name in Las Vegas, Nevada in the 1930s. It was one of the only theaters in town, but visitor attendance was not high enough to keep the Fremont active during the Great Depression period, so it soon fell into disrepair. Irene Dunne, an old film actress, purchased the Fremont, Huntridge, and Guild Theatres and leased them to Gertrude Sperling in 1951. Sperling acquired the theaters as a business endeavor following her divorce, but she quickly found herself out of her depth. For help, she reached out to her daughter and son-in-law, Edythe and Lloyd Katz.
Lloyd had a background in the film industry, having worked for several motion picture companies throughout California and Arizona as a film distributor and was well respected in the business. When his mother-in-law signed a twenty-seven-year lease on the Vegas theaters, Lloyd was head of the Eagle-Lion motion picture company in San Francisco. The Katzes agreed to take over the running the theaters, and they relocated from San Fransisco to Las Vegas in 1951. Upon taking over the theaters, he consulted designers from the Bay Area to renovate the Fremont and began hosting artist releases and premieres to increase visitor attendance. Some of the films that had their first screenings at the Fremont later became classics in American cinema, such as Las Vegas Story and Ocean’s Eleven. Lloyd quickly became known as the “P.T. Barnum of Las Vegas”, bringing a vibrant and often star-studded presence to Fremont Street.
Beyond hosting high-profile events, the Fremont Theatre was also the first Las Vegas theater to desegregate. Growing up in Vegas during the 1960s, Arne Rosencrantz has fond memories of going out with friends to the Saturday matinee showings at the Fremont. It was one of the only theaters where he, as a Black teenager, did not have to worry about segregation. Lloyd and Edythe Katz were dedicated to the Civil Rights movement and set an example by integrating all three movie theaters under their ownership. Lloyd frequently defended his African American patrons and instructed his workers to let guests sit wherever they pleased, regardless of race. When confronted by disgruntled white patrons, Lloyd refused to change his integration policy. Instead, he continued to provide his African American guests with the same service as their white counterparts. Because of this, the Fremont became a favorite entertainment spot for generations of African Americans in Las Vegas. The Katzes operated the Fremont until 1978 when their twenty-seven-year lease expired. The Fremont closed and was demolished in 1981, but its legacy as one of Las Vegas’ first integrated theater lives on in the hearts of many residents.