History Vegas Style

Going out-of-town for the holidays to a small town where temperatures never cracked above freezing provided lots of contemplation time as well as abundant exercise opportunities for my right thumb via a television remote control. I’m an historian by training, so as one might expect I gravitated towards the History Channel and its ilk. Has anyone else noted the preponderance of pseudo-reality television shows clustered therein from Las Vegas, Nevada?

I bet some of you thought I was going to rail against the lack of actual history programming on the History Channel, like Senator Chuck Grassley (of the geo-eponymous Full Grassley). I’ll save that for someone else. I can do mindless TV with the best of them so it doesn’t bother me. I don’t particularly care whether there’s minimal historical content on the History Channel or discovery on the Discovery Channel or learning on the Learning Channel, or most famously to the point of self-parody, music on MTV. Sometimes I simply want to be entertained and that’s enough. I’ll read a book when I’m craving serious history.

No, I had Vegas on my mind. It probably had something to do with my recent Frank Sinatra article. I began to wonder, as the shows blended into each other hour-after-hour, whether I could use Google Maps to find their filming locations. While the episodes were largely contrived, the underlying businesses actually existed so they should be easy to locate.

Cursory research quickly revealed the source of The History Channel cluster, an outfit known as Leftfield Pictures. Their most successful series to-date has been Pawn Stars which launched in 2009. This served as Leftfield’s platform to spin-off various derivative programs. Pawn Stars was set in Las Vegas so the others businesses happened to be nearby. Had Pawn Stars spawned elsewhere then we’d probably have seen a cluster of shows in some other town.

I enjoy Pawn Stars although I’m not a big fan of it’s name. I don’t think of myself as being Puritanical by nature. Still, the name feels gratuitous.

Gold & Silver Pawn: 713 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV

Anyway, the show focused on the daily adventures at Gold & Silver Pawn Shop where people came to pawn or sell their wares. The proprietors examined prospective merchandise and talked about objects in an historical context while assessing dollar values, which I guess is sufficient "history" to qualify it for the History Channel. It included the usual reality show stereotypes of inter-generational differences, family strife, financial miscalculations, oddball customers and a village idiot character thrown in for comic relief. It seemed to sidestep the whole down-on-their-luck gambler vibe that undoubtedly drives a lot of Vegas pawnshop business although one could catch just a whiff of desperation in the eyes of some of the customers.

The Google Street View image will seem familiar to anyone who has watched the show even once because the exterior appears frequently. What surprised me was the long queue of tourists waiting outside the shop. Gold & Silver Pawn has apparently become quite an attraction due to the success of the show. Supposedly the pawnshop attracted maybe a hundred visitors per day before the series aired and thousands per day afterwards.

Despite the show’s popularity, one can find a glimpse of the grittier side of Las Vegas through the company it keeps along Las Vegas Boulevard, a sampling of which includes Showgirl Video; Jailbusters Bail Bonds; Graceland Wedding Chapel; Super Bail Bonds; Cupid’s Wedding Chapel; and Nevada Title and Payday Loans. That’s not intended to disparage any of these perfectly legitimate businesses (I was quite pleased with my Elvis renewal of the vows for example). It’s intended to demonstrate that life is a little different just a few blocks away from the glittering casinos of the Strip.

Rick’s Restorations: 1112 S. Commerce St., Las Vegas, NV

Rick Dale of Rick’s Restorations appeared regularly on Pawn Stars to the point that Leftfield Pictures figured he could anchor his own show. American Restoration, known in some markets outside of the United States as Kings of Restoration, debuted in the latter part of 2010. It’s the same basic formula and same guilty pleasure, although a different business model (restoring old metal objects and machines), located just around the corner from Gold & Silver Pawn.

Rick’s Restorations didn’t seem to have achieved the public visibility of Gold & Silver Pawn, at least not by the time Street View last rolled past it. The business is housed within a light industrial area without any clear signage that I could discern. I recognized the restaurant supply shop across the street from one of the episodes so I know it had to be within this general vicinity. I’m not convinced that Google Maps recorded the exact spot either although it must be somewhere nearby.

Similarly, Count’s Kustoms (map) was featured on both shows and served as the inspiration for Counting Cars in autumn 2012. The same winning formula applied once again, albeit focused on the restoration and customization of automobiles and motorcycles.

All of these shows feed off each other and rely upon a common set of experts and appraisers who drop-in randomly for supporting cameo roles. The most unlikely recurring character may have to be Mark Hall-Patton, an administrator and curator for the Clark County Heritage Museum (map) and the Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum (map). Even he seemed perplexed by his popularity. You’ll recognize him instantly if you’ve watched even a small number of episodes.

I did stumble across one more (seemingly unrelated) reality show with a similar formula set in Las Vegas. This one appeared on the Animal Planet channel and it was called Tanked. I’m not sure if it had something to do with the success of Pawn Stars or whether it was completely coincidental. Let’s add it as an honorable mention.

Acrylic Tank Manufacturing: 6975 South Decatur Blvd., Las Vegas, NV

Tanked employed basically the same schtick with a company that built custom aquariums. Acrylic Tank Manufacturing created unique installations filled with exotic ocean species for fancy shops, the nouveau riche and B-list celebrities in search of easy publicity, from what I could gather. I guess the fish in the tank were enough to qualify it for Animal Planet status.

Let’s mix all of these programs together to form a Las Vegas tour of business-oriented reality television shows. I’m not much of a gambler so I may have to undertake this in person the next time I travel to Vegas. If I’m feeling lazy I could even take the bus tour instead.

Reality Show Road Trip

It’s an easy drive starting from McCarran International Airport (site of the Aviation Museum) and continuing in fairly linear fashion, ending at the the grand-daddy of them all: Gold & Silver Pawn.

  • Point A: Howard W. Cannon Aviation Museum; 5757 Wayne Newton Blvd.
  • Point B: Acrylic Tank Manufacturing; 6975 South Decatur Blvd.
  • Point C: Count’s Kustoms; 2714 S Highland Dr.
  • Point D: Rick’s Restorations; 1112 S. Commerce St.
  • Point E: Gold & Silver Pawn; 713 Las Vegas Blvd. S.

This 16.3 mile (26 km) road trip should take about 33 minutes. One could shave a few minutes from the travel time by diverting to Interstate 15. I thought that it would be more appropriate to take Frank Sinatra Drive, though.

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