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 I don’t particularly care whether there’s minimal historical content on the History Channel or discovery on the Discovery Channel or learning on the Learning Channel, or most famously to the point of self-parody, music on MTV.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.
As Ol’ Blue Eyes — Francis Albert “Frank” Sinatra — so famously sang:
If I can make it there
I’ll make it anywhere
It’s up to you
Say what?!? Frank Sinatra was born in Hoboken, New Jersey in 1915, not New York City, and that’s where he lived his first couple of decades including his formative years as a performer.
(Now I can’t get that blasted song out of my head. Maybe you should turn it on in the background and join me.)
View Larger Map
The fine residents of Hoboken don’t want anyone to forget that point, or be overshadowed by their rivals directly across the Hudson River either. Sinatra is their son despite what the song may imply. I’m pretty sure I had a general awareness of the Hoboken connection although it didn’t have much meaning to me until I noticed Frank Sinatra Drive (above) and the park of the same name that runs along its edge while updating my United States Ferry Map.(1)
Hoboken wasn’t the only place to claim a slice of the Frank Sinatra legacy. He was also intractably intertwined with Las Vegas, Nevada. Unsurprisingly, Sin City played homage to the crooner through a broad avenue hugging the eastern edge of Interstate 15, paralleling the western side of the Las Vegas Strip. It provides easy backdoor access to many of the famous Vegas Strip casinos including of course New York New York. I guess that makes sense too. Once again, Frank Sinatra can be found just to the west of New York. Hoboken needs to tip its hat to its friends in Nevada for geographical accuracy.
View Larger Map
Notice how Dean Martin Drive hugs the other side of I-15 and then crosses beneath the interstate to join Frank Sinatra Drive? They join and become Industrial Drive. There was a "push to change Industrial Drive to Sammy Davis Jr. Parkway" as recently as 2011.
If the Davis name change is approved, he would join a growing list of Strip entertainers whose names grace the valley street signs: Elvis Presley Court, Jimmy Durante Boulevard, Debbie Reynolds Drive, Jerry Lewis Way, Mel Torme Way, Wayne Newton Boulevard and Roy Horn Way.
I don’t know whether this effort will succeed although the proposal gained support and began fundraising to pay for signage. It would be great cosmic justice to reunite the three leading members of the Rat Pack in Vegas, even figuratively. The intersection seems otherwise unremarkable on its own merits (street view) and could use some improvements or at least a little notoriety.
View Larger Map
Additionally Sinatra had an association with Rancho Mirage, California where he lived in "The Compound" at 70588 Frank Sinatra Drive, along a fairway of the Tamarisk Country Club.
Sinatra built this sprawling 2.5 acre residence in 1954 to include a main house, movie theatre, five guest houses, an actual train caboose turned into a barbershop and sauna, two swimming pools, tennis courts, and a personal art studio. Each building was named after one of his songs: New York, New York, High Hopes, The Tender Trap, Send In the Clowns, Chicago, and My Way.
This period coincided with the golden age of Palm Springs at the midpoint of the Twentieth Century when movie stars and entertainment legends gathered in the desert east of Hollywood for drinking, carousing and golf.
Various roads named for Frank Sinatra span the globe, with no discernible connection to his legacy beyond a simple memorial placed by appreciative fans. I found Frank Sinatra Place in El Paso, Texas (map) along with various other tribute streets (Cheryl Ladd? Really?). Frank Sinatra can also be found in a trailer park in Mesa, Arizona (map) where he’s paired with Rin Tin Tin and Lassie, but also with Marilyn Monroe and Mae West (shortened erroneously by the map bots at Google to "May W."(2) Both were uncovered with just a few minutes of searching. There must be considerably more Sinatra this-that-or-the-other detritus scattered about the United States.
View Larger Map
International tributes can be discovered easily, too. I think I’m partial to Frank-Sinatra-Straße, in Steinheim an der Murr, Germany were he keeps good company with John Lennon, George Harrison, Louis Armstrong and Janis Joplin plus a raft of classical music composers. Rua Frank Sinatra in São Paulo, Brazil probably comes in a close second (map) were he’s paired with Martin Luther King and Che Guevara. Frank Sinatra, Martin Luther King and Che Guevara would have been a much more interesting Rat Pack. It sounds like the setup for a bad joke: "Frank Sinatra, Martin Luther King and Che Guevara walk into a bar…"
(2) I’m not sure why I find it so funny. In this instance shortening West to W. is completely inappropriate because West is a surname in this context rather than a cardinal direction. I’d like to think it’s an Easter Egg placed by Google Maps although the stupid bot theory is considrably more likely. Occam’s razor and such. My amusement probably has more to do with the bottom entry on this old article.
Have you ever dropped into Google Street View and found terrain that just didn’t "look right," that differed from your expectations? I think we all have stereotypical preconceptions of how a place is supposed to appear, especially if we’ve never fully explore the area in person. Below is the image that surprised me a few days ago. See if you can guess the location. I guarantee you’re very familiar with its name. One could always hover a cursor over the image and reveal the answer instantaneously, but why spoil the fun? Scroll down when you’re ready for the answer.
View Larger Map
It’s Los Angeles, California. I’ll confess I cheated just a little bit. It’s the county of Los Angeles (map) as oppose to the City of Los Angeles (map) which is also part of the county. Still, a resident of this desert patch in the farthest reaches of northeastern Los Angeles County could say with a half-straight face that she lives in Los Angeles. Those not familiar with the area tend to forget just how far it sprawls, and that it’s not solely oceanfront, palm trees, traffic jams and endless subdivisions. Nearly ten million people live in Los Angeles County, but not in this corner.
Ready from another one? I’ll follow a similar pattern. I’ll post the image first and the answer below it. Scroll past the image when you’re ready and see if your mind took you in the proper direction. Remember, it’s not as it seems. The immediate answer will always be incorrect although other subtle clues may reveal it.
Statue of Liberty
SOURCE: Flickr via Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).
I’ll start with an easy one. Let’s begin with the premise that it’s not the real Statue of Liberty. How many fake Statues of Liberty could there be? More than I imagined, actually. I had to use a Flickr photograph instead of Street View because it would have become too obvious (see what I mean?). This version is a half-scale replica standing in front of the New York – New York Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The U.S. Postal Service admitted that it printed three billion postage stamps with the image of the wrong Statue of Liberty in 2011, the one in Las Vegas instead of the actual Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. An eagle-eyed stamp collector noticed certain differences in facial features and hair style. Linn’s Stamp News broke the story and it spread to the mainstream news media. The New York Times reported,
You might think that the post office would have just gone with the original, the one off the tip of Lower Manhattan that for 125 years has welcomed millions of New York’s huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Instead, they accidentally used the 14-year-old statue that presides over thousands of weary gamblers a week.
Context, of course, makes all of the difference. Only an expert can tell the difference when pertinent visual clues have been removed.
A Day in the Park
View Larger Map
What could be nicer than a day in the countryside on a lovely green lawn? Would you believe a lovely lawn in the middle of the inhospitable Australian Outback? One generally considers the Outback to practically define rugged, remote and dry. Nonetheless thirty-thousand people live Alice Springs in the Northern Territory deep within that expanse. They certainly deserve to have an attractive facility like the Jim McConville Oval where they can play "softball, junior baseball, slo-pitch, cricket, football" and the like. It’s odd to see a patch of sod in the desert, and in fact, swing the street view image around and notice how dry it appears elsewhere.
Ver mapa más grande
You’ve probably got the hang of this game now. It’s not China and I’d venture that many of you already concluded that it must be Chinatown. But which one? This one happens to be in Mexico City, which I did not realize had a Chinatown until I wrote this. The arch can be found near Barrio Chino which is centered nearby along Dolores Street. Many Chinese immigrants came to Mexico at the turn of the last century for many of the reasons they also came to the United States: as an abundant labor supply, particularly for railroad construction. The Chinese community has largely assimilated into the larger Mexican population and Chinatown today has been reduced to a couple of blocks.
English Town Square
SOURCE: Flickr via Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0) license.
I desperately wanted Google Street View imagery for this location so I could wander through it vicariously but Google doesn’t provide that type of coverage in this country yet (hint). Welcome to Thames Town, not somewhere in England but an area of Songjiang Town near Shanghai, China. That’s nowhere near its namesake but right along the Yangtze River instead. This is a 21st Century housing development built intentionally in an English architectural style. They even have a website which is almost legible when run through translation software.
The Guardian featured Thames Town in an article prior to its construction,
With a fake turreted castle and at least one windmill, there is a danger that the site in Songjiang could turn into a British Disneyland that might serve as a monument to the excesses of Shanghai’s overheated property market. But the architects say they are designing a working community.
That ideal does appear to have been delivered judging by photographs available through the Intertubes.
Where could this be? It’s very clearly a mosque with minarets but it’s not located anywhere near the Middle East. This is the Berlin Mosque (Die Moschee, Berlin), the oldest mosque in Germany and dates to the late 1920′s. It was damaged but not completely destroyed during World War II and renovations are still underway even today.
I’m sure the 12MC audience can find other unusual juxtapositions like the ones I’ve highlighted. Please feel free to post them along with a map links in the comments.