Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Drive as far north as you can on Frank Sinatra Drive and you face two choices, a left turn onto Dean Martin Drive or a right onto Industrial Road.
For a Rat Pack fan like Josh Elliott there’s something wrong with that intersection. The Las Vegas accountant’s solution: Change the name of northbound Industrial to Sammy Davis Jr. Parkway and create a “reunion” of three of the biggest entertainers to ever perform on the Strip and honor an important piece of Las Vegas history.
“One of the biggest ways to pay homage to an individual is to have something named in honor of them,” he said.
Elliott is no stranger to the process of changing street names. In the late 1980s, he was instrumental in helping convert Highland Avenue into Martin L. King Boulevard to honor the slain civil rights leader.
His current proposal would rename Industrial as Sammy Davis Jr. Parkway between Twain and Sahara avenues. If the county agrees to the change, he plans to request that Las Vegas rename Industrial as Sammy Davis Jr. Parkway all the way north to Martin L. King Boulevard.
The proposal has the support of Tracey Davis, the entertainer’s daughter who resides in Encino, Calif. She plans to appear before the Clark County Planning Commission on Sept. 6 for a hearing on the proposal.
There are certainly more glamorous thoroughfares than Industrial, but Davis thinks it’s fitting to have three streets named for members of the Rat Pack intersect — it “could almost be a postcard with Frank, Dean and Sammy,” she said. “If I had a choice between where the street would be or having the three of them come together, the coming together is more important.”
Often billed on the Strip as simply “Sammy,” Davis was a consummate song-and-dance man and an entertainer who helped define a Las Vegas act during that era. When he teamed with Sinatra, Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop on the stage or in films, the group was known as the Rat Pack.
“He didn’t need to have 25 hit songs,” his daughter said. “All he needed was a microphone and an orchestra and he would give the audience a good time. He contributed a lot to the development of Las Vegas in terms of entertainment.”
Davis’ influence extended beyond entertainment, said Mark Hall-Patton, administrator of the Clark County museum system and author of “Asphalt Memories,” a book on the origin of street names in the county. Davis was a key figure in the civil rights movement here, becoming one of the first black performers in Las Vegas to be featured on a Strip marquee.
“There has been a lot of talk in the last couple of years by people who wanted to rename a street for Sammy Davis Jr.,” Hall-Patton said. “He’s a great candidate.”
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.
Davis first performed in Las Vegas in the 1940s with the Will Mastin Trio and became a regular here for decades.
Like other black entertainers, Davis initially was forced to room in West Las Vegas even while performing at big resorts because of racial segregation policies.
“He was cognizant of the inequalities he faced when he first came here,” Hall-Patton said.
But those barriers eventually fell thanks in part to Davis. Although he earned as much as $25,000 a week by the late 1950s, he was still barred from gambling or mingling with white customers in resort restaurants, prompting him to storm through a casino floor and out the front door in protest.
Sinatra joined Davis in the fight against discrimination by casinos, and the hotels began changing their policies.
Tracey Davis said she believes the success of that protest led to the 1960 film “Ocean’s Eleven,” in which her father and other Rat Pack members played a gang of thieves who pull off a Las Vegas casino heist.
Elliott’s vision for the intersection he hopes will bring together Davis, Sinatra and Martin is this: “I would love to see a museum dedicated to them at that location.” The hard part is getting the county to approve the street name change and coming up with the funds to pay for it, which is the responsibility of the applicant.
It wasn’t enough for Elliott to come up with the $300 to apply for the street name change. Because he doesn’t own property on Industrial, he needed someone who does to sponsor his application. It so happens that his attorney, Jay Brown, also represents Sapphire Gentlemen’s Club, 3025 Industrial Road, and its owner Peter Feinstein, who agreed to sponsor the application.
He cleared another hurdle Aug. 9, when the Winchester Town Advisory Board gave its approval for the change.
Up next is the Paradise Town Advisory Board, which will consider the proposal Tuesday. Those recommendations will be forwarded to the planning commission and then to the Clark County Commission.
If his application is approved, Elliott would be required to pay for new street signs. A county senior planner, Greg Cerven, has recommended that the application be denied because the name change would affect 90 addresses and many more businesses, forcing them to spend money to change business cards, stationery, checks, signs and advertising.
Elliott said he formed a committee to raise money to help defray those costs, estimated to be as much as $30,000.
But because Tracey Davis represents her father’s estate, she opposes the idea of letting Elliott do the fundraising.
Instead, she is planning to throw a party in honor of her father’s birthday Dec. 8 at Caesars Palace, billing it as a joint fundraiser for the street name change and to benefit the nonprofit Community Hospital of San Bernardino, where the entertainer’s life was saved after he was critically injured in a 1954 auto accident that cost him his left eye.
“This is something for the Davis family to take on,” she said.