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‘Sam’ statue at SLS/Sahara Las Vegas wasn’t going to be saved

Updated August 28, 2019 - 3:20 pm

It’s too late for a “Save Sam” campaign. But the destruction and removal of the Philippe Starck-designed statue at SLS/Sahara Las Vegas on Tuesday night has sparked debate about why the roundish figure wasn’t given a stay of execution.

Las Vegas historian Brian “Paco” Alvarez, who served as interim curator at the Neon Museum and headed up collections at the Liberace Museum, fired off a Twitter post Wednesday morning chiding hotel officials for trashing the statue:

”So an original work of art by renowned designer #PhilippeStarck was destroyed with no thought of donating it to the

@NeonMuseum @UNLVMuseum or future #LasVegas Art Museum? Tisk Tisk @SLSLasVegas.”

SLS/Sahara Las Vegas reps said the 32-foot-tall statue’s structure precluded any plans to move it, even in pieces, for further display.

“Given the way in which the statue was constructed, it was impossible to save the piece for later display at the Neon Museum or elsewhere,” a company PR rep said in a text message. “The construction team reviewed plans and researched removal. The statue was built in place, in pieces, so disassembly was near impossible. The resort’s plans to transform the front porte cochere require the statue’s removal.”

The statue was taken down, effectively chewed apart by a crane bearing the “Sahara” logo, Tuesday night. The celebration was capped by a fireworks display. Officials at the Neon Museum said they were not contacted by hotel execs about possibly displaying the sign.

SLS Las Vegas officially turns over to Sahara Las Vegas on Thursday. The hotel is undergoing a widespread renovation directed by owner Alex Meruelo and his Meruelo Group executives. The Starck statue’s fate has been evident since Meruelo’s purchase of the property, which included the figure out front, was approved by the Nevada Gaming Commission in March 2018.

But there has never been a post-SLS plan for “Sam.” Many of the city’s famed signs and period pieces are restored and displayed at Neon Museum. In January the fully restored, 80-foot-tall Hard Rock Cafe guitar was unveiled at the site.

Alvarez, for one, is acutely familiar with that process, and shook off the hotel’s explanation as to why the Starck statue was trashed. He held up Mr. Lucky at Fitzgerald’s (now the D Las Vegas) and the Stardust starburst sign as examples of complicated projects that were saved.

“When they moved Mr. Lucky from the Fitz to the Neon Museum, they had to remove his arms for removal,” Alvarez said in a text message. “The Stardust sign was taken apart in 8 massive pieces. The SLS just did not want to spend the money.”

The salvaging and restoration process is not cheap. The low estimate for a move of such a piece is between $10,000-$15,000 without any restoration or re-assembly costs (the Hard Rock Cafe sign’s full move and renovation cost was about $350,000).

The “Sam by Starck,” also known as “Saam by Stark,” or simply, “Saam,” was the hotel designer’s tribute to former SLS Las Vegas owner Sam Nazarian. Nazarian and Starck have been close for decades, as Nazarian said in a 2013 interview with the Fast Company design publication: “We’ve created a friendship, a partnership, and more importantly, something like a little brother/big brother type of relationship that’s really evolved through time.”

The statue was unveiled as the hotel reopened in August 2014.

Another artistic element from Starck remains at the hotel: The 12-foot, metal yellow ducky at the hotel’s pool. At this writing, there is no announced plan for that piece, but at the moment the SLS’s dumpsters are full.

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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