What goes up must come down. It’s the Vegas way.
In a town that traces its beginnings to the dawn of the 20th century — and has gone through incarnations as a railroad town, the gateway to Boulder (now Hoover) Dam and home to wild Western gambling halls, classy "carpet joints" and today’s high-rise, high-style megaresorts — it’s hardly surprising that Las Vegas fixtures turn over faster than a flip of a card or roll of the dice.
Little wonder, then, that the town’s focus always has been on the latest and greatest, leaving the stupendous sights of yesteryear languishing in the shadows — if those sites manage to survive at all.
More often, Las Vegas landmarks of all stripes don’t survive to crumble before our eyes; they’re blasted to smithereens, replaced by newer, shinier updates designed to catch the eyes — and the cash — of the millions who crowd the Strip every year, hoping Lady Luck will smile on them.
But those of us whose Las Vegas stays extend decades, not days, observe the ever-changing skyline — and recall past attractions, persistent ghosts that materialize whenever a reminder of what used to be surfaces once again, as in these few random pages from the Vegas scrapbook of our minds. Here’s looking at you, kids — and thanks for the memories.
We all know how explosively exciting Las Vegas can be. And, as if compelled to demonstrate that fact, some of Las Vegas’ most storied edifices have gone out in successive blazes of glory. In addition to the Desert Inn, the Sands (the fabled "Place in the Sun" that served as Rat Pack central) bit the desert dust where The Venetian now stands. The oasis known as the Dunes made way for the Bellagio. Other destructo-Vegas casualties range from the sparkling Stardust and the no-longer-a-Landmark to the Frontier, the Hacienda, the Silver Slipper, Castaways, Slots-a-Fun and, on Boulder Highway, that bowling mecca known as the Showboat.
Once upon a time, in the fabulous ’50s, Las Vegas celebrated the Atomic Age — and its proximity to the Nevada Test Site, where Cold War-era bomb blasts triggered viewing parties and related celebrations of America’s nuclear prowess. More space-age fallout: out-of-this-world edifices that resembled flying saucers, including the towering Landmark (which invading Martians blasted in 1996’s "Mars Attacks!") and the Las Vegas Convention Center’s signature rotunda, replaced by a hardly blastoff-worthy exhibit hall.
Remember Quark’s Bar at the Las Vegas Hilton’s Star Trek: The Experience? The Sky Screamer at the MGM Grand Adventures? How about the MGM’s walk-through "Wizard of Oz" attraction? Wet ‘n Wild, which spent 20 seasons on the Strip cooling off summer visitors with the Lazy River, Surf Lagoon, Raging Rapids and Der Stuka’s plunging 76-foot slide? They’re all gone, along with such fellow casualties as Luxor’s simulated Nile Cruise, Excalibur’s Jester’s Stage, Cranberry World, Caesars Palace’s Magical Empire (alias Caesars Tragical Empire) — and Fremont Street before the Experience.
The Dunes’ 35-foot sultan stood tall for three decades until he lost his head (and the rest of him) in a 1985 fire. Aladdin’s lamp sparkled until the casino became Planet Hollywood; the Silver Slipper’s namesake footwear twirled above the casino until its 1988 shutdown. At least the lamp and the slipper survive as part of the neon signs on display along Las Vegas Boulevard North, which is more than we can say for Treasure Island’s Long-Gone-Silver marquee; in a spectacular "Yo ho" no-no, the casino sent its grinning buccaneer skull to Davy Jones’ Locker — just before the first "Pirates of the Caribbean" movie made pirates boffo box office once again.
From old domes (the Cinerama Dome on Maryland Parkway and Caesars Palace’s domed Omnimax) to those newfangled multiplexes — the original 11-screen Red Rock on West Charleston, one of the first multiscreen theaters in the U.S. — Las Vegas has plenty of gone-but-not-forgotten movie palaces, downtown’s El Portal and the streamline Huntridge among them. We also mourn the loss of the very first in-casino theater: the Gold Coast Twin. But there’s one theater we miss even more: the clubby theater at the old MGM Grand (now Bally’s sports book), where you could watch more stars than there are in heaven (Cary Grant! Judy Garland!) in surroundings as classy as the movies themselves.
The Liberace Museum’s 31-year run proved almost as legendary as its musical namesake. When it closed last year, the piano palace joined a variety of institutions, some more cultural than others. At one end of the spectrum: The Venetian’s two Guggenheim museums and the Las Vegas Art Museum. At the other: Elvis-A-Rama. Somewhere in between: Debbie Reynolds’ Hollywood memorabilia bonanza, home to costumes worn by everyone from Judy Garland to Marilyn Monroe.
ONLY IN VEGAS
Oh, for the days when you had to feed real coins into slot machines, hoping to hit so a cascade of same (silver dollars to pennies) would spill forth, making metallic music and announcing your jackpot to fellow gamblers. Or for the days when you could toast the good times from the Top of the Dunes, or the Top of the Landmark, or the Top of the Mint. Feasting on the Green Shack’s fried chicken. Cruising Glitter Gulch — before Fremont Street got Experience. These are a few of our favorite things that may be gone — but remain on permanent deposit in our souvenir Vegas memory bank.