A history of landmarks never built

Editor’s Note: Nevada 150 is a yearlong series highlighting the people, places and things that make up the history of the state.

For every casino resort idea that became reality and turned Las Vegas into a worldwide destination, it seems there are a few that never opened or even saw a shovel hit the ground.

Projects themed after Elvis Presley, the World Wrestling Federation (now the WWE), Rolling Stone magazine and Harley-Davidson were promoted to investors. Station Casinos publicly discussed a $10 billion, CityCenter-type development on 110 acres, less than a year before its 2009 bankruptcy. Fontainebleau got all the way to the penthouse before financing collapsed. There are too many to mention, but a few stand out.

“There’s a history of such over-the-top-projects that (Clark County) commissioners tend to look favorably on things because in the past people have suggested things that have seemed outrageous and they’ve made them happen,” said David G. Schwartz, director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.

Reno and Atlantic City also have seen interesting casino projects pitched but never built, Schwartz said, but no other gaming destination holds a candle to Las Vegas. Big gambles and broken dreams seem to be part of the community’s fabric.

Dream on the desert

Even in the city’s early years, successful hoteliers and hopeful developers arrived with dreams to turn this stretch of desert into a resort area similar to ones in other railroad towns such as Santa Fe, N.M., or Palm Springs, Calif.

Larry Gragg, chairman of the history and political science department at Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla, Mo., said the 1920s and 1930s saw the first wave of developers pitching ideas, some before casinos were legalized.

“The thinking was Las Vegas has the same attributes as Palm Springs and Santa Fe, it ought to work,” said Gragg, who is researching resorts in early Las Vegas.

In 1936, a group started promoting El Sonador on a plot of land where the unfinished Fontainebleau stands. The Spanish-style resort, promoted by a group from San Diego, promised 100 to 150 rooms, a casino, tennis courts, stables, a large fountain and a pool.

El Sonador’s backers incorporated in January 1936, released a 17-page prospectus and turned to the railroad for potential backing, Gragg said. The railroad had already placed its investment money elsewhere.

“The Union Pacific decided to put a lot of money into the development of Sun Valley in Idaho, and they put about $1 million into that,” he said. “The only thing they offered El Sonador was advertising.”

While the idea survived nearly three years, funding never came and the project died, a recurring theme during the years.

“People come to town and throw an idea out, and if people don’t pick up on it in Las Vegas, they would go on their way,” Gragg said.

Ahead of its time

One of Schwartz’s favorite projects that never was is the Xanadu because a lot of its elements appeared in later resorts.

The idea of a big central atrium wound up in the Luxor, and the building’s step shape is similar to the Showboat in Atlantic City. Xanadu also proposed the first parking garage at a Strip resort.

“Some of the ideas keep on resurfacing,” Schwartz said. “It was interesting because of the degree of integration.”

Martin Stern Jr. had the credentials for the proposed Xanadu at the corner of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, where the Excalibur stands today. In 1975, the land was still vacant. Stern had designed the International, now Westgate Las Vegas, and the original MGM Grand, now Bally’s. So when he pursued the 1,730-room Xanadu project, it zipped right through the county approval process.

But that part of the Strip’s infrastructure was not prepared. While the resort would have had fewer rooms than the International (1,966) or MGM Grand (1,756), the project ultimately faltered because the sewer lines in the area could not accommodate it. Las Vegas officials wanted the builders to pay for the installation of a new line. The developers insisted it wasn’t needed.

The project lives on, in a fashion, on a website maintained by the Center for Gaming Research. “Paradise Misplaced: The Xanadu Hotel Casino” (at gaming.unlv.edu/Xanadu/) features renderings, historical documents and analysis, including the economic feasibility study done for the resort.

Pyramid pipe dream

In the late 1980s, a group of investors and developers pitched a project that would have brought an Egyptian theme to the desert a few years before the 1993 opening of the Luxor.

The rise-and-fall of Pharaoh’s Kingdom happened seemingly overnight, not long before one of its developers ran afoul of the feds.

In September 1988, gaming executive Frank Gambella and out-of-state developer Anthony Silano pitched the 710-acre project east of Las Vegas Boulevard at Pebble Road.

The proposal called for 10 hotels anchored by a 5,000-room tower, a massive casino, an 80-acre theme park, an 18-hole golf course and 700 villas for permanent residents. In a strange twist, plans also included a senior community and hospital, and actor Jack Klugman had signed on to direct a repertory theater that would bear his name.

Two 400-foot towers and 120-story glass pyramids would shadow the development.

In the end, the resort was buried by its own $1.6 billion price tag. Despite the claims by Gambella, a former Golden Nugget and Dunes marketing executive, that the project was a done deal, it never passed the planning stage.

In a Feb. 27, 1991, article, Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith wrote that “Silano was the so-called brain behind the pyramid pipe dream. When the project fizzled soon after it was announced, few familiar with Silano were shocked.”

By 1992, the man Gambella had called “another Steve Wynn,” despite his complete lack of gaming experience, had pleaded guilty in New Orleans to federal conspiracy charges. Silano’s fundraising efforts for Pharaoh’s Kingdom caught the attention of authorities, including financial support from then-Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos.

In 1997, Silano described to a Los Angeles federal court how he and associates hacked Marcos’ Switzerland bank accounts in search of assets following the former dictator’s death in 1989.

Gambella would eventually watch as the Luxor was built, a project he told the Review-Journal in late 1991 made him want to “put my foot right through the television.”

No iceberg needed

Buoyed by the worldwide success of a silver-screen love story framed by the deaths of more than 1,500 people, a Titanic-themed resort was floated by casino owner and failed mayoral candidate Bob Stupak.

His 15-story Titanic would set sail on a stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard where the Thunderbird, now the Aruba Hotel and Club, sat south of Charleston Boulevard.

But it wasn’t an iceberg that sank the idea. Vocal opposition from residents of the historic John S. Park neighborhood prompted the Las Vegas City Council to vote down a zone change for Stupak in May 1999.

And even if the neighbors had not torpedoed the $400 million ship, Stupak also faced a lawsuit from a developer who claimed to own the “Titanic Hotel &Casino” trademark.

Undeterred, Stupak promptly announced another ill-fated scheme: a $20 million plan to restore the Moulin Rouge, the historic property on West Bonanza Road that was the first integrated casino-hotel in Las Vegas. That never happened either, but the casino mogul who died in September 2009 did leave his mark on the valley’s skyline with the Stratosphere.

Reaching for the Moon

What’s a better way to shoot for the moon in Las Vegas than to shop a resort-casino resort to developers based on the actual moon.

One of the more bizarrely themed projects ever touted was the $5 billion, 10,000-room Moon Resort and Casino planned for 250 acres at, well, the creator never said where.

British Columbia resident Michael Henderson unveiled his lunar dreams in 2002 in hopes of attracting investors but was quickly grounded.

Some of the project’s promotional material still lingers online, evoking “a technological and environmental masterpiece that will transport guests to the Earth’s closest celestial partner.”

Plans called for moon buggy rides, an International Space Station and a terrestrial biosphere. The centerpiece would have been a 350-foot-tall multi-floor casino inside a replica of the moon.

And with each ensuing announcement, the dream grew grander. By May 2003, Henderson said Moon would have 50 restaurants, 10 permanent live shows and television and movie production studios. “People are now beginning to understand the Moon is realistic and will definitely happen in the near future,” the release stated.

Schwartz said projects are often announced by developers hoping to attract investors. “That definitely factors into it. It’s a lot easier to raise money if you can say, ‘Hey, it’s already been announced, it’s already been approved,’ than if it’s just an idea you have and keep to yourself.”

Moon never even made it to the launch pad. All that seemed to get built was a really nice model and an Internet landing site for the project, which still exists at moonworldresorts.com.

No crown to fit

While Moon arrived as a concept without a developer, some developers fade in and out of the Las Vegas landscape and leave nothing behind but a trail of failed projects.

Christopher Milam is one such developer.

While Milam was most recently connected to a controversial 2012 Henderson stadium and arena complex deal that ended in a lawsuit, the Texas businessman had already tried and failed to launch an even bigger project.

Six years earlier, he proposed the $5 billion Crown Las Vegas, a casino with a 5,000-room, 1,064-foot hotel tower on the then-vacant Wet ‘n Wild site next to the recently opened SLS Las Vegas (formerly the Sahara). His original request was for a 1,888-foot tower, but airspace concerns from McCarran International Airport, Nellis Air Force Base and the Federal Aviation Administration got more than 800 feet trimmed from what would have been the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere.

Even the scaled-down tower would have rivaled the height of the Stratosphere, less than a mile north on Las Vegas Boulevard.

While Crown Las Vegas was Milam’s brainchild, he was able to lure Australia’s richest man to the project: billionaire James Packer of Publishing and Broadcasting Ltd., who has long tried to get into the Las Vegas casino industry, so far without success.

In May 2007, Packer paid $22.5 million for a 37.5 percent stake in the project. Ten months later, Packer was out, and Milam was trying to refinance another deal for the land, which he never owned.

Dreams continue

Schwartz said grand development dreams are still being dreamt for Las Vegas. Recently a group of Russian investors proposed building a second Strip with 30 to 40 hotel-casinos.

“They actually approached me to do an economic analysis to say this wouldn’t harm the existing properties,” Schwartz said. “That was definitely one of the more over-the-top ones. Of course, they didn’t have the land to build it on.”

Schwartz admitted that he’s not sure if the group was serious or if it was some type of satire.

In Vegas, sometimes it’s hard to tell.

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3882. Find him on Twitter: @KnightlyGrind

ad-high_impact_4
News
Group helping stranded motorists during power outage
A group of Good Samaritans are offering free gas to people in need at the Glendale AM/PM, during a massive power outage near Mesquite on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen falls at Las Vegas parade
U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen of Nevada fell and injured her wrist at the Martin Luther King Day parade in Las Vegas on Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. (Nathan Asselin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Tate Elementary shows academic progress after categorical funding
Students at Tate Elementary in Las Vegas has benefited from a program to boost education funding in targeted student populations, known as categorical funding. One program called Zoom helps students who have fallen below grade level in reading. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Three Square helps TSA workers
Three Square Food Bank donated over 400 care bags to TSA workers affected by the government shutdown Wednesday, filled with food, personal hygiene products and water.
Las Vegas furniture store donates to Clark County firehouses
Walker Furniture donated new mattresses to all 30 Clark County firehouses in the Las Vegas Valley, starting today with Station 22. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Naft sworn in to Clark County Commission
Michael Naft, chosen by Gov. Steve Sisolak to be his replacement on the Clark County Commission, was sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas police piecing together details of fatal shooting
Six hours after the fact, Las Vegas homicide detectives worked to reconstruct the scene of a shooting early Jan. 7 that left one man dead in the southeast valley. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dyer Lawrence explains college football playoff system proposal
Las Vegan Dyer Lawrence has a new idea for a college football playoff system that includes a unique scheduling component called National Call Out Day. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death row inmate Scott Dozier found dead in his cell
Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier is dead. Dozier’s death ends his legal odyssey, which began in 2007 when he was convicted in the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, but does little to clarify what’s next for Nevada’s death penalty.
I-15 southbound near Primm closed after ‘major crash’
A rollover crash Saturday morning involving at least nine vehicles on southbound Interstate 15 near Primm caused an hourslong traffic delay. Traffic was backed up to Sloan, live traffic cameras show. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death Valley visitors deal with shutdown
Visitors staying at the Furnace Creek Campground were forced to move from the campground following health and safety concerns due to lack of resources during the partial government shutdown at Death Valley National Park in Calif., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph
Half of homicides in Henderson for 2018 domestic violence related
Lt. Kirk Moore of the public information office of the city of Henderson police department speaks to the Review-Journal in Henderson, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Henderson saw a slight increase in homicides in the past year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak stops by Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak kicks off his tour to Carson City, which will take him from Las Vegas, through Tonopah, and up to the capital city. First stop is the Downtown Boys & Girls Club.
Certificates for renewing wedding vows in Clark County
The Marriage License Bureau in Clark County began issuing a Certificate of Vow Renewal to married couples who are renewing their wedding vows on Jan. 3, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas flu season better than last year (so far)
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief medical officer and director of clinical services at the Southern Nevada Health District, said there were 24 flu-related deaths at this point in the flu season. No deaths have been reported so far this year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Las Vegas Valley’s First Baby of 2019
The first 2019 baby in the Las Vegas Valley was Melialani Chihiro Manning, born at 12:10 a.m. at Henderson Hospital. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Sources: Henderson Constable may face more charges
Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell may face additional charges ... stemming from his spending of county funds, sources said. Mitchell was indicted earlier this month on five felony theft and fraud charges ... after a Las Vegas Review-Journal story questioned his spending. But grand jury records show even more extensive spending including ... an $800 dinner at steakhouse ... nearly 200 atm withdrawals mostly at gambling establishments ... and even Disneyland tickets. But his attorney plans to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
Las Vegas NYE Restrictions and Enhanced Security
If you are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip or Fremont Street, be aware that you are not allowed to bring backpacks, coolers, strollers or glass. There will also be an increase in security to ensure safe celebrations across town.
Catholic Charities serves up 53rd annual Christmas dinner
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and more than 100 volunteers served 1,000 Christmas meals to Southern Nevada's homeless and less fortunate. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @kmcannonphoto)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jeffrey Martin Added To Nevada's Black Book
Martin was one of four men convicted of theft and cheating at gambling in 2016 in Clark County District Court and sentenced to prison. The Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously Thursday to include Martin in the black book.
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
TOP NEWS
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
Circular
You May Like

You May Like