It’s just a slash of asphalt in the shadow of the Stratosphere Tower, but humble Baltimore Avenue at last might have found itself in the perfect location.
Unless you’re a transplanted Orioles fan, the street name is unlikely to hold much sentimental value. To the east, it dead ends onto Las Vegas Boulevard South and the Holiday Motel. A short drive west and it empties into Tam Drive.
From Baltimore, you can access the Aztec Inn Casino for a little slot play or the advertised $3.99 breakfast special. After dark, the specials in the area known for drugs and prostitution take on a different connotation.
At Fairfield Avenue, Baltimore’s first cross street, shabby apartments will remind longtime locals of an era in which “Naked City” was a home to sun-bathing showgirls and not careworn humanity.
Baltimore Avenue also provides a side entrance to the remarkable Stratosphere Tower at 2000 Las Vegas Blvd. South, and here is where our story really begins. This is the area that set Bob Stupak, one of the great characters in the history of the Las Vegas casino business, to dreaming big.
The son of a Pittsburgh gambler, Stupak was a consummate huckster in a town with no shortage of them. He bought the former 1.5-acre site of a car dealership and immediately began building a gaming empire in his mind. In reality, turning a profit on that end of the Boulevard was no simple matter.
His first effort, Bob Stupak’s Million Dollar Historic Gambling Museum & Casino, was a homely slot joint that struggled from the start and later burned. “The name was about 10 feet longer than the casino,” Stupak recalled in an interview for my 1997 book, “No Limit.”
Then there was Bob Stupak’s Vegas World with its outer space theme and faux astronaut on the side of the hotel tower. It was the home of Stupak’s vacation and coupon promotions. At Vegas World he generated profits and controversy in almost equal measure.
Finally, Stupak dreamed of a world’s fair-themed casino resort complete with a tower that would make the Seattle Space Needle blush out of a sense of inferiority. He leveraged everything and more to get it done, and in the process lost most of his personal fortune and control of the project, but in the end his 1,149-foot Stratosphere Tower changed the Las Vegas skyline forever.
The hard-living Stupak died at age 67 on Sept. 25, 2009. The amazing Stratosphere turns 20 next year.
The time is right to rename Baltimore Avenue in Stupak’s honor.
The plan started with Nevada Stupak, the late gambler’s son, and has caught the support of City Councilman Bob Coffin, who grew up in the general area and as a schoolboy sold candy door-to-door in Naked City. Coffin, in turn, has received a preliminary thumbs-up from the Stratosphere’s owner, American Casino & Entertainment Properties.
“Bob Stupak, with his eighth-grade education, is proof that dreams come true,” Nevada Stupak says. “Renaming a small part of Baltimore in his honor will further help share the story of the man who risked it all to make that dream a reality.”
If unchallenged, the renaming process isn’t difficult. An honorary change can be done almost immediately. A permanent change to the section of Baltimore that touches the Boulevard will take a couple months, Coffin says.
“I think it’s a great idea,” Coffin says. “I’ve always called it the Stupak Tower.”
In life, Stupak was omnipresent in the area. He lived nearby and ate regularly at the IHOP and the cafe inside White Cross Drugs. He also saw his name attached to a small park and community center not far from the Stratosphere.
His spirit surely kicks around there still.
With Stupak Avenue, the great Las Vegas casino huckster will once again have made a name for himself on the Boulevard.
John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday. Contact him at 702 383-0295, or firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter: @jlnevadasmith.