C’est Las Vegas

To cut to the chase: The Stardust hotel tower came down on schedule last night–2:35 a.m. PDT by my watch. The demolition crew did its job well and the 32 stories of concrete and steel folded into itself and plunged to the desert floor. The blasts startled and deafened; the collapse roared; the ground shook when all that mass slammed into the ground. And the throng, such as it was–a smattering of Stardust fans and former employees scattered among a sparse, subdued crowd that had wandered up the Strip for the night’s best free show–scurried toward the bright lights nearby to get away from a roiling cloud of concrete dust that enveloped the neighborhood. In the quick exodus, I actually heard one person say, “It’s like 9/11.”


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Drive-by, Walk-by


I landed here about 3:30, got a car at about 4, and drove in very slow traffic up The Strip to see what, if anything, was going on at the Stardust. Nothing was visible from the street, anyway, though I’m sure the demolition crews and pyrotechnics and lighting technicians were busy. This is the Stardust–the shell of the 32-story built in 1991 and a satellite nine-story tower at the right–shot from the car across Las Vegas Boulevard at about 5 p.m. I checked into my hotel, the Platinum, on Flamingo, then walked up the Strip to try to get pictures of the Stardust before sunset. I didn’t make it, but the lighting along the street was wonderful and it turned out to be an advantage to show up while it was getting dark. The lighting crew was experimenting with projecting different colors on the tower. Most passers-by didn’t seem to pay much attention, but some were taking pictures. I asked one woman in a strip mall parking lot whether she was going to watch the show after midnight, and she said she and her husband had, by coincidence, gotten a room in the Riviera with a view across the to the Stardust site. Some luck. I expect the streets will be packed by 2 a.m. The tower is supposed to come down, after four minutes of fireworks and other special effects, at 2:35.


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More Stardust Memories


As part of my relentless pursuit of information on the fabulous Stardust Motel in Redding, I noticed a news development in Las Vegas: the Stardust, once a mobster-run gambling palace whose sordid history served as the model for Martin Scorsese’s “Casino,” is about to be demolished. Or to be more precise: demolition crews have been tearing down the satellite buildings around the 63-acre site since the joint closed last November 1. The remaining job consists of imploding a 32-story hotel tower in the center of the site. Although Boyd Gaming, the company that took over the property from its mob owners in the early 1980s, won’t say when the tower will come down, bloggers–notably Joel Rosales of the excellent Leaving Las Vegas (his page documenting the Stardust demo is here) and freelance reporter Steve Friess–have pinned down the date and time as sometime between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. on March 13; in other words, after midnight tonight. Long story made short, I’m flying down there this afternoon to do a freelance story on the event.

At this point, large-scale hotel demolitions are as much a part of the Las Vegas scene as the construction cranes that grow out of the rubble. According to one detailed list, at Las Vegas Today and Tomorrow, the Stardust is the city’s 14th major structure brought down since the first headline event, the implosion of the Dunes in 1993.

One of the striking aspects in the little bit of research I’ve done on the Stardust and the process of clearing the Strip of older buildings to put up ever more spectacular new complexes is the nostalgia projected onto the demolition events and the shocking recency of the structures casino owners are getting rid of. Sure, Las Vegas hotels are little more than barracks for the gambling masses; owners don’t want to make the rooms too nice for most visitors because that might cut into the time people spend down at the slots. And yes, the hotel facilities are used hard by the tens of millions of vacationers and convention-goers who show up every year; so everything needs to be made over just to get people in the door. Still, the Stardust tower that’s supposed to fall tonight is all of 16 years old. What’s to feel sad about?

The nostalgia doesn’t attach to that building, naturally. It attaches to the history, which stretches all the way back to the late ’50s: the Paleozoic Era in Vegas terms. People remember the shows (the Stardust’s Lido is reputed to have offered Vegas’s first topless revue), the real-life mobsters and celebrities, Siegfried and Roy, Wayne Newton, the cheap rooms and cheap eats, the jackpots, the decades that many employees stayed to serve the throngs. The Stardust hotel is far from the youngest building flattened and scraped off the desert floor to make way for something new: As part of the process of redeveloping the Desert Inn site for a complex of new resorts, Steve Wynn had a seven-year-old hotel tower dynamited a few years back. The economics of the place–land going at $30 million an acre and owners and investors chasing a crowd of visitors willing to spend more and more for their Vegas excursions–make knocking down a not-so-old building to put up something new and breathtaking an easy choice.

Anyway. The street in front of the Stardust. That’s where I’ll be tonight. Check out a scoop from the Steve Friess site: The detailed program for the sendoff fireworks show (it’s an eight-page PDF document, fyi).

[Image from: TypeMuseum]

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