Friday, June 26, 2020

RonnieAdventure #0418, Las Vegas, The Ghost Town Part VII, Nevada

After the United States started numbering highways, US Highway 93 and US Highway 95 passed through downtown Las Vegas on Fremont Street. However, as the Interstate Freeway system expanded, highway traffic was rerouted onto Interstate 515; thus, bypassing the downtown area.  

To attract visitors to the historic casinos, in 1994 a five-block section of Fremont Street was closed to vehicular traffic and converted into a pedestrian mall. The mall was covered with a 1,375-foot long canopy that contained 2.1 million electric light bulbs. Each light bulb contained four different colored filaments that were computer controlled to present night-time light shows. 

The light shows were difficult to see and lacked clarity, so in 2004 the light bulbs were replaced with 12.5-million LED lamps that could display more color combinations and patterns. Stage shows were added at several locations under the canopy and other performing artist were provided spaces along the pedestrian mall to demonstrate their talents. Over 60% of all Las Vegas visitors now visit Fremont Street to see the performers and light shows.

Fremont Street is known for a number of firsts in Las Vegas: location of first establishment to have indoor plumbing (1905), first hotel (1906), first telephone (1907), first paved street (1925), first gaming license, traffic light and elevator (1932), first high-rise hotel (1956), first carpeting in a casino, and first building designed as a casino. Most early photographs of Las Vegas featured Fremont Street, which became known as "Glitter Gulch" because of the number of large neon signs on the casino fronts. Two of the most famous signs were "Vegas Vic" and "Sassy Sally." They were so popular that they actually held a wedding ceremony and married the two.

The Plaza Hotel & Casino is located at the west end of Fremont Street where it dead-ends at Main Street. Originally, this was the site of the Las Vegas Train Station.

In 1970 the train station was demolished and the Plaza Hotel/Casino was constructed in its place. Since Amtrak still needed a ticket window and passenger waiting area, the Plaza included an Amtrak facility within the casino, making it the only train station facility in the United States located in a casino. 

The famous glass dome on top of the Plaza hotel is now home to award-winning Oscar's Steakhouse, which is named after Mayor Oscar Goodman. Before becoming Mayor of Las Vegas, Goodman was the famous mob attorney that defended Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, Jamiel "Jimmy" Chagra, Anthony "Tony the Ant" Spilotro, Herbert "Fat Herbie" Blitzstein, Nicky Scarfo, Moe Dalitz, and many others. Not only was Oscar a great attorney for the mob, he was the greatest mayor Las Vegas has ever had. He and his wife Carolyn, who is now mayor, have promoted Las Vegas around the world as a major tourist destination. Everyone needs to visit Las Vegas at least once their lifetime!   

For all of the Pickleball players, you should know that the Plaza contains 12 Pickleball courts and hosts the annual Las Vegas Pickleball Open each year in September.

Main Street Station Hotel/Casino is located just north of the Plaza and is connected to the California Hotel/Casino by an enclosed skywalk. The property was built in 1978 and has had numerous financial problems over the years. It is one of the few hotel/casinos in Las Vegas that went through a foreclosure and was owned by a bank. 

History buffs like visiting Main Street Station because there is a self-guided tour of the property that includes a portion of the Berlin Wall, stained glass from the Lillian Russell Mansion, doors and facades from the Kuwait Royal Bank, doors from the George Pullman Mansion, the Louisa May Alcott Pullman Car, chandeliers from the Coco-Cola building and the Figaro Opera House, and various statues from around the world. The portion of the Berlin Wall is displayed in the men's restroom and is used as a backdrop for the urinals.

The California Hotel/Casino was built in 1975 by Boyd Gaming. They still own and operate the property, which is unusual for Las Vegas where gaming properties frequently change ownership. Entrance to the property is from Ogden Avenue that is one block north of Fremont Street.

The California Hotel/Casino caters to visitors from Hawaii and offers various vacation packages and subsidized air fares. Restaurants in the hotel offer Hawaiian food and other Island amenities. There is a large Hawaiian population in Las Vegas and Hawaiians often refer to Las Vegas as the "Ninth Island."

In 1989 Stanley Fujitake set a record in the casino by rolling craps dice three hours and six minutes without loosing (118 times). Fujitake's achievement started the term "Golden Arm" for anyone that has rolled dice for over one hour without loosing. 

The casino also has a Platinum Arm Club honoring anyone who rolled dice for over 90 minutes without loosing, or for over 1 hour each on two different occasions. Fujitake's record held for 20 years and was then broken in 2009 by a person at the Borgata Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, who rolled without loosing 154 times over a period of 4 hours and 18 minutes.

The Golden Gate Hotel/Casino is located on the southeast corner of  Fremont and Main Streets and has the distinction of having the address "One Fremont Street." It is the smallest and oldest  hotel on Fremont Street.

When the property opened in 1931 it was named "Sal Sagev," which is "Las Vegas" spelled backward. However, in 1955 the property was rebranded with a San Francisco theme and became known for its cheap Shrimp Cocktails. I'm not a seafood person, but I did like their Shrimp Coctails -  maybe it was just the $0.99 price that I liked!

The Circa Resort & Casino is currently under construction and projected to be completed before the end of 2020. When completed there will be 777 hotel rooms and the casino will have the largest sports book in Ls Vegas.

The Golden Nugget Hotel/Casino is probably the most luxurious hotel on Fremont Street. It was built in 1946, but has been renovated and expanded numerous times. In 1973 Steve Wynn purchased a majority interest in the property and became the youngest casino owner in Las Vegas.

The property gets its name from the gold nuggets on display in the hotel lobby, including the World's Largest Gold Nugget ("The Hand of Faith") that weighs 960 ounces and is 18 inches in length. The nugget was found near Kingower, Victoria, Australia.

Kids like staying at the property because of the large swimming pools and aquariums. One of the aquariums contains full grown sharks and one of the swimming pool slides goes through the shark tank in an enclosed tube. 

The story of the Golden Nugget Hotel/Casino was the basis for "The Casino" television series that first aired in 2004.

Binion's Gambling Hall & Hotel was built in 1951 and named for its founder Benny Binion. The property was built with a frontier theme that had a historic riverboat-styled casino with low ceilings, velvet wallpaper, and sawdust floors.

Shortly after the property opened, Benny lost his gaming license and served time in Leavenworth Penitentiary from 1953-57 for tax evasion. While Benny was in prison, his kids obtained a gaming license and with the help of Benny's friends they ran the property until he was released. After Benny was released from prison he was considered to be a felon, so he could never again obtain a gaming license; but in reality, Benny ran the operation as a "consultant."

Until 2004 Binion's was a family run property. The events that happened after Benny's death are so bizarre that numerous books, movies, and television shows have been based on the family's interactions with each other. 

Ted probably gained the most notoriety because of his drug use and mob connections that eventually banned him from even entering the property. After Ted was removed from the casino, he hid a stash of silver bars and other valuables in a desert vault, then died under unusual circumstances. His girlfriend and her lover were found guilty of murdering Ted, but on a retrial they were acquitted. A large part of Ted's "treasure" still remains unclaimed and it is believed that some of his hiding places have not even been discovered. Many people have searched for his "lost treasure" in hope of becoming rich!

The Binions were very progressive when managing the property and they had many firsts in Las Vegas - first casino to replace sawdust-covered floor with carpeting; first to offer comps to all gamblers; first to eliminate table limits; and founder of the "World Series of Poker. All of these items were big hits with gamblers. Because Binion's was a family held business, they did not have to disclose financial statements, but people familiar with the property said that it was the most profitable casino in Las Vegas.

For years one of the main attractions at Binion's Casino was a display of $1 million, consisting of 100 $10,000 bills. Anyone that stopped by the casino could have a free picture taken with the display. The display was sold in 2004 as part of a cost cutting measure, but people were mad about the sale and they quit going to the casino. Since the $10,000 bills could not be repurchased, a $1 million display was recreated using 2,700 $100 bills, 34,300 $20 bills, and 42,000 $1 bills. Free pictures with the million dollar display are once again offered to casino visitors.

Room 400 in Binion's hotel is reported to be one of the most haunted places in Las Vegas. Psychics have studied the room to a great extents and say that the room is a meeting place for spirits. I have never visited the room, but I have seen pictures and videos taken in the room that makes one wonder what is really happening.

The Fremont Hotel/Casino was built in 1956 and was the tallest building in the State of Nevada when it opened. It also had one of City's first vertical parking garages.

The property is part of the original "Four Corners," which included Binion's, 4 Queens, Golden Nugget, and Fremont Hotels/Casinos. Casino Center Boulevard passes between the four properties in a north-south direction and is the only street to pass under the Fremont Street Experience canopy. During light shows the street is blocked to through traffic to eliminate the possibility of an accident.

In 1956 Wayne Newton made his Las Vegas debut at the Fremont Carnival Lounge and then went on to become known as "Mr. Las Vegas."

The 690-room 4 Queens Hotel/Casino was constructed in 1966 and named after the builder's four daughters (Faith, Hope, Benita, Michele). Over the years there have been numerous expansions and the property now encompasses the entire south side of Fremont street between Casino Center (2nd Street) and 3rd Street. The 4 Queens casino was the first to offer Blackjack Switch in Las Vegas.

The D Las Vegas Hotel/Casino was constructed in 1980 on land that was owned by Moe Dalitz, an organized Crime figure. At the time of completion, the hotel was the tallest building on Fremont Street.

Dalitz could not obtain a gaming license because of his criminal record, so a gaming license was issued to his associates. However, in 1984 the associates were charged with skimming money from the casino, so the property was sold and rebranded as Fitzgeralds Hotel/Casino 

Fitzgeralds had a "luck of the Irish" theme with shamrocks and a large leprechaun on the outside of the building facing Fremont Street. A restaurant in the hotel featured a prime rib dinners for $1.95. Since my office was within walking distance of the property, I frequented the restaurant often.

I remember one time I was standing in line to be seated and a casino employee came in and gave everyone standing in line a scratch card with 25 covered squares. We were informed that there were five car pictures on the card and if anyone could correctly uncover just the five car pictures they would win a new Lexus. The first square I uncovered was a car picture. And so were the second and third squares. When I uncovered the fourth car picture my heart was really beating. Then, I started analyzing the possibilities based on the locations of the previous four pictures. In my mind I finally eliminated all but three squares, so I figured that I had a one-in-three chance of winning a car. Unfortunately, I uncovered the wrong square. That was the closest I ever came to winning a new car in Las Vegas.

In 2012 Fitzgeralds sold the property and the Irish theme was removed. The new owners rebranded the property with a "Vintage Vegas" theme and called the property "The D". We are told that the "D" stands for "downtown," but the letter may also have other connotations. At the time of rebranding, casino expansions included additions of the only Sigma Derby game in Las Vegas and "The World's Largest Keno Board."

Neonopolis is a 250,000-square-foot open-air shopping mall and entertainment complex that starts just east of the Fremont Street Experience canopy. The shopping mall gets its name from the three miles of neon lights used in construction of the property.

When first constructed, the property had a hard time attracting visitors and many of the original tenants went out of business, including my favorite race car themed restaurant. In addition to retail and restaurant tenants, Neonopolis now contains a marijuana-themed museum with the "World's Largest Bong" and the "Heart Attack Grill" that features the "World's Highest-Calorie Burger." (My cardiologist has prohibited me from ever patronizing the establishment.) 

The Fremont East District starts just east of Neonopolis and has not changed much since the 1960s. Located within the East District is the El Cortez Hotel/Casino and a number of well-recognized historic neon signs.

The El Cortez Hotel/Casino was built in 1941, making it one of the oldest hotel/casino properties in Las Vegas. At the time of construction, the site was about three blocks east of the Fremont casino district, so many people anticipated that the property would not be able to draw enough gamblers to be profitable. However, once opened the property became very popular and almost immediately became one of the highest grossing casinos in Las Vegas. The high revenues generated at the casino attracted a number of investors, so in 1945 the property was purchased by Bugsy Siegel and three other organized crime figures. This was a mob-run property for a number of years. Bugsy Siegel and other mob memorabilia are still on display throughout the hotel/casino.

There is so much history associated with the El Cortez that the property has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of only a few hotel/casinos in Las Vegas that has never changed the exterior facade on the buildings and has retained the same signage for over seventy years.

Bonus Pictures Of "Downtown Las Vegas" - By Kolohe

Friday, June 19, 2020

RonnieAdventure #0417 - Las Vegas, The Ghost Town Part VI, Nevada

Picture by Kolohe
The Wynn Resort is located at the northeast corner of "The Strip" and Spring Mountain Road. This is the site of the historic Desert Inn Hotel/Casino.  

When constructed the Desert Inn was one of the luxury hotels in Las Vegas and many celebrities often stayed at the property, including the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Winston Churchill, Adlai Stevenson, Senator John Kennedy, and former President Harry Truman. In the 1950s visitors staying at the Desert Inn often attended "bomb parties" on top of the building where they could have Atomic Cocktails while watching nuclear test explosions at the Test Site north of Las Vegas.

Frank Sinatra made his Las Vegas debut in 1951 at the Desert Inn Showroom; and then in 1992 Sinatra celebrated his 77th birthday at the hotel, which was attended by numerous Hollywood entertainers. The event was described as being similar to a Hollywood movie premiere.

On Thanksgiving Day in 1966 Howard Hughes arrived in Las Vegas and rented the top two floors of the Desert Inn Hotel. After staying past his 10-day reservation, he was asked to leave, so the hotel could prepare the suites he was occupying for the expected Christmas/New Year high-rollers. Not wanting to leave, Hughes is reported to have said "How much do you want for this joint? I'll buy it!" He then gave the owners $6.2 million in cash, $7 million in notes, and stayed for four years. Hughes went on to purchase several other hotels/casinos in Las Vegas, including the Sands and Frontier. Then, on Thanksgiving Day in 1970, Hughes suddenly secretly left the Desert Inn Hotel and was flown to the Bahamas. Howard Hughes died in 1976.

In 2000 Steve Wynn purchased the Desert Inn property for $270 million with the intent of redeveloping the site. At 2:00 AM on August 28, 2000, the Desert Inn closed for the final time. The buildings were demolished and the site prepared for the new Wynn Resort complex, which included the Wynn and Encore Hotels/Casinos. Since completion, the Wynn Resort complex has received more Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star awards than any other resort in the world.

On the last night the property was open, we had been out for dinner and before going home we decided to stop by the DI (that is what it was called by the locals) and walk through the property one last time. Several legendary people were milling around the lobby and the showroom announced that there were still a few show tickets available to see "The Golden Boys" (Frankie Avalon, Bobby Rydell, and Fabian Forte).

"The Golden Boys" were regulars in Las Vegas for a number of years, performing individually or as a group. They had grown up together in Philadelphia before becoming "teen-idols" in the late 1950s. Although they each had numerous hit songs and movie parts, Frankie made the most movies. During the height of his career he teamed with Annette Funicello to make a series of "Beach" movies that appealed to his teen-idol fans.

The DI show room was a major attraction at the hotel and many celebrity entertainers performed there over the years. A series of tables were arranged in rows fanning out like rays from the stage. Behind the tables, arranged in semicircles, there were several rows of private booths at different levels. When we purchased tickets for the show, we were seated in a private booth at the end of one row of tables.

During the show The Golden Boys showed slides of their early careers on a large screen at the back of the stage and sang many of their hit songs. Then toward the end of the show, they invited people to come onstage and do "The Twist" while they sang Chubby Checker's signature song by the same name. A large number of women immediately jumped onto their table and were helped onstage, but no men got up. Fabian walked out to the front of the stage and said they needed some men, but no men would get up. Normally, I am a very shy, quiet, reserve person; but for some reason I jumped up on the table in front of us and walked down the center of the tables to the stage. When I reached the stage, Fabian reached out, grabbed my hand, and pulled me onto the stage. Bobby came over and asked if I wanted to help him sing, but I declined the invitation. 

While Bobby sang the song, everyone started doing The Twist. Part way through the song, I decided to jump up in the air and come down and do the splits like I did in my younger days. Unfortunately, my 50+ year old body was not as limber as my teen-body and I ended up sitting on the floor. Frankie came over and asked if I was okay and I assured him that I was in good condition, He then helped me up so I that could continue doing The Twist. Bobby must have been a little concerned that I might hurt myself because he came over and put his arm around me while he sang the rest of the song. At the end of the song everyone had a few minutes to stay on the stage and visit with Frankie, Bobby, and Fabian. It was a fun evening and a great way to remember the DI. "The Golden Boys" still tour various locations around the United States.

Picture by Kolohe
Located diagonally across "The Strip" from the Wynn Resort are the Mirage and Treasure Island Hotels/Casinos. Both of these properties were developed by Steve Wynn in the 1980s and 1990s

The Mirage was constructed in 1989 and was the first new Las Vegas hotel/casino built in 16 years. The resort was constructed with a South Pacific Polynesian theme and financing was provided by Michael Milken selling $525 million in mortgage bonds, making it the first resort to be financed in Las Vegas with money from Wall Street using junk bonds. At the time of opening, the Mirage was the largest hotel in the world with 3,044 rooms. The hotel gets its distinctive gold color from actual gold dust used in tinting the windows.

Siegfried & Roy, using a magic act with wild animals, had a residency in the 1,500 seat theater from the property's opening until 2003, when Roy was injured by a 650 pound white tiger. Roy passed away in 2020, but the Siegfried & Roy Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat are still operated at the property and Siegfried is sometimes available to visit with guest.

The main theater production currently at the Mirage is Love, a Cirque du Soleil production using remixed Beatles songs.

Located in front of the property is the largest free-standing marquee in the world and an artificial volcano that "erupts" in the evenings. To avoid the smell of natural gas when the volcano "erupts," "the mercaptan is stripped from the natural gas and a pina colada fragrance is added to the natural gas stream."

Picture by Kolohe

Treasure Island Hotel/Casino (aka "TI") is located just north of the Mirage and was built by Steve Wynn in 1993. The property has a "Pirates of the Caribbean" theme that includes two replica sailing ships moored in a man-made lagoon in front of the property. When the property first opened, the ships were used as part of a pirate battle with live performers, but now the ships are just part of the property's decorations.

When Treasure Island opened, the Pirate theme was not well received in the market; so almost immediately a long-term renovation was started to improve business. $65 million was spent to change the 2,900 themed rooms and the original 25,000 square foot pirate arcade was reduced to 1,200 square feet. The large 8,000 pound  27-foot tall pirate skull at the front of the property was removed and the property became known as "TI" to downplay the pirate theme.

Originally, the hotel was painted a coral-pink color, but as part of the transformation 6,200 gallons of Terra Cotta/"Salmon Stream" paint was used to darken the building's exterior color. After the changes, business improved, so the changes were considered to be successful.

Cirque du Soleil's Mystere started at the property in 1993 and has nine times been voted the best production show in Las Vegas

Picture by Kolohe

The Fashion Show Mall originally opened in 1981 at the northwest corner of "the Strip" and Spring Mountain Road, directly across the Road from what is now the TI. Over the years it became apparent that there was a demand for retail shopping on "The Strip," but for the average visitor there was a lack of affordable supply. 

Therefore, the mall's property owner decided to make a $1 billion renovation and expansion to the property by rebranding some of the existing anchor stores and adding over 200,000 square feet of new retail space. 

The size of the construction loan in an untested retail market was troublesome to everyone involved in the financing, so it was decided that to spread the loan risk, financing would be syndicated between a number of different financial institutions. Setting a value of the property for collateral purposes turned out to be a real challenge and took a lot longer than anticipated. This was probably the hardest project I ever worked on.

After working through a number of problems, construction was completed and the new west wing opened in 2002. A highlight of the new west wing was a retractable runway in the mall's central atrium that could be raised and used for hosting fashion shows. The 412-ton steel disk ("The Cloud") installed along the front of the property was intended to be an overhead screen for running advertisements, but in the end it turned out to be more of a large sunshade. 

While we were walking around the mall's exterior taking pictures, we noticed a showgirl that had been overcome by COVID-19 viruses, even though she was wearing protective gear. I was going to give her first aid by doing chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but Kolohe said that at my age it was too dangerous.

Picture by Kolohe
The luxury Trump International Hotel Las Vegas is located on Fashion Show Drive directly north of Fashion Show Mall. The 64-story tower contains 1,282 condo-hotel rooms and at the time of construction it was the tallest residential building in Las Vegas. Similar to the Mirage, the building's exterior glass is infused with real gold, giving the building a gold color.

There is no casino attached to the hotel, even though Donald Trump held a Nevada Gaming license at the time the property was built. Eric Trump explained that "We wanted a true luxury resort experience. It's hard to have a high-quality product when you walk into 'ding, 'ding, 'ding and there are people walking around in Hawaiian shits with big plastic drink mugs."

The $4.3 billion Resorts World Las Vegas is under construction along "The Strip" north of the Trump International Hotel. It is being built on the site of the historic Stardust Hotel/Casino. Over the years this property has been involved in numerous delays and lawsuits, but in 2020 Resorts World partnered with Hilton Hotels to get the project completed. Opening date is now projected to be sometime in 2021.

Circus-Circus Hotel/Casino is located on "The Strip" north of Resorts World. The property has a Circus theme and features circus acts and carnival games along a midway. It also has the largest permanent big top in the world.

The property opened in 1968 as a casino only. Without a hotel, the property was not able to attract gamblers; so the property owner convinced the Teamsters Pension Fund to finance a hotel.

Teamster's enforcer Anthony Spilotro was granted a gift shop in the project to watch over operations; but even after completion of the hotel financial problems continued at the property. The property was then sold and went through numerous expansions, eventually reaching the current hotel room count of 3,773 rooms. Along with the room additions, a large Adventuredome Amusement Park was added at the back of the property. 

Panoramic Picture by Kolohe

The Sahara Hotel/Casino was constructed in 1952 and originally had an African Safari theme. Over the years the property has been sold and rebranded several times, but in 2019 the property was returned to its original Sahara Hotel/Casino name. 

The Sahara is usually considered to be the north end of "The Strip," even though Las Vegas Boulevard continues up to Fremont Street in downtown Las Vegas.

In 2000 a roller coaster ride was added to the property, so one weekend night we decided to go down and ride the new roller coaster. Unfortunately, several hundred other people had the same idea. 

When we arrived, the line wrapped all the way down a long hall and back, such that the end of the line was adjacent to the start of the line; but separated by a fence. We had just started standing in line when a young black youth ran up behind us and said to the gatekeeper "I'm with them," pointing to a group of black youths on the other side of the fence at the head of the line. The gatekeeper opened a gate in the fence that separated the line and let him join his friends. Since it worked for him, I said to the gatekeeper "I'm with them," pointing to the group of black youths. The black youths turned around and looked at me somewhat bewildered, then one young man said "Ya! He's our dad." The entire youth group then started telling the gatekeeper that they wanted their Dad to join them. Acting a little surprised, the gatekeeper opened the gate and let us join them at the front of the line. We all hugged each other and had a good laugh as we entered the ride.

The Stratosphere (now called "The Strat"), was constructed in 1991. The property contains a hotel, casino, and a 1,149-foot-tall observation tower, which is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States and the tallest structure in all of Nevada. 

Some people consider The Strat to be part of "The Strip" because it is located along Las Vegas Boulevard. However, all of the other "Strip" properties are located in Clark County outside of the Las Vegas City limits. The Strat is located within the Las Vegas City limits, along with all of the Fremont Street properties.

The top of "The Strat" has a revolving restaurant and several "wow" rides that dangle over the side of the tower to give riders a special thrill.

A few more flowers that were visible from the sidewalks!