Saturday, November 10, 2018

Howard Hughes

Howard Hughes
It’s a shame that the last 10 years of his life largely overshadows all he accomplished prior to his decent into madness.  Truth be told, Howard Hughes was a genius; an innovator in business, aviation, film and in his lifetime, was one of the most financially successful people in the world.  His work ethic was legendary as was his disregard for his own safety, especially when it came to his first true love, flying.  That disregard would eventually cause him to be involved in the plane crash of an experimental aircraft that almost killed him.  While he did eventually recover, he would never be the same. In chronic pain for the rest of his life, his over medication to address the issue pushed his struggles with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder into stratospheric levels, causing him to become the eccentric recluse most remember him for.  Despite all that, what Hughes did during his time in Las Vegas helped the market evolve from the seedy place run by mobsters to a respectable industry; even if that wasn’t his intention and resulted purely because it was his name attached to the legendary great acquisition of Las Vegas

Whatever you think you know about Howard Hughes, he was undeniably a genius by any definition of the word.  The Hughes family made their millions by creating a drill bit that dramatically improved the way oil was drilled for.  At the age of 19, after his father's death, Howard took over ToolCo and used his family’s wealth to revolutionize multiple industries.  With RKO Studios, he changed the way movies were made, introducing violence and sex to the cinema.  He was one of the leading innovators in aviation, setting multiple world records. That knowledge was so valued, Hughes Aircraft become one of the US government’s largest private contractors for military planes, and his commercial airline TWA was a leader in the evolution of commercial flight.  Sadly it was his refusal to be confined by the metaphorical walls he was told he had to operate within, in whatever he decided we wanted to do, that ended up causing him to be confined by the actual walls he would spent last 20 years of his life in, seclude from the world.  And even in those constraints, he was able to change, not only another industry but the reputation of an entire state, all while in constant pain, terrified of just about everything imaginable outside of that room on the 9thfloor of the Desert Inn.  Even if what he accomplished was nothing more than a symbolic shift in the gaming industry, Howard Hughes will forever be known as one of the most important people involved in the evolution of Las Vegas.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Imperial Palace

Imperial Palace.  Never have two words meant such polar opposites to people, depending on what side of the globe they live on.  To the Japanese, it is the elegant residence of the Emperor; a sprawling park like area with Edo (E-Doe) Castle as its centerpiece, originally build in 1457.  In the 1980s, it's value was greater than that of the entire state of California.  Also in the 1980s, the Imperial Palace came to be known as a hotel casino on the Las Vegas strip.  Unlike its namesake, while inflation would increase the monetary value of the property, time would give it the reputation as one of the worst kept properties in the market, competing for the title year over year with Circus Circus.  And just like the property it shared that dubious distinction with, Imperial Palace’s ownership didn’t care.  Why should they?  They knew exactly who their demographic was and how to cater to it and they didn't seemed to be complaining.  Seeking the approval of those that looked down at their customer base wasn’t part of the business plan.

Despite the companies well-documented investment mismanagement, LINQ is Caesars proof of concept, showcasing that a total transformation can be done without imploding and starting over.  Its success no doubt encouraged other such projects in the market, like the complete reimagining of Bill's Gambling Hall, better known as Barbary Coast, into Cromwell and Monte Carlo's transformation into Park MGM.  As much as we support the preservation of history, Vegas has shown it should never be done at the expense of progress.  Preventing an abandon, outdated building from being destroyed or replaced by something better suited for the needs of today doesn't honor its place in history, it sullies its memory (I'm looking at you Moulin Rouge).  The same way no one likes to say goodbye to a loved one, time comes for us all.  Honor their memory by allowing them to pass on with grace and remember them the way they would have wanted to be remembered, bathed in neon at 2:30 in the morning.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

The Thunderbird
The Thunderbird is a property I've never paid much attention to, for no particular reason.  I wasn't offended by it's Native American theme, that's not really my style.  That being said, I will say the theme was about as interesting to me as the cowboy motif at the El Rancho or the Last Frontier.  Being a child of technology, harkening back to a day when it didn't have anything isn't my idea of a vacation, it sounds like torture.  One of the most fascinating things about Las Vegas is itunique ability to take things I normally wouldn't find interesting and make them appealing.  The Thunderbird might be the perfect example of that phenomenon. 

If you are interested in more information regarding the Thunderbird, check out..., Del Webb: A Man. A Company, The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream & Gambling on a Dream: The Classic Las Vegas Strip: 1930-1955

Friday, December 22, 2017

Wayne McAllister
Architecture, if done well, is much more than just the designing of a building; its creating a durable structure that is not only functional but beautiful.  Every building is designed by an architect however it takes vision and skill to transcend the steel, concrete and glass jungles of major metropolitan cities to create things that stands out in someone’s mind, and in some cases in history, as exceptional representations of the craft, inspiring future generations to take architecture to the next level; to continue to evolve with science and create something timeless.  While the best to ever live are often unknown to the public at large, their creations are known around the world and live on for decades and in some cases centuries after they are gone. 

While he had a hand in designing Binion’s Horseshoe, the Fremont is the only remaining resort Wayne McAllister was responsible for in Las Vegas.  Nevertheless, his legacy far transcends the buildings he created.  While most people have no idea who he is, Wayne’s work and influence on Las Vegas is unmistakable and timeless.  The Vegas vibe and all things cool about it can be related back to or somehow influenced by him, like a game of 6 degrees of Wayne McAllister.  So the next time you find yourself starting to tingle from the special Vegas euphoria, remember who invented that feeling, think of your favorite marquee and throw the dice. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

The Dunes Hotel & Casino

The Dunes is a property whose affinity for, I cannot explain.  I can easily explain some of the things I like about it, things that I think are cool and amenities I would have liked to enjoy; but that doesn’t explain why.  But let me ask you this, why are you faithful to your spouse?  Why do you love them?  I know you can explain to me what you find attractive about them, your favorite features, their personality but that doesn’t explain why.  We have no control over what we find attractive, we just do.  Perhaps that explains why I like the Dunes so much.

While it may have never be the financial success it aspired to be, the Dunes can be counted among the Sands and the Stardust as some of the most iconic in Las Vegas history.  All 3 evolved with the city, a journey that caused them to end up looking dramatically different than the original concept they opened with.  It's also fair to say that their loss was all for the greater good, not only for the city but for their legend.  The way the untimely deaths of people like Kirk Cobain cause them to be idyllically remembered so is true about iconic Vegas properties. Even if at the end they are usually only shadows of the properties they were in their prime, their legacy is their ability to be remembered in whatever incarnation we choose to remember them in, the very definition of the word timeless.

If you are interested in learning more about the Dunes, check out some of the places we sourced to write their story.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley virtually invented celebrity, as we know it.  Unfortunately, he also became its first victim.  Imagine being a shy mama’s boy who never matured past his late teens to early 20s because, at a time when most people are learning who they are from their mistakes, everyone around Elvis told him he was a genius.  He was encouraged to not let people change him, go with your instincts.  Elvis Presley not only became Las Vegas biggest draw but changed the face of music and pop culture forever.  Unfortunately his memory has become bastardized by the myriad of performers who impersonate his talent during the darkest times of his life.  While most don’t do this with malicious intent, fat Elvis has become a common caricature in Vegas representing one of the most amazing, iconic performers of all time. 

There will never be another Elvis Presley the same way you can’t lose your virginity twice.  Elvis invented, inadvertently, modern day celebrity.  Artists of the time and over the years have expressed how important Elvis Presley was in their lives.  Bob Dylan said listing to Elvis for the 1st time was like busting out for jail.  John Lennon said before Elvis Presley, there was nothing.  The fact is Elvis Presley changed everything.  A month before I began writing the piece, Elvis was nothing more than a curiosity to me.  One throwaway visit to Graceland during a weekend visit to Memphis that I thought would be nothing more than a “I’ve been to Graceland” sparked a curiosity that not only inspired me to write this piece but to explore far more about Elvis life and career than I would ever need for a 360 Vintage Vegas segment.  In short, despite all the kitch you have come to know, check out Graceland if you get the chance.  It might just change your perspective of the life and legacy of Elvis Aron Presley.

If you are interested in learning more about Elvis Presley, we would recommend Peter Guralnick's books Last Train to Memphis: the Rise of Elvis Presley & Careless Love: The unmaking of Elvis Presley.