Existing on perpetual reinvention, Las Vegas measures milestones and memories like few other destinations. Every square inch of this unlikely desert magnet has been redeveloped or enhanced multiple times over, investing the present day with compelling legacy allure.
While charging ahead, Vegas always takes time to honor its own, such as this April’s farewell to entertainment legend Don Rickles. His Vegas career reaching back to Rat Pack days, “Mr. Warmth” was toasted on digital marquees across the city.
In this culture of send-offs and makeovers, exalted too are people and places with staying power.
From pioneering developer Steve Wynn’s 50th year in Las Vegas to numerous property milestones, visionary leaders and anchoring institutions provide the framework and reference point for the city’s ever-evolving future.
Going the Distance
With Elizabeth Taylor and Debbie Reynolds supplying the glitz and Eddie Fisher providing the entertainment, the $15 million Tropicana Las Vegas debuted in April 1957, becoming the Strip’s 12th and southernmost property.
“As the Tropicana celebrates its 60th anniversary—a rare milestone in Las Vegas—it can look back on a history that includes attempted mob boss assassinations, topless showgirls, wild lizards, skimming scandals and corporate buyouts,” wrote David Schwartz, director of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ Center for Gaming Research in a recent Vegas Seven story. “The Tropicana has had a little bit of everything.”
From its original necklace-inspired Y-shape and tropical design, the “Tiffany of the Strip” has changed shape and owners over time. Gleaming white after its $200 million South Beach-style makeover in 2011, the 1,470-room Tropicana Las Vegas, flying the DoubleTree by Hilton flag, offers versatile space that includes 38 breakout rooms, a 25,000-square-foot ballroom, a 55,000-square-foot pavilion and unique venues such as the Sky Beach Club.
Nearby, New York-New York Hotel & Casino turns 20 this year, with fellow MGM Resorts International property Bellagio Resort & Casino turning 20 next year.
Named by owner Bugsy Siegel after his long-legged mistress Virginia Hill, the Flamingo Las Vegas, the Strip’s oldest surviving resort, turned 70 last year.
After celebrating 50 years in 2016, Caesars Palace feted its longest running group, the Trauma, Critical Care & Acute Care Surgery Conference, this March with a star-studded event.
Meeting at Caesars Palace every year since 1967 (see Zoom In, page 25), the Houston-based group is second in longevity only to the Vegas-based Western Veterinary Conference. Founded in 1928, the organization moved its annual meeting to the Flamingo in 1963, and save one cancellation, has met in Vegas every year since. The organization’s 70,000-square-foot Oquendo Center is an off-Strip option for groups.
For Wolfgang Puck, it has been 25 years since opening his L.A. flagship Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. Commemorated with a luncheon at this year’s Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit, now in its 11th year as the city’s premier culinary event, his daring gambit in 1992 (see Zoom In, page 22) propelled Las Vegas to global culinary stardom.
Continuing north past Palazzo Las Vegas and Encore Las Vegas, both turning 10 in 2018, the Strip corridor opens into a wide expanse of undeveloped lots and old-school anchors.
Holding the fort in this broad zone are 24-hour dining institution The Peppermill Restaurant and Lounge (45 this year); Circus Circus Las Vegas (50 next year); Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower (20 last year); Golden Steer Steakhouse (60 next year); and two updated titans from the past, SLS Las Vegas and Westgate Las Vegas Resort & Casino.
Originally the legendary Sahara (1952-2011), SLS Las Vegas offers 1,300-plus stylish guest rooms in its Story and World towers, with 80,000-plus square feet of flexible space, including 30,000 square feet of dedicated meeting and convention space and a 9,000-square-foot ballroom.
Debuting in 1969 as the International Hotel, the Westgate, acquired by Westgate Resorts in 2014, recently underwent more than $150 million in renovations, including 1,200 remodeled Signature rooms, the new International Bar and luxurious new Serenity Spa.
Convention facilities at the 3,000-room icon include 225,000 square feet of flexible, renovated ground-level convention, exhibit and prefunction space; the 70,000-square-foot Paradise Event Center; and the 35,000-square-foot Ballroom and 43,000-square-foot Pavilion, accommodating 6,500 for banquets and 9,500 theater-style when combined.
Predating the Westgate by a decade, the adjacent Las Vegas Convention Center and its massive expansion (see “Full Speed Ahead”, page 14) will create a new connective hub for the area.
Some 10 minutes north but a universe apart is the city of Las Vegas (the Strip resides in unincorporated Paradise, Nev.) and its resurgent Downtown.
Flip Side of the Strip
Progress was not kind to Fremont Street, the city’s founding thoroughfare from 1905, and its environs. As the Strip soared in the 1980s, the original Sin City sank, becoming a true “down” town.
Now, after some 30 years of sustained revitalization efforts, the story is bright, not blight. Following the Fremont Street Experience (1995) and Fremont East Entertainment District (2002), the year 2012, or the “Year of Downtown,” welcomed three group-capable cultural anchors that continue to boost the scene.
Attracting more than 1.3 million visitors since its Valentine’s Day debut, the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, or Mob Museum, occupies the former Las Vegas Post Office and Courthouse from 1933, a national landmark, and offers evocative spaces such as the 100-person Courtroom and full buyouts.
Recently accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, the venue is targeting early 2018 completion of a $6.5 million enhancement, which includes three new exhibits—Organized Crime Today, Crime Lab and a Firearms Training Simulator—plus an on-site distillery and speakeasy.
With its visitor center housed in the relocated lobby of the La Concha Motel (1961) and outdoor Boneyard stacked with yesteryear neon and metal signs (including from the just-demolished Riviera, La Concha’s one-time Strip neighbor), the Neon Museum recently commenced a $425,000 expansion that will create adjacent display space by next year for another 30 signs.