Friday, December 7, 2007

In the Spirit of Las Vegas

Two Streets, 160 Pages
This blog goes to lots of places but usually keeps its Las Vegas and timely events theme. Las Vegas has become a haven for not only gamblers, those who love entertainment, fun seekers, and shoppers. In 1980 I attended the grand opening of the Fashion Show Mall. Anchored by Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom, Nieman Marcus, and Robinsons, it was a shoppers paradise like none other in our town. Since that time its next door neighbor, the Frontier, has become rubble, Across the street the Desert Inn disappeared and was replaced by Wynn Las Vegas, caddy corner the Sands was literally blown away and replaced by the Venetian, and on the remaining corner the Mirage replaced the Castaways and a few years later the Mirage parking lot gave way to Treasure Island (TI). Throughout the Fashion Show changed her clothes regularly to keep up with the times and she remains as glamorous as she ever was.
Last night while attending a function at Nieman Marcus inside the Fashion Show I picked up Jen Worthington's new book, In the Spirit of Las Vegas." Its 160 pages present an overview of the birth and growth of the Valley of the Dollars both with text and photos. The author follows a time line from the earliest settlers in the valley to the boom of the downtown area and subsequent booms both in downtown Glitter Gulch and later on the Strip. The photos range from nostalgic to avant guard and include several classics including the famous "floating craps game" photo in the Sands swimming pool. The book is a good read for locals as well as tourists as well as a feast for the eyes.
Las Vegas is often considered a town without history, save Ben "Bugsy" Siegel whose legendary building of the Flamingo Hotel and his subsequent demise as the result of cost overruns and the hotels poor performance after its grand opening. But many gems of history exist. An early example is the Hollywood power couple of Rex Bell and Clara Bow who bout a ranch in Searchlight, a slice of desert in the farthest southern corner of the state. They had a son, Rex Bell, Jr, who grew up to be a Notre Dame football player and booster of the UNLV athletic program as well as the local District Attorney.
The little village of Searchlight must have had something in its water because it spawned other prominent Las Vegans including a poor kid who literally fought his way through college (as a boxer) to become a local politician and the go on to Washington to become one of the country's most powerful senators - Majority leader Harry Reid.
Not all prominent Las Vegans were home grown. Steve Wynn parlayed a leveraged grub stake to buy the faded downtown Golden Nugget which he rebuilt into a downtown gem, sold it, and with creative financing built the Mirage then the TI, the Bellagio, and finally Wynn Las Vegas. Kirk Kirkorian has his fingerprint on several Strip hotels and of course the Howard Hughes story is legendary. Las Vegas has been described in various ways, some accurate, some not. But Jen Worthington got it right when she described it as, "The spectacle of brilliance and innovation."
A little traveling music maestro.... how about "Viva Las Vegas."
Dr. Forgot

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