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ABBAMAIL Columnist: Ryan Cameron

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The End of An Era In Las Vegas

In the early hours of March 13, 2007 the remaining East and West Towers of the Stardust Resort and Casino were imploded. All the other structures including the casino had already been torn down by conventional means. In a spectacular fireworks extravaganza followed by a pyrotechnic countdown from 10 to 1 in grand style before the carcass of one of the more infamous hotel and casinos in Vegas history ceased to stand over the Las Vegas strip.

The landscape of the Las Vegas strip has been an ever-changing environment, where not even nostalgia and a sense of historic pride stands a chance against the need to evolve for the future of gambling entertainment. The Las Vegas strip made famous by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin is unrecognizable today, sure some of the hotel names have been kept but the era of motor lodges have given way to monster resorts with humongous towers of hotel rooms. And nothing helps illustrate that fact more than the last addition to the Stardust in 1991 of a 32-story tower of 930 rooms. The huge structure was part of a $300 Million expansion project and now, just a mere 16 years later, the structure was blown to bits to make way for the future.

Even though the end of the Stardust really came on November 1, 2006 when it closed it’s doors for the first time since opening on June 2, 1958, the interim time has been filled with getting the property ready for implosion. The most visible aspect of the hotel, the 32 story tower was slowly stripped down of its contents then it’s windows and interiors so that all that would remain standing on the day of it’s implosion would be the concrete and steel of the superstructure. Not even its name adorned the top for the implosion. The stripping of the building was more for safety reasons to ensure there’d be no glass to become shrapnel from the dynamite explosions.

Well what was so significant about the Stardust? Well, it’s got quite the checkered past as the hotel was opened up as part of the mob with the whole skimming money off the top routine and scamming that the mob run Las Vegas was all about back in the day. The Stardust’s story is now legendary albeit slightly disguised in the Martin Scorsese film “Casino.” The names have been slightly altered and the movie version of the Stardust was called the “Tangiers.” The Stardust also made appearances in the movies “Showgirls” and “Swingers” with scenes filmed at the hotel. It’s exterior is seen in the movie “Mars Attacks” and the Stardust’s infamous neon sign is seen in several scenes in “Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas”

The Stardust introduced the first “sportsbook” to Las Vegas, which all the casinos have since copied as a way to take action on sports betting. The Stardust also was one of the first Vegas casinos to offer a topless revue and introduced the concept of a big production show, with the Lido de Paris which ran from 1958 to 1992. The first ever long term residency entertainer contract in Las Vegas went to Billy Daniels in 1958 where he was to perform for 40 weeks for 3 years, not unlike the residency contract Celine Dion currently has with Caesars Palace.

At the time the Stardust opened for business in 1958, it was the world’s largest hotel with 1, 065 rooms, had the largest pool in Nevada, as well as the largest casino. It even had a drive in movie theatre, the only one in Las Vegas at the time. Within a year, the Stardust was ready for expansion and took over the neighboring Royal-Nevada Casino and Hotel next door to the Stardust that had been struggling financially. Much of that hotel was converted into convention space and high roller suites. Its pool was made available to high rollers and stars of the Lido de Paris show. This was considered a definite fringe benefit to the high rollers.

In 1964, the Stardust was expanding again, this time with a 9 story tower of rooms bringing to the total room inventory to 1,470 again restoring the Stardust to the most rooms in Vegas until 1969 when the International opened (now known as the Las Vegas Hilton). In 1966, Howard Hughes attempted to own the Stardust before being stopped by the US Government on the grounds that it would violate give Hughes too much of a competitive edge by owning too many casinos in Las Vegas.

The Lido de Paris show introduced Las Vegas to Siegfried and Roy in 1972 who later became a staple headline act in their own right until 2003 when Roy suffered injury from a tiger bite, ending their long run in Vegas at the Mirage. The showroom at the Stardust became the Wayne Newton Theatre when signed a residency contract with the Stardust in 1999.

The mob run of the Stardust came to an end in 1984 when the Nevada Gaming Commission slapped the highest fine ever issued for skimming, $3 Million. Controversy over the hidden ownership disappeared when Boyd Gaming bought the Stardust in 1985. The Boyd Gaming company brought in $300 Million worth of expansion and renovations to the property by 1991 and a new 32-story tower added another 930 rooms to the resort. The casino had grown to 100,000 square feet of gaming space, to contrast, when the Stardust opened in 1958, it only had 16,500 square feet of gaming space.

However, the Stardust’s reign as a leader of the Vegas scene became eclipsed during the mega-resorts starting to appear further south along the Las Vegas Strip. It’s former glory as the largest hotel in the world was starting to look like one of the smallest on the strip. Although it’s implosion has brought it one last first in that as of right now, the Stardust’s 32-story West Wing stands as the tallest building to be imploded in Las Vegas. Granted, this too in time will be overshadowed, but for the moment, maintains a record height.

In it’s place, the 63 acres that once held the Stardust will become known as Echelon Las Vegas. Ground will be broken for Echelon later this year once all the debris from the Stardust implosion is completely cleared. Echelon will be part of the new breed of Las Vegas resort where it won’t be just a single casino and hotel combination, but rather a multi-faceted environment consisting of one casino and resort hotel and three additional boutique hotels of varying levels of luxury bringing approximately 5,300 rooms to the Las Vegas strip. Additionally, over 1 million square feet of Exposition and meeting space inclusive of a state of the art exposition hall and meeting space within the four hotels. Three hundred and fifty thousand square feet of space is being reserved for an upscale retail promenade. And vast entertainment and spa facilities are planned to make Echelon a self-contained upscale destination within the Las Vegas strip. And due to some creative land trading with Harrah’s Entertainment, there’s additional land next door to the Echelon property that is being reserved for future growth, which may eventually become possibilities for residential additions to Echelon.

So while Las Vegas may not be much for treasuring the past, they definitely are ones for embracing the future. But even though the Stardust may now be dust and distant memories, it won’t be forgotten. At least two websites I’ve seen have established tributes to the Stardust that are worth checking out. The first is Vegas Today And Tomorrow which showcases a look at the evolution as well as the destruction of the Stardust and you can visit it here: http://www.vegastodayandtomorrow.com/stardust.htm. The second website worth exploring is LeavingLV.net which also showcases a brief photo gallery of the Stardust’s evolution, and in blog style has a two page photo journal illustrating in reverse order, from the implosion back to before the closing of the resort. There’s also a really nice video tribute pieced together there as well. Definitely go to http://www.leavinglv.net/stardust.html if you get a chance. And hopefully somewhere in the plans for Echelon there will be an effort made to at least acknowledge it’s past, at least the palm trees from Stardust are being incorporated into the new Echelon Las Vegas. Please visit http://www.echelonresort.com to see the Echelon Las Vegas website to see what’s planned for the Stardust site.

Ryan