Lost Vegas: The Fall of Neon’s Reign


Greg C. brings us another photo essay, this time on sadly-departed classic neon…

When you hear the words “Classic Vegas” or “Old Vegas,” your mind probably tends to gravitate towards Rat Pack shows or tales of the Mafia. For my photographer friend Greg C., the classics are spelled out in miles of glowing neon. Glorious, painstakingly-created works of art…

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There’s nothing like memories from past visits…arriving in the city under a blanket of darkness, turning onto the Strip and seeing the dazzling light show that stretched out for miles ahead of you.

Driving past the dual ivory and gold towers of Tropicana, gawking at the multi-colored rings of Bally’s futuristic entry, basking in the flickering of Bill’s Gambling Hall…eventually reaching the ultimate Vegas throwback…Sahara Hotel Casino.

For me, the colors of the Sahara will always hold a special place in the hall of memories. It was the second place that I stayed in the city. I vividly remember getting out of the taxi and listening to the buzzing of the neon tubes and on-off clicking of the bulbs around the porte -cochere.

It was chilly that night, but the signage and blinking lights gave off their own warmth, inviting me inside for an adventure not to be forgotten.

After my scathing analysis of current Vegas trends was published, Greg suggested taking a more visual approach to what we’ve recently lost around the Strip:

I am assembling photos of all the neon signage and cool structures that have vanished in Vegas since 2010. When the photos are seen all together, it creates a vivid idea of how much has been lost in only the last six years.

Greg is absolutely fascinated with Sin City architecture. His photo essays of Westgate Sky Villashidden structural oddities and recent implosions speak for themselves. Now he’s ready to turn his lens towards the demise of long-loved neon signage and very familiar landmarks.

The beautiful neon and bulbs from the Barbary Coast were kept by Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall….. but scrapped when they transformed the simple old-school place into the bland Cromwell….

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O’Shea’s gave its life so that Project Linq could live. The new version is a pale ghost of the original…a raucous, cheap, easy-access place for casual fun lovers to get plastered and grab some basic eats. Naturally, it had to be wiped out as it runs counter to the modern corporate ideal of high-end, high-budget fun. The old façade was awesome — lots of neon and flashing bulbs. Yep….get it outta here! No place for that in Vegas.

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Imperial Palace: Yeah…it had really gone downhill. Still, it was a cheap place to hang if you wanted to be on the central Strip and were on a budget.

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The entrance of Bally’s being destroyed to create the wonderful ghost town of retail shops — the “Not-so-Grand Bazaar”. And the cool purple-glowing section of Casino Royale, destroyed for the modern blah Walgreens and White Castle additions. Gotta have retail now, don’t we?

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And out on Flamingo and Paradise, the familiar neon outline of Mr. T (of Terrible’s) was replaced by Silver 7’s. Adios to $9.99 Baby Back Ribs….

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Tropicana is still there (well, most of it) but the old-school signage with neon and flashing bulbs is gone…as is the Folies Bergere, which was the resort’s trademark entertainment for most of its pre-renovation life.

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One of the older wings of the property was demolished in 2010 (the 300-wing)……half of it by a little-known implosion. Today’s look is much more bland without the alternating dark/white stripes and the gold-accent glass on the tower tops that was whited out during the refit. The tower along the Strip also had a cool electric-blue waterfall going down the end (which they turned dark — bad decision). We need all the neon we can get…..

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Convention Center Drive:  Greek Isles was not a big name for sure…..it was actually a dump–in bad repair. The hotel has the dubious distinction of being the most renamed joint in Vegas….Debbie Reynolds before Greek Isles…. and the Paddlewheel before that……..and the Royal Americana before that……and finally the Royal Inn (its original name when opened in 1970)…. it was bought by Clarion in 2010 and imploded wearing that name.

The elderly Somerset House Motel across the street dated to the early 60’s. It was leveled in 2011. Nothing but empty lots where both stood (seems to be a recurring trend in that area).

It’s hard to get excited by the new trends of “office-building chic”, multi-toned beige and monochromatic blah. Even some room renovations have stripped out colors in favor of hospital-room white (see Delano‘s clinical decor at Mandalay Bay, which feels like being in a padded cell). When Sahara became SLS, the cans of white paint must have numbered in the thousands.

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The north end of the Strip has clearly been hit the hardest. Not only have historic properties like New Frontier and the legendary Stardust been turned into rubble, but ballyhooed projects meant to rise from the debris have fallen into their own decay. Let’s hope the same thing doesn’t happen where Riviera once stood.

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Can’t begin to say enough on this one–it’s already been talked about enough…. but it has to be mentioned as it was probably the greatest loss of neon glory in recent years…..

These days, visitors are greeted by huge LED screens that rival those in Times Square. Sure, they’re eye-catching, but also cold and clinical.

Fremont Street is the best remaining place to see authentic neon artworks in all their splendor. But they, too, are falling out of favor as hotels get purchased and modernized (think The D and Golden Gate).

If you love neon like Greg and I do, be sure to visit your favorites and snap some photos while you still can. The pile of carcasses at Neon Museum will most likely grow higher as Sin City continues to rip out its own electric heart.

Photos and quotes by Greg C

This article previously appeared on another site. It has been updated.

Westgate Turns Strip-side Gouging On Its Ear


Find out why I’m constantly fawning over Westgate Las Vegas…

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It’s worth noting that, since this article’s original publication nearly two years ago on another website, I have stayed numerous times at Westgate during non-peak/non-convention periods. During those visits, the gates were conveniently open..and so were the opportunities for free (and hassle-free) parking without even the need for ticket validation or a room key. Apparently the resort is enforcing controlled access only when the situation demands it…to enhance the experience of their own guests.

The following section, although a re-publishing, has been updated and revised with current information.

Ever since MGM Resorts instituted a complex and ever-rising parking charge at their Strip properties, it was only a matter of time before others like Caesars properties, Cosmopolitan and Wynn/Encore followed suit (let’s call it “resort fee deja vu”). But while these insulting fees basically stick it to everyone (excluding certain levels of play and resort-branded credit card holders), Westgate Las Vegas has a parking policy to protect and reward their guests.

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That statement might initially sound like the infamous public-relations nonsense issued by Caesars Entertainment Corporation when they instituted resort fees “because the public demanded them.” Not so at Westgate, where the intent is clearly to ensure that their lots aren’t being jammed by drivers who are actually heading elsewhere.

You see, Westgate Las Vegas is in the sticky position of being both 1) adjacent to a convention center that charges hefty parking fees, and 2) located on a monorail line that takes riders all the way to MGM Grand and other properties along the way that now charge parking fees.

When I met with reps from the Westgate marketing team a while back, the subject of parking policies came up. Rumors had been swirling about MGM’s plans and Westgate was already considering their options to address the ramifications.

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Soon after, both my friend (photographer Greg C.) and I separately discovered that the multi-story garages and open-air lots had been secured. Automated ticketing kiosks had been installed and a ten-dollar daily fee was now in effect.

But….this is important….the fee was reimbursable for hotel guests, restaurant diners, attendees to Westgate shows and those who come to visit the casino and sports book.

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The “To Serve You Better” double-talk that’s usually issued in these situations is actually genuine here. Westgate patrons won’t have to be concerned that conventioneers and monorail riders are using up the available parking spaces.

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Signs are liberally posted throughout Westgate to show where to get your ticket validated. Naturally, you’ll need to present your dining/show ticket/betting receipt/player’s card as proof of your patronage.

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Then you simply insert that validated ticket into the automated exit gate at the lots and garages. Hotel guests have it even simpler, as their room key operates the exit gates as well.

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In addition, Westgate charges $20 to utilize their valet service during events and conventions, especially those at the adjacent Las Vegas Convention Center. But once again, this fee is reimbursed for hotel guests.

While walking the property to photograph the lots, gates and kiosks, I noticed several circumstances where cars approached the gates, read the new policy signage, then backed out and left. This is only conjecture, but I have to assume that these persons weren’t actually Westgate customers, meaning the intent of the fees is working.

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If this program turns out to be successful, perhaps we can eventually expect other resorts in similar situations (think Tropicana, Venetian/Palazzo and Treasure Island) to try their hand at customer-friendly parking programs. And once again, this could work in their favor to take on the money-grubbing bigger chains.

The policies and practices in Las Vegas are ever-evolving…and they’re rarely designed to truly improve the Vegas visitor’s experience. So, while MGM and copycat properties are using parking fees as a blatant cash grab, more guest-friendly resorts will be protecting their own.

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That’s why I’ll be booking more stays at Westgate. You should consider them, too.

Follow this link for a current list of Westgate Las Vegas discounted room rates, packages and promotional specials.

 

Photos: Sammasseur

IMAGINARIUM Is Pure, Epic Magic


David Goldrake’s grandiose production at Tropicana will touch your senses and soul…

Something mysterious is going on at the intersection of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard. The entertainment gods have seen fit to grace that location with three epic magic shows. One performer is legendary, the second is flashy, and the newest is a challenger of major proportions. His name is David Goldrake, and his new show David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM at Tropicana is an entertainment gold mine.

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Goldrake (center) with fellow magicians Jarrett and Raja at the media premiere…            

Following on the heels of Jan Rouven‘s shocking abrupt closure and the short-lived Band of Magicians, one might question the wisdom of opening yet another illusion-based production inside the troubled, beautiful Tropicana Showroom. But the third time is clearly a charm, as David Goldrake’s gorgeous presentation is worthy of the space. It’s also deserving of the opportunity to take on David Copperfield and the far-inferior Criss Angel.

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Say what you will about the relevance of magic shows in 2017 Las Vegas, but IMAGINARIUM is much more than hokey top hats and sexy assistants. With an ethereal introduction of smokey morphing shapes and lush music, IMAGINARIUM sets up a surrealistic mood that the Luxemborg-born Goldrake maintains throughout.

After an opening illusion, Goldrake comes out to introduce himself and explain IMAGINARIUM, the circus sideshow that he visited as a child for a fifty-cent admission price. The experience of growing up as a fascinated young man in Europe permeates the production, enhanced by the host’s unique accent and magnetic presence.

David Goldrake, while known in several countries as an “International Man of Mystery”, has yet to make a mark on U.S. pop culture. When you’re a somewhat unknown quantity in Las Vegas, it helps to have charisma and good looks…both of which Goldrake has in abundance.

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David moves with the grace and elegance of a dancer, yet his massive muscular frame fills the grand Tropicana stage. So do the lush sets and immersive backdrops that pull you into each illusion. Expensive-looking video content from Drop The Spoon (Le Reve/Franco Dragone), steampunk-style design by EDT and costumes from Erin “Topaz” Lareau rival anything that the Cirque-financed Criss Angel has presented at Luxor.

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All of those bells and whistles don’t mean anything if the star performer can’t capture your imagination. IMAGINARIUM does so in spades. Large-scale stunts like a human-sized hourglass disappearance and passing through a sheet of solid metal will have you scratching your head.

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A particularly memorable moment comes when Goldrake collects rings from the hands of three volunteers. Placing them on a spindle while in constant view of the audience, he agitates the rings until they’re suddenly linked together into a small chain. And before you can say “audience plants”, one participant of that illusion was my companion for the evening…there was no collusion.

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David’s assistants, two women and two men, are skilled performers in their own right. The gorgeous dancers, contortionists, acrobats and aerialists get their own well-deserved sequence, an old-tyme European-styled sideshow sequence highlighting individual talents that come together for a rousing mini-finale.

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My favorite set piece, by far, is a salute to Houdini’s underwater straitjacket escape. A shirtless (and ab-tastic) Goldrake is chained and suspended upside-down in a glass chamber filled filled with water before your eyes. Never once is the clear tank out of sight…the gasping, bubbles and struggles are real. So were the accelerated beats of my heart.

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David Goldrake IMAGINARIUM

It’s always exciting when a new name bursts on the Vegas scene and raises the bar for a everyone…audiences and performers alike. We saw it happen when Spiegelworld (Absinthe and Cosmo’s Vegas Nocture) challenged Cirque du Soleil, Matt Goss shook up the lounge scene and BAZ: A Musical Mashup redefined musical theater. We’re seeing it once more with David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM.

There’s a hot new illusionist in town and he’s not to be missed. If you see only one large-scale magic show on your trip to Sin City, make it David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM. You will be thrilled, mystified…and your heart will soar skyward.

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David Goldrake: IMAGINARIUM performs Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm. Suitable for all ages. Tickets start at $39.90 plus taxes/fees and can be ordered here. Groupon is currently offering discount seats starting at $28 with no additional fees by clicking here.

Photos: Sammasseur, IMAGINARIUM via Facebook