Bugsy Siegel didn’t open the first casino on the highway outside Las Vegas, Cashman and Hull did with their western styled El Rancho Hotel. It opened with the largest dining room in Las Vegas, horseback riding, and pools, but with only a few tables. A first, it was open 24 hours a day.
Bugsy soon followed with his now world famous Flamingo Hotel. Eventually the mob didn’t like their lack of income, and after Bugsy was killed the Flamingo has spent much of its life changing hands and being restyled. That’s the boom and bust story that continues everywhere in all of Las Vegas today.
The first California Spanish style buildings were soon replaced by the wood and wagon wheel atmosphere of the Western Style. Just after WWII, Bugsy was the first to used mid-century modern on his new hotel and Casino. Each time it changed hands, it was remodeled with the first change in the facade in 1953. The last of the original Flamingo Hotel structures were torn down in 1993.
I confess, I tour Vegas today looking up with my mouth open. I gape at the changes.
Mid-century Modern architecture vanished into the starkness of the International style followed by the weighty adaptations of Brutalism. Just as I get a handle on Brutalism, there seems to be an older Architectural style popping up throughout the Strip. Beaux Artes. It was a rich, overly ornamental, classical style of architecture taught in Paris in the 19th Century.
Seeing this sort of décor intermixed with marble and miles of glass towers seems natural for Las Vegas. The fanciful pink feather décor of the modern Flamingo Hotel fronts the pink glass international style towers to the rear. Mandalay bay has two bare glass towers that almost inspire laughter with their Beaux Artes interiors.
In 2008, with the market bust, Las Vegas began a dramatic downward slide. Bankruptcies became the norm. The strip is decorated now with the giant rusting ghosts and faded dreams of failed financing. Rings of homes that surround Vegas and its strip have lost 58% of their value pricing them somewhere within reach of most of us.
No matter what happens, I will continue flitting my way through this architectural jumble every decade or so, laughing open mouthed at the changes. And there will be changes.
In Old Las Vegas: With wonderful pictures of the strip.