Out with a bang: 10 Strip implosions

/ Sun File Photo

A side view of the El Rancho’s Oct. 3, 2000 implosion. The building was demolished to make room for Turnberry Place, a set of high-rise luxury condominiums.

It's almost as much a part of Las Vegas culture as slot machines and showgirls: When it's time to take down a massive building, resorts on the Strip do it with a bang.

So when MGM Resorts International announced it wants to tear down the 26-story Harmon hotel tower at CityCenter because of concerns about the building's integrity, it was no surprise that the demolition method of choice was going to involve lots of explosives.

If the Harmon is imploded, it won't even be the first time it has happened in that location; MGM Mirage, as it was then called, imploded the Boardwalk in 2006 to make room for CityCenter. Here's a look at that implosion and nine others:

  • New Frontier

    Opened: Oct. 30, 1942

    Closed: July 16, 2007

    Imploded: Nov. 13, 2007

    When the New Frontier met its demise in 2007, it was one of the few remaining Strip hotels to have witnessed the transformation of a portion of Highway 91 into one of the most famous streets in the world.

    The property began as the Pair O' Dice club in 1930, built by British theater owner R.E. Griffith, the second property on what is now the Strip. It underwent several transformations and saw many owners, including Steve Wynn, who had a small stake in the operation when he first started out in the city.

    In 1942, the Pair O' Dice was remodeled into the Western-themed Last Frontier, becoming one of the Strip's first themed casinos. After a renovation, the casino was renamed the New Frontier in April 1955. Billionaire Howard Hughes purchased the property for about $14 million in 1967 and the Western theme was dropped, along with part of its name, becoming simply The Frontier. In 1999, after a few more changes in ownership, the name was changed back to the New Frontier.

    As the era of the megaresorts ushered in an evolution on the Strip, the New Frontier took on a different role. It was sought out not as a Las Vegas destination but as a hotel that offered cheap room rates the newer attractions. Its glory days as a classy establishment that hosted Elvis Presley's first Las Vegas performance, as well as the final performance of Diana Ross and the Supremes, were quickly forgotten. It became a place known mainly for its mechanical bull, often ridden by bikini-clad women, inside the Gilley's cowboy bar.

    The 16-story New Frontier was imploded just after 2:30 a.m. Nov. 13, 2007.

  • Stardust

    Opened: July 2, 1958

    Closed: Nov. 1, 2006

    Imploded: March 13, 2007

    When it opened, the Stardust was the largest casino in Nevada and the largest hotel in the world, with approximately 1,000 rooms.

    Howard Hughes moved to purchase the hotel in the 1960s, along with many other Strip casinos, but the U.S. government blocked the deal, fearing a monopoly was taking shape. Instead, Delbert Coleman purchased the hotel and later sold it to Argent Corp.

    In the 1970s, members of Stardust management were implicated in skimming cash from the casino's cage in a Nevada Gaming Commission investigation. Officials believed the operation was run by mobster Franky "Lefty" Rosenthal, setting the background for the film "Casino." The mob reign behind the Stardust ended in 1983 when federal agents conducted a raid on the property and Rosenthal was banned from Nevada casinos for life.

    The casino's next owners, Las Vegas businessman Al Sach and Herd Tobman, were also suspected of running a skimming operation after acquiring the casino. They too were removed as owners and fined $3.2 million, a state record at the time.

    In 1985, the Stardust was sold to Boyd Gaming, which closed it in 2006 to make way for a $4 billion project called Echelon. That project stalled before major construction got underway, but not before the 32-story Stardust was imploded on March 13, 2007, with 428 pounds of dynamite.

  • Boardwalk

    Opened: 1969

    Closed: Jan. 9, 2006

    Imploded: May 9, 2006

    The Boardwalk — modeled after Coney Island, with a replica of the parachute drop and facsimile wooden roller coaster on the roof — opened as a branch of the Holiday Inn hotel chain. Many tourists, not knowing the ride was fake, would come into the casino and request a spin.

    The casino was purchased by Boardwalk Casino Inc. in 1994, which added a 16-story tower in 1996. Mirage Resorts purchased the Boardwalk in 1998, becoming part of the MGM Mirage empire in 2000. The casino was closed Jan. 9, 2006, and the main tower was imploded on May 9, 2006, to make room for CityCenter, which opened in December 2009.

  • Desert Inn

    Opened: April 24, 1950

    Closed: Aug. 28, 2000

    Imploded: Oct. 23, 2001

    Originally called Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn after the owner, a San Diego gambler and developer. When construction funds ran out in 1948, Clark traded away 74 percent interest in the property to the Cleveland mob, led by Moe Dalitz. Although Clark remained as figurehead, Dalitz and his partners were in control.

    On Thanksgiving Day 1966, Howard Hughes rented out the top two floors with an agreement to stay for 10 days. After overstaying his welcome by several months he was asked to leave. Instead, Hughes purchased the Desert Inn from Dalitz on March 1, 1967, for about $14 million. The hotel soon expanded by adding the 14-floor Augusta Tower for $54 million.

    In 1997, after passing through several owners including Kirk Kirkorian and ITT/Sheraton, the hotel went through a $200 million upgrade. The renovation reduced the resort's 821 rooms to 715 to provide extra amenities. An additional tower and lagoon-style pool were also added.

    Three days after its birthday, on April 27, 2000, Steve Wynn purchased the Desert Inn for $275 million. He closed it several months later and imploded its towers between 2001 and 2004. Wynn Las Vegas stands in its place.

  • El Rancho

    Opened: 1982

    Closed: 1992

    Imploded: Oct. 3, 2000

    Originally the Thunderbird (1948-1976), then the Silverbird (1976-1981), El Rancho took shape after Ed Torres purchased the property in 1981 for $500,000. He sought to honor the property with the name of one of the Strip's first resorts (the original El Rancho Vegas was located just across Las Vegas Boulevard).

    The next year Torres hired Martin Stern Jr. to expand the hotel, adding a tower and a new entrance. Stern would again expand and remodel the hotel and casino in 1987, but the changes did little to help the casino's success.

    The struggling property was closed in 1992 and sold to a New Jersey company. The company was unable to get financing to reopen the casino and was ordered by the city to tear the building down in 1999.

    In 2000, the property was sold to Turnberry Associates and imploded with 700 pounds of explosives on Oct. 3, 2000, in front of a crowd of 2,000.

    The area is now occupied by the Turnberry Towers condominiums and the Fontainebleau resort construction site.

  • Aladdin

    Opened: April 1, 1966

    Closed: Nov. 25, 1997

    Imploded: April 27, 1998

    Reopened: Aug. 17, 2000

    The resort's first iteration, the Tally-Ho, gave way to the King's Crown in 1964, but because the gaming license was denied, King's Crown failed within six months.

    Purchased and renovated for $3 million, new owner Milton Prell gave the property an Arabian theme and renamed it the Aladdin. When the Aladdin first opened in 1966, entering guests were showered with flower petals.

    The Aladdin became world-famous for hosting the wedding of entertainer Elvis Presley to Priscilla Anne Beaulieu.

    Parvin Dohrmann took over the Aladdin after Prell had a stroke, only to sell it in 1972 for $5 million. The owners, Sam Diamond, Peter Webbe, Sorkis Webbe and Richard Daly, began a $60 million renovation project including a 19-story tower.

    Las Vegas entertainer Wayne Newton was a part owner of the Aladdin from 1980 to 1982 along with Ed Torres, who later bought Newton's shares.

    After several more ownership changes, the old Aladdin closed in 1996 and was imploded in 1998.

    A $1.4 billion megaresort opened on the site in 2000, keeping the name Aladdin. Eventually the new Aladdin also experienced financial woes and was purchased by Planet Hollywood and Starwood Hotel & Resort Worldwide for $637 million in 2003.

    The hotel went through another renovation and was reopened April 17, 2007, as Planet Hollywood.

  • Hacienda

    Opened: June 1956

    Closed: 1996

    Imploded: Dec. 31, 1996

    Built on 48 acres, the Hacienda had 10 buildings and started with 240 rooms. It was remodeled in 1975 and expanded in the early 1990s to 1,140 rooms to compete with booming megaresorts nearby. During its first couple of years the casino remained closed for lack of a gaming license.

    Just two miles from McCarran International Airport, and for most of its years the first hotel on the highway from Southern California, it attracted an ample amount of tourists but remained somewhat solitary until the 1970s.

    The Hacienda was known for family entertainment and featured miniature golf. Owner Warren "Doc" Bailey wanted to have something that kept children occupied while their parents gambled. In 1960, Bailey purchased eight small passenger airplanes for $2 million to provide customers with a package deal that would include airfare and hotel stay. In the 1970s and 1980s, tourist traffic grew for the Hacienda, due in large part to its location at the southern end of the Strip.

    In its heyday, the Hacienda showroom launched Lance Burton's career and featured comedian Redd Foxx. Even with star attractions and a family-oriented environment, the Hacienda could not compete with the flashy resorts that grabbed tourist attention. The hotel was imploded on Dec. 31, 1996, to make way for Mandalay Bay.

    The neon horse and rider from the old Hacienda sign now decorates the intersection of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Las Vegas.

  • Sands

    Opened: Dec. 15, 1952

    Closed: June 30, 1996

    Imploded: Nov. 26, 1996

    The seventh resort on the Strip opened Dec. 15, 1952. It was designed by architect Wayne McAllister.

    The Sands opened with only a few hundred rooms. Through the years, it passed through the hands of several Las Vegas land tycoons, including Howard Hughes, who purchased it in the mid 1960s. Hughes added an iconic 500-room circular tower designed by architect Martin Stern Jr.

    Other owners included Kirk Kerkorian, who purchased it in 1988, and, in 1989, the Interface Group, which included Sheldon Adelson.

    The original "Oceans 11" movie was filmed at the Sands in 1960. The film — including Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford — inspired a meeting, known as the Summit at the Sands, and united the stars, known worldwide as the Rat Pack.

    Along with "Oceans 11," the Sands was featured in "Con Air" and "The Cooler." In 1996, Adelson closed the famous resort and imploded it to make way for the Venetian.

  • Landmark

    Opened: July 1, 1969

    Closed: Aug. 8, 1990

    Imploded: Nov. 7, 1995

    In 1961, Frank Carroll purchased a vacant lot at Paradise Road and Convention Center Drive with the hope of building the Landmark. Carroll's dream would not be completed until 1969, after a long series of mishaps.

    Carroll began construction when he received a $300,000 loan from a credit union. He hired California contractors to oversee the original 15-story project, and later doubled the size to 31 stories. The tower was 365 feet tall. In 1962, after being denied additional funding from the credit union, construction stopped and the building sat empty, just 80 percent complete.

    Construction resumed in 1966 after a four-year hiatus when $5.5 million was loaned to Carroll by the Teamsters Union Pension Fund. The tower was to be completed in 1967 and opened on New Year's Eve of that year. However, Carroll once again ran out of money.

    He pushed back opening date until Howard Hughes purchased the Landmark in January 1969 and agreed to pay off Carroll's loans. The hotel opened July 1, 1969, but couldn't break out of its financial hole.

    In 1970, when Hughes left Las Vegas, control of the Landmark passed to Summa Corp., resulting in a $5.9 million loss.

    The Landmark passed from owner to owner suffering further financial loss. Still, it was featured in hit movies such as "Casino" and "Diamonds are Forever," and hosted famous entertainers, including Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.

    After the start of the megaresort era of Las Vegas, the Landmark became too expensive to keep open and it closed Aug. 8, 1990.

    The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority debated the future of the Landmark, which remained vacant in 1994. Some wanted to restore the casino and others wanted to demolish it. Those in favor of demolition won. The Landmark was imploded Nov. 7, 1995. Footage of the implosion used in the film, "Mars Attacks." The property ended the way it began, as a vacant lot, now housing overflow parking for the Convention Center.

  • Dunes

    Opened: May 23, 1955

    Closed: Jan. 26, 1993

    Imploded: Oct. 27, 1993

    With the slogan "The Miracle in the Desert," the Dunes offered a desert oasis theme and featured a 35-foot-tall fiberglass sultan on its roof. The walls inside the Dunes were slanted, mirroring desert tents.

    Through the years, the Dunes continued to add "Arabian Nights" themed elements including an onion-shaped dome. The hotel eventually added performers such as like Aztec Birdman, who performed ritual dances, and flying Indians to perform by the pool.

    In 1961, the Dunes added the Diamond of the Dunes, a tower that was the largest in the state, bring the total number of rooms available to 400. In 1976, another 17-story tower was added, which brought the number of rooms to 1,300.

    The Dunes hosted entertainers such as Frank Sinatra and offered the first topless revues on the strip, known as Minsky's Follies.

    In 1987, Japanese millionaire Masao Nangaku purchased the resort for $155 million. Nangaku could not make the Dunes successful and in 1993, sold it to Steve Wynn's Mirage Resorts Inc. for $75 million. It was ceremoniously imploded on Oct. 27, 1993. The Bellagio occupies the site.

CORRECTION: MGM Mirage imploded the Boardwalk, not Dunes, in 2006 to make room for CityCenter. | (August 25, 2011)


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  1. Wow! How ignorant of Strip history are some at the LV Rag? The El Rancho was imploded to make way for Turnberry Place? Not really! Turnberry is East of the El Rancho property and fronts Paradise Road. The El Rancho, fronting LVBS, was imploded on October 3, 2000 - not to make way for Turnberry but for the Fontainebleau. A bit of fact checking would have easily avoided that error.