the Mob Museum was fascinating in part because it illustrated to some extent the rapid pace at which Las Vegas turns over. if something’s not profitable, not working any more — implode it to make way for something new!
two stories in particular piqued my curiosity about classic resorts and what became of them. the first was the Desert Inn, originally situated on the Strip about parallel to where our hotel stood on Paradise Road. it opened in 1950, the fifth resort on the Strip and the first to have its own golf course. when the original owner (Wilbur Clark) ran short of money, the Cleveland mob took over with Wilbur remaining on as figurehead while Moe Dalitz arranged financing and stayed in the background.
the resort enjoyed its share of fame and notoriety in pop culture, beginning in 1960 with the original “Oceans 11” which featured the Desert Inn as one of five heist locations. six years later, Howard Hughes arrived on Thanksgiving and, when his reservation expired ten days later and he refused to leave, he simply negotiated with Dalitz to buy the hotel, eventually handing over $13 million for the property. it was the first of many Las Vegas purchases for Hughes (and remained a Hughes property until 1988), which later included the Sands (about which more in a moment). the Desert Inn was also featured in Dynasty and Vega$ in the 1980s, “Sister Act 2” and, finally, Rush Hour 2.
despite a major renovation project undertaken in 1997, the Desert Inn didn’t last long into the 21st century. three days after a time capsule was buried as part of the resort’s 50th anniversary celebrations, Steve Wynn purchased the property with the intention to demolish it in favor of a new megaresort. a year later, in October 2001, the main tower of the Desert Inn was demolished.
the Sands Hotel and Casino opened a next door to the Desert Inn in 1952 — the seventh resort on the Strip. the Sands also benefited from the Ocean’s 11 filming in 1960; during their stay in Vegas, the five stars of the show performed at the Sands’ Copa Room in what became known as the “Summit of the Sands” and generally held as the birth of the Rat Pack. this performance also marked a (limited) action taken by the Sands to allow a degree of integration in highly segregated Las Vegas; in the 1950s, the Sands “allowed” Nat King Cole to stay and gamble at the resort and in the 1960s, Sammy Davis Jr. convinced the resort to hire and permit entry to more blacks.
in 1988, Sheldon Adelson bought the Sands and eight years later decided to demolish it to make way for what is now the gargantuan Venetian Resort Hotel Casino. the Sands got one last hurrah on film, though, when the plane from Con Air crashed into its soon-to-be-demolished lobby at the end of the film. (I encourage you to search for “Jon Stewart says Sheldon Adelson.”
and so, when there’s money to be had or money to be made, Vegas has no qualms about wiring explosives up to any old building whose shine has faded and pushing a detonation button. of course, when the rivers of cash freeze over in a frigid economic climate, demolitions may go forward without anything to rise up from the barren waste left behind.