Another One Bites The Dust

People who read my journal know that I’m into Las Vegas. Not the Vegas of today, but the Vegas of the 1950s and 1960s, when the hotel and their operators had distinct characters. That’s not the Vegas of today — it’s still all about money, but the style behind the greed is gone.

Perhaps that’s why I’m not waxing nostalgic about the implosion this morning of the Frontier Hotel. Perhaps this is because this isn’t the storied Frontier of lore, but a pale facsimile.

(as the mists of time enter)

The original Frontier hotel was built in 1942, and was the second hotel on the strip, coming after the El Rancho Vegas (which, if you’re trying to place things, was just outside the Las Vegas city border, across the street from what is now the Sahara). The Last Frontier, whose slogan was “The Old West in Modern Splendor” was a low-rise bungalow style motel that was immensely popular for its first ten to fifteen years. It was also “Old Vegas”, built before the heavy mob money came in (that all started with the Flamingo, which was built after the Last Frontier). The Last Frontier was not like the later joints: it wasn’t a tuxedo crowd — it was a relaxed, dude ranch crowd.

By 1955, the Last Frontier was tired. A new hotel was built in the parking lot, called the “New Frontier”. This echoed the idealism of the 1960s and John Kennedy. It had an outer space theme, with flying saucers and similar effects. IIRC, the old casino was demolished, but some of the old bungalows retained for extra rooms. The “New Frontier” was really not that noteworthy.

By the late 1960s, the New Frontier theme was played out. The casino was rethemed and remodeled into the Frontier, and the remnants of the Last Frontier were torn down, with new motel rooms being built. The Frontier had its successes and failures, including an extremely long labor strike that precepitated its decline. In 1990, a 16-story Atrium tower was constructed. The “Frontier”, which in its last days had been renamed the “New Frontier”, closed in July 2007. Most of the hotel was taken down by hand; the 1990 Atrium tower was imploded early this morning.

So, in this case, nothign historic died other than the name, which had died years ago. This is unlike some other past implosions: the Sands implosion took down the iconic circular tower added in the mid-1960s; the Landmark implosion took down the entire hotel built in the early 1960s; the Dunes implosion took down the “Diamond of the Dunes” towers; the Aladdin implosion took down the 1967 towers added to the Talley Ho; the Hacienda implosion took down the original tower; and the DI implosion took down some 1960 and 1980 era towers. The Stardust implosion, like the Frontier implosion, took down nothing of interest — those were modern 1990 towers — the original buildings died with the Stardust Motor Inn and the Convention facility.

In place of the Frontier will go up another overpriced tower of excess for whales, this time based on the Plaza hotels of New York.

In case you are curious, what’s left of early Vegas? The two story wings at the Trop (but they aren’t long for this world). The original 9-story building at the heart of the Riviera. The casino at Circus-Circus. I don’t believe there is anything original left at the Sahara, Flamingo, or Caesars. By the way, if you’re a fan of this stuff, the Las Vegas Casino Death Watch is a great site. [I used to also recommend the LV Strip History site, but they’ve become unusable since they went IE-only. If you want their pages on the Frontier, look here.]