The Stardust – The Brightest Stars (and Criminals) on the Strip

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The Stardust – From Criminals to Celebrities

With a cosmic and astronomical theme, the Stardust opened its doors in 1958. It was occupied 63 acres at the northern edge of The Strip, and was the last casino/resort built in the 1950’s. When it opened, it offered 1,065 guest rooms at $6 a night (the equivalent to $50 in 2017) and featured The Big Dipper, the largest swimming pool on the Strip, and the only drive-in theater that offered first run movies. The casino was also the first to introduce Keno. In 1958, the owners purchased the Royal Nevada next door and converted it to a convention center and high roller suite that housed high roller guests and The Stardust Showgirls. The resort sponsored an auto race in Desert Springs, which drew famous drivers like Mario Andretti and Mark Donahue. A golf course was later added to the property.

As much of an attraction as the hotel itself was the sign. Designed by Kermit Wayne and fabricated by Young Electric Sign Company, the sign was designed to promote the cosmic atmosphere within the resort and casino. The concept behind the sign was to give a panoramic view of the solar system, with the earth at the center of the neon and electric lights. The name Stardust “floated” among the cosmic dust. The sign used 7,100 feet of neon tubing, with over 11,000 light bulbs and was said to be able to be visible for over 60 miles.

The last bet was placed and the chimes of the slot machines rang out for the last time in the fall of 2006. Fireworks lit up the Vegas sky as the last of the buildings were brought down with explosives in March of 2007 to make way for a new generation of casinos and resorts. The site is currently being developed as the Resorts World, an Asian and South Pacific themed resort set to open in 2020.

The story of the Stardust was intertwined with organized crime and glitz of Hollywood. “Astronomical luxury at down to earth prices…” was the motto of Anthony Comero as he conceived of his dream casino and hotel on The Strip. Comero, aka The Admiral and Tony the Hat, was a bootlegger and gambling entrepreneur from Los Angeles. He made his money during Prohibition running rum, which he hid using a shrimping business as his cover. After Prohibition, he switched his focus to floating casinos, evading the California law enforcement until an eight day stand off forced The Admiral to retire his fleet and serve time in prison. He survived a murder attempt, being shot four times in the chest. Comero didn’t live to see his casino built. He died while playing Craps in the Desert Inn. The official cause of death was listed as heart attack, but many people believed that he was poisoned.

Comero’s dream was realized by John Factor, the half-brother to Max Factor, Sr. of make up fame. Factor, aka Jake the Barber, was a Prohibition era gangster, affiliated with Chicago Mob. He was known for the stock scam in England (whose victims also may have included members of the royal family) and rigging card tables in Monte Carlo. He also supposedly attempted to bail out Jimmy Hoffa before he disappeared.

Throughout its history, the Stardust was run by men with ties to the Mob. Hyman Goldbaum, Credit Manager, was a career criminal with 14 convictions ranging from assault to grand larceny. An early casino manager, Johnny Drew, was a veteran associate of Al Capone and the Chicago crime syndicate. In the 1960’s the casino was purchased by the Argent Corporation, through loans from The Teamster’s Union, and executives were eventually tried and convicted of siphoning between 7 and 15 million dollars using rigged scales (and was the topic of the book, and movie of the same name, Casino). Even into the 1970’s the hotel was linked to organized crime when owners, Al Sachs and Herb Tobman, were convicted of skimming money and laundering it through the Chicago Syndicate.

Most of the criminal activities went unnoticed by the guests who were enthralled with entertainment and activities available at the resort. The Stardust was the first casino to offer a signature act when Billy Daniels signed a long-term residency contract. Wayne Newton called The Stardust home for 10 years in the 80’s and 90’s, as did George Carlin and Andrew Dice Clay. Tim Conway and Harvey Korman offered their slapstick routines on a regular basis and famous tiger trainers, Siegfried and Roy, first took the stage at The Stardust. The final performers to grace the stage were Vegas regulars, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme.

 

 

Resources and for more Information
Anthony Cornero. (2017, October 16). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Cornero

DeMatteo, D. (n.d.). Stardust Resort – 1954-1959 Las Vegas Strip History. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from http://www.lvstriphistory.com/ie/star1955.htm

John Factor (2017, October 8). Retrieved October25, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Factor

The Stardust Resort and Casino. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stardust_Resort_and_Casino

The Bright Lights of Vegas – Photos from the Neon Museum and Boneyard

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Though these lights have dimmed, they have stories to tell.  The signs, with their fading color and missing lights, were witnesses to some of the city’s interesting characters and events who have made Vegas what it is.  From the first cafe to infamous gamblers to the fight for civil rights…read on to experience Vegas through these neon signs.

Note on these photos: These photos were taken at the Neon Museum and Boneyard, and around Las Vegas, as there is a push to restore and place many of these neon signs as art around the city.  The Neon Museum contains over 200 retired signs from the Las Vegas area.  Efforts are being made to restore the signs from the more popular or interesting signs.  In Vegas, two companies are primarily responsible for the creation of the neon signs, and these companies rent the signs to the casinos and companies.  When a sign is retired, it is brought to this boneyard (it gets its name because the signs are stripped of the neon so it can be re-used on other signs…thus, the signs are stripped to the bone).  The Neon Museum is open to the public.  For more information, please visit their website: The Neon Museum

 

Moulin Rouge – The End of Segregation in Vegas

The Stardust – The Brightest Stars (and Criminals) on the Strip

Moulin Rouge – The End of Segregation in Vegas

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Moulin Rouge

The neon sign from the Moulin Rouge casino, the first integrated casino in the country.  The sign was designed by Betty Wilis, who also designed the Welcome to Las Vegas, Stardust and City Center signs.

 

Moulin Rouge Hotel – The End of Segregation in Las Vegas
900 West Bonanza Road

If you traveled to Vegas prior to the 1960’s, you would notice that it looks quite different than today. I’m not talking about the architecture…I’m talking about the people. If you went into any
of the casinos on The Strip, the only African Americans you would see would either be serving drinks/food to you or singing/performing on the stage for you. And those performers…think Sammy Davis, Jr or Lena Horne….would have to enter by a door in the back, that was designated for “Blacks Only”. Expecting to see the celebrated Rat Pack perform together? Not likely because it was illegal for white and black performers to be on stage together. This strict segregation of blacks and whites earned Vegas the nickname, “The Mississippi of the West”.

That all changed with the opening of the Moulin Rouge.

Opening on May 24, 1955, the Moulin Rouge opened with great fanfare. Named for the famous Parisian theater, the Moulin Rouge opened on May 24, 1955, in the predominantly black community, West Las Vegas. It was the dream of Will Max Schwarts, Louis Rubin (owner of the famed Chandler’s Restaurant in NYC), Alexander Bisno and the great American boxer, Joe Louis, who wanted to see Vegas (and America) become more like its famous Parisian namesake and the French, who were more open to an integrated society. Keeping with the French and open society theme, the first show was titled “Tropi Cancan” and was inspired by the Cancan dance, created at the Moulin Rouge in the 19th century, as well as the music of Dorothy Dandridge, the first African American to find fame in France.

The Moulin Rouge was actually two stucco buildings, built in the Modernist style: one building with hotel rooms and the other building housing the casino, restaurant/coffee shop, showroom, bar and dress shop. The theme of the casino and rooms was based on the famous Moulin Rouge theatre in Paris. The guests were met by staff dressed in uniforms inspired by the French Foreign Legion and the restaurant boasted a true French chef. The sign, designed by Betty Willis (who also designed the Welcome to Las Vegas sign), featured an Eiffel Tower, as did the casino chips.

An interesting note on the design of the sign….If you look carefully, you will see “In Love” embedded in the letters of the sign. The “in” in Moulin is placed above the Rouge, with the “R” looking an “L” and the the “u” looking like a “ve”.

From its opening doors, the casino attracted the most celebrated African American performers, including Lena Horne, Harry Belafonte, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Sarah Vaughn. It also started attracting white performers such as Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin (who performed onstage with their friend, Sammy Davis, Jr.), Judy Garland, Tallulah Bankhead and Judy Garland. As these white stars performed, they brought in more white patrons, making the Moulin Rouge the first desegregated casino in the United States.

By December of 1955, within less than twelve months, the doors of the Moulin Rouge closed. Though its life was short, the Moulin Rouge was the spark needed to desegregate the most segregated city in the West. In 1960, amidst potential protests on The Strip, then-governor of Nevada, Grant Sawyer called for a meeting between casino owners, local black leaders, city and state officials and then-president of the NAACP, Dr. James McMillan. The meeting was held at the closed Moulin Rouge and resulted in an agreement to desegregate all casinos in Vegas….the first such agreement in the country.

In 1992, the building was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places for its contribution to the Civil Rights Movement. Over the years, several groups have attempted to purchase and restore the building. It has been destroyed by multiple fires and there has been a push to demolish the remaining buildings for safety reasons.

 

For more information on the Moulin Rouge, check out these references:

A Vegas jewel, the Moulin Rouge. (n.d.). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/vegas-jewel-moulin-rouge

Moulin Rouge. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved October 25, 2017.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moulin_Rouge_Hotel

Online Nevada Encyclopedia. (2009, September 01). Retrieved October 25, 2017, from http://www.onlinenevada.org/articles/moulin-rouge

USA, National Park Service. (n.d.) Moulin Rouge. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from nps.govhttps://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/civilrights/nv1.htm.

Wasser, Fred. (2016, February 26). The Moulin Rouge and the Story of Civil Rights in Las Vegas. Retrieved October 25, 2017 from https://knpr.org/knpr/2016-02/moulin-rouge-and-story-civil-rights-las-vegas

White, C. D. (n.d.). Moulin Rouge. Retrieved October 25, 2017, from http://www.blackpast.org/aaw/moulin-rouge

Jungle Park Race Track

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Tucked between US 41 and Sugar Creek, in west central  Indiana lies a small field.  It is surrounded by a thick underbrush and grove of oak and maple trees.  Just south of the green pasture, a dilapidated wooden structure stands watch; its fading wood slippery with moss and mold and a tree growing out of the middle.  If you look close enough at the field, you can make out a thin, brownish-grey path that circles the pasture.

This is all that is left of a race track that once sent shivers down the spines of the bravest and most fearless race car drivers in the country.  Jungle Park Raceway opened its gates in 1926, when auto racing was in its infancy.  It was started by Earl Padgett.  The track itself was an 1/2 mile oval, asphalt track, with raised gravel embankments on the turns. There were no railings or safety nets to separate the cars, which often hit up to 100 mph in the backstretch, from the spectators or to keep the cars from flying into Sugar Creek, and they did so….frequently.  The name said it all….it was a jungle.

On a good day, up to 5,000 spectators would walk through the white wooden gate with “Jungle Park” in green capital letters.  They would pile into one of the five wooden grandstands that encircled the track or lounge on blankets, eating from picnic baskets along the grassy edge of the track.  Beer flowed like water at the races.

At the height of its fame and popularity, Jungle Park was a destination point.  Padgett expanded the land to include a hotel (which burned down), guest cabins, a restaurant (with a windmill theme), gas station and a family home.  It was a proving ground for race car drivers from all over the country; eight of those drivers went on to win the Indianapolis 500.  The track was also the first to install lights and host nighttime races.

Unfortunately one of the aspects that made watching racing at Jungle Park so exciting was the risk of death.  Since there were no guardrails, often cars would flip into the stands injuring or killing spectators.  In its second season, a spectator, race official and a driver were all killed within a few months when cars went careening into the stands.

The sounds of engines roaring ceased in 1960 when during a midget car race, a driver swerved to miss another car, lost control of his car and landed in a crowd of spectators.  That was one death too many.  The sport of auto racing was moving toward regulations that would make the events safer for drivers and for spectators.  The era of the jungle was over.

All that remains of Jungle Park are the entry gate, one grandstand, and a thin line of a track.  The restaurant and The forest that surrounded the track is slowly taking it all back.  The property now belongs to a Parke County woman and her son, who use it as an access point to Sugar Creek for their canoe business.  A few times over the past years, the location has hosted a reunion for veteran drivers and a car show.

Fun City Motel

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Fun City Motel Sign

Las Vegas Blvd

 

Fun City Motel
2233 Las Vegas Boulevard
Built sometime in the early 50’s, the Fun City Motel is best known for its pink color, which still gives it that vintage flair and feeling. The sign is the original sign for the Holiday Motel, which was adapted in the late 1970’s for the motel.

Attached to Fun City is one of the city’s oldest wedding chapels, Chapel of the Bells. It has been featured in movies such as Indecent Proposal and Honeymoon in Vegas, Kelly Rippa, Earnest Borgnine, Leslie Nielsen and Mickey Rooney are among the celebrities who have been married at the location.

Fun trivia about the motel: It was featured in a scene from Vegas Vacation

Tod Motor Motel

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TOD Motel
1508 Las Vegas Boulevard
Built in 1962, the Tod Motel was known for its tall neon sign, folded plated roof on it car porch. such was the height of the sign, that it could be seen from anywhere along the Strip, providing for a landmark for visitors. Visitors also enjoyed the Tod’s location, which was conveniently located near restaurants, shopping and casinos.

As the focus of Las Vegas pushed south, the area where the Tod is located declined, becoming a haven for prostitution, drug dealers and low-rent apartments. Around 2005, the property was sold. Portions of the old motel were developed into apartments, while another portion has been re-developed into a hostel.

The Rummel Motel

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Rummel Motel

1809 Las Vegas Boulevard, Las Vegas, NV

Built in 1945 by Marvin Rummel, the Rummel Hotel is situated just north of The Strip, near the Stratosphere. In 1958, it was purchased by Ralph and Treva Roles. Ralph and Treva met in 1952 and married in the Little Church of the West. When Rummel was looking for someone to take over the Rummel Motel, he courted and convinced Roles to leave his family’s motels and take over the Rummel Motel. The Roles ran the motel until the late 1970’s.

Since dozens of motels were beginning to pop up along Highway 91, the Roles needed to differentiate The Rummel Motel from the others. To do this, they began passing out “fun books” to their guests, who could take the coupons to the casinos on The Strip and exchange them for food, nickel slots and souvenirs. The Roles also installed a heated outdoor pool, providing an opportunity for guests to be able to swim year round.

Currently, the motel is under renovation. It sustained mild damaged in a fire in April, 2017.

Interesting trivia about the Roles. They met while on a trip to Mount Charles in 1952 and were married a few months later at the Little Church of the West (one of the oldest still active wedding chapels in Vegas). The Roles were no strangers to either Vegas or the motel business. Treva’s family moved to the Vegas area in the 1940’s and owned the Del Mar Motel, while Ralph’s family owned and operated the Fair Price. Ralph Roles was a professional bowler, forming the Southern Nevada Bowler’s Association.