Saturday, 17 March 2007

The Stardust Bites the Dust

The Stardust Resort and Casino, one of the most famous casinos in Las Vegas, was no more as of March 13, 2007. On that date the building was imploded in a ceremony which included a fireworks display, as if it was reason to celebrate. It was cleared to make way for Echelon Place, a resort which will feature 5000 rooms, a shopping mall, a production theatre, and 1 million square feet of meeting space.

I have never been to Las Vegas, so I never had the chance to see the Stardust in person. But like most Americans I have seen it both on television and movies. And like many people I am aware of its history. The Stardust was conceived by Tony Cornero. Cornero was hardly anyone's definition of an honest businessman. In the days of Prohibition he was a bootlegger. And unfortunately for Cornero, he was arrested and convicted for his crimes. After his release he and his brother went to Las Vegas. After several attempts at various casinos (not all of them in Las Vegas), Cornero decided to pursue his dream of creating the largest, plushest casino in the city. Unfortunately, Cornero would die before his dream came true. He had a fatal heart attack on July 31, 1955. Regardless, Moe Dalitz, owner of the Desert Inn and a man with his own shady past, saw the Stardust through to its completion. The Stardust opened in 1958. At the time it was possibly the largest resort hotel in the world. It was also the first casino in Las Vegas to cater to the average person. Its rates and its prices for food and drink were cheaper than any other casino at the time.

In addition to being possibly the most lavish casino for its time, the Stardust also boasted some of Las Vegas's more famous architecture. Its sign featured the solar system, complete with a 16 inch model of Earth, and the name "Stardust" in electric letters. At the time it was the largest sign in the world. Its roadside sign featured the name "Stardust" in a mass of twinkling lights.

Among other things, Stardust was famous for its French themed floor show, Lido de Paris. It ran from the hotel's opening to 1992. It also featured Las Vegas's only first run drive-in theatre. Over the years it featured a number of different performers, including George Carlin, Don Rickles, The Temptations, Steve Lawrence and Edie Gorme, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway, Wayne Newton, and Siegfried and Roy.

Like many of the casinos in Las Vegas, the Stardust had a connection to organised crime for many years. Moe Dalitz had more than his share of links to the Mob. For many years the casino was under the control of the Chicago Outfit, the criminal organisation dating back to the days of Al Capone). It was in 1976 that authorities uncovered the fact that gangster Fraank Rosenthal had been secretly running the Stardust for years. Shady business dealing behind the Stardust came to further light when the casino was fined by the Nevada Gambling Comission $3 million for skimming. In March 1985 the Stardust was bought by Boyd Gaming Corporation, bringing to an end any connection the casino had to organised crime.

Unfortunately, the Stardust would eventually find itself behind the times. These days more revenue is generated in Las Vegas through hotel rooms, shows, and food than from gambling. The Stardust, where the casino was the star attraction, had become something of a dinosaur.

Regardless, the Stardust would leave its mark on American pop culture. It has appeared in movies from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas to Mars Attacks. In the films Casino, Swingers, and the notoriously awful Showgirls, the Stardust had a starring role.

While Echelon Place might have more rooms and even more amenities than the Stardust, I very seriously doubt that it will have the cultural resonance which the Stardust did. With the destruction of the Stardust, it seems to me that we have seen yet another piece of American gone up in dust. The Sands and the Desert Inn were destroyed years ago. For better or worse, Las Vegas is changing. And while those in charge of the resorts and casinos might feel this is for the better, I can't help but worry the city is losing the character that made it famous. Okay, the city is better off without mobsters operating the casinos, but I don't think it is better off without the old classic casinos. Quite simply, the Echelon will never take the place of the Stardust.

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