Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The FINAL Frontier, A True Classic Makes Space for Progress

If space is the final frontier, then the Last Frontier met a fitting if somewhat ironic destiny, making space for new casino resort complex on the Strip.

I call it the "Last Frontier" because that is how it began life in 1942. Through the years it's name would be changed to "the New Frontier," "the Frontier" and back to "the New Frontier" illustrating a time when established brands were respected in Las Vegas, and successful names could be tweeked, but not destroyed.

The Frontier, as I will call it for simplification, was so old that it's history was somewhat maligned in it's final days. The press got it wrong, mostly. A local news anchor reported that the hotel tower from the 1940's was to be imploded. The tower was built in 1990. T-shirts sported by employees said "The New Frontier -- 1965 - 2007." 1965 was the year Howard Hughes dropped the "New" from the name.

I won't bore you with all the details about the history of the property. has done a great job covering the closing and implosion, so check out all they have to offer.

Some of my favorite stories about the Frontier involve it's birth, and the rivallry between Thomas Hull and R.E. Griffith. Hull opened the El Rancho Vegas in 1941, the very first Casino/Hotel (actually more like a Motel)/Resort and is usually credited with creating the strip -- that is when Bugsy Siegel is not being improperly celebrated for the honor.

R.E. Griffith, brother of movie mogul D.W. Griffith also had his eyes on the strip and already had a string of hotels called "El Rancho."

It was a veritable Western themed shootout to see who could wrangle the rights for the RANCH.

Griffith was injured, when the El Rancho Vegas opened first, but he wasn't dead yet. He opened "The Last Frontier" the next year in 1942, and did his darndest to out-dude ranch his neighbor.

"The Old West in Modern Splendor" became the slogan for the Last Frontier, and the marriage of the past and the present suited the outskirts of Las Vegas just fine.

Jump ahead 65 years, and it seems the more things change, the more things stay the same. An old chapter closes in Las Vegas, and new one opens -- or it will anyway, but first things first -- there is a building to implode!

I cruised on down to the strip, heading east on Charleston. Las Vegas in the wee small hours is fairly easy to navigate, the traffic is light, and the lights are dazzling. I made a right on Las Vegas Blvd. and made it as far as the Riviera where police were diverting traffic.

I figured the top of the Riviera parking lot was as good a place as any to view the event as any, and joined a small crowd that had already gathered. It was T-30, a brisk Vegas November night, and the few beers I had consumed earlier had wore off my brain, but not my bladder. I headed into the Riviera for a bathroom break.

I next decided to head out onto the street and got swept up in the crowd headed south down the boulevard. You should never miss the opportunity to walk in the middle of a normally busy avenue, even if it is blocked off and perfectly safe to do so.

Unfortunately, I had left my video camera in the car, but there was not enough time to return, and the prospect of better viewing and the chill in the air kept me walking toward the intended target. I found a good spot at around T-10, and waited, my ears enjoying the banter of the crowd, and my eyes planted on the darkened Frontier.

A spectacular fireworks display soon began, with pyrotechnics dancing off the doomed hotel tower and bursting in air. Frankly, It was one of the best displays I had ever seen and I loved every minute. What I didn't know was that the real show was one the west side of the tower, out of my view.

I would learn the next day that a fiery countdown and intonation plunger was employed as part of the extravaganza on the other side of the tower, as a wonderful prelude to destruction.

Still, what we didn't know did not dampen our spirits, as we waited with baited breath for the money shot.

The dynamite went boom, boom, boom (and maybe more) and the building went down with grace and gusto. It was a beautiful and terrible thing.

My favorite comment from a reveler was "That is what you get for taking all my money!!!"

And it is all about money, after all.

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