11/19/2004 12:00AM

Another piece of history gone


Another casino bit the dust Tuesday, and I feel old. In the wee hours, the last standing buildings of the Desert Inn hotel casino were imploded and fell to the ground in rubble.

As I watched the implosion on early morning television, I reconstructed what the skyline of the Las Vegas Strip looked like when I settled here in 1988. I counted only 10 hotel casinos that stand on the same site on the Strip as they did then.

Seven major hotel casino resorts have dropped to dust in the last eight years. Never mind the remodeling, expansions and mergers of others.

The Desert Inn ended a 50-year run when it closed at 2 a.m. on Aug. 28, 2000. Opened on April 24, 1950, by Wilbur Clark and mob-tied Morris Dalitz and partners, it was funded by Teamsters Union money. The "DI," as it was known, was owned over the years by billionaire Howard Hughes, ITT-Sheraton, and Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Steve Wynn bought the hotel, casino, and golf course on April 28, 2000, for $270 million as a birthday present for his wife, Elaine. Now, his newest development, the $2 billion Wynn Las Vegas megaresort will open on the site April 28, 2005.

On Oct. 3, 2000, the boarded up El Rancho was imploded. One of the oldest casino hotel properties on the Strip, the El Rancho came down at 2:30 a.m. It opened on April 3, 1941, and was also owned through the years by Howard Hughes as well as Bill Bennett of Circus Circus Inc. fame, and Hilton Hotels. It stood vacant since 1992 before it was taken down. Turnberry Associates Inc. owns the property, which sits next to the soon-to-be-imploded Wet 'n Wild water park.

April 27, 1998, was the day the old Aladdin - opened on April 1, 1966 - was imploded. It closed its doors on Nov. 25, 1997, and reopened as the new Aladdin on Nov. 18, 2000, at a cost of $1.4 billion. The 2,567-room resort recently was bought out of bankruptcy by a group that intends to re-tool the property as a Planet Hollywood Hotel Casino.

The most flamboyant implosion was that of the Dunes on Oct. 29, 1993. Opened on May 23, 1955, as the the only other hotel casino besides the Desert Inn to have an accompanying golf course along the Strip. Again, Steve Wynn reshaped the landscape, buying the property in 1992 for $75 million. On Oct. 15, 1998, he opened the $1.6 billion, 3,036-room Bellagio on the site. The 36-story icon is still a benchmark of Las Vegas luxury.

Off the Strip, the Landmark hotel casino was imploded on Nov. 7, 1995. Replaced by more parking facilities for the Las Vegas Convention Center, the building, which looked like a space needle, came crashing down in two separate pieces.

In 1996, the Hacienda hotel casino was dropped on New Year's Eve. Opened in June of 1956, the Hacienda was that lone casino at the end of the Strip as you drove into Las Vegas from the airport. Bought for $80 million by Circus Circus Inc. in 1995, it is now the site of the casino complex anchored by Mandalay Bay, a $950 million, 3,309-room megaresort that sits next to the Luxor and Excalibur.

But, it was the demolition of the most famous hotel casino that started the new Las Vegas, imploded on Nov. 26, 1996. The Sands hotel casino, which opened Dec. 15, 1952, will always be remembered as the hangout of the Rat Pack. Frank, Dean, Sammy, and company were icons, and the Sands was their playground, hosting movie stars, and mobsters. If the walls could talk! Now, the $1.5 billion Venetian sits on the site. Opened on May 3, 1999, the Venetian is building a second tower, which brings us full circle, as it will sit right next to Wynn Las Vegas.

Ralph Siraco is turf editor for the Las Vegas Sun and host of the Race Day Las Vegas radio show.