Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Stardust To Dust ...

This is part one of two ... I had originally planned to cover the Stardust up through it's untimely demise, but it kept getting longer and longer.

Anyway, my absolute favorite Las Vegas casino-hotel of all times is unquestionably the Stardust.

The Stardust was the indisputable anchor of the North Strip in the Las Vegas area, surviving from 1958 to 2006, and at several times during its history being the property with the largest casino and the largest room count.

My first encounter with the Stardust was on an extended family vacation back in the mid 1970s, when we stayed downtown but visited the Stardust on the Strip. I was very impressed, and convinced my late father (MHRIP) that we should stay there the next year, which we did. ...

My first STAY at the Stardust was a major let-down! :(

Here I was expecting this palatial suite with majestic appointments and what did I get? A dorm room! :(

Most of the Stardust rooms at the time were in long two-story "motel" buildings out to the rear of the main casino. To use the term "austere" for these rooms would be a compliment!

This is the only photo I have of the "dorms", scanned from an old print. All the room needed was a black-light poster and a bookshelf of construction blocks and bare boards and it could have easily passed for dorms at the University Of {whatever}!

A couple of those in my extended family started calling it "The Stalag", but I didn't think it was that bad!

The view above, taken shortly after the larger "west" tower was built shows the "dorm room" buildings still extant to the left. The "dorms" were closed around 1997 and torn down in 1999.

In the heyday of the Stardust, the "Campus" included such features as an auto racetrack, drive-in theater, television studio (see Frank Rosenthal Show below), rodeo arena, countless swimming pools, saunas, etc., and several generations of a convention center, the last of which was housed in a large metal quonset type of structure situated upon the land of the demolished "dorm" rooms.

Lido de Paris, a Stateside version of the famous French production show was the Stardust's feature entertainment until Lido finally closed in 1992.

The former Royal Nevada Hotel, a portion of which is shown above as the Stardust "Villa", preceded the Stardust and was absorbed into the Stardust, adding to its total room count. Originally in an "H" shape, portions were gradually chipped away until in the Stardust's later years, this section resembled more of the letter "F".

The Stardust Race and Sports Book was the standard to which all others in the Las Vegas vicinity were compared! The "Stardust Line" was a term well-recognized by (legal and illegal) bookmakers and players.

The Stardust comes complete with a rich and colorful history, much of it not quite so honorable. It was allegedly built with mob money and in much of its heyday operated by such characters as Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal and Tony "The Ant" Spilatro.

It's well documented that Frank and Tony ran the Stardust for the mob, even though all the money in Las Vegas could not buy Frank a gaming license. They just simply rotated him from one schlock job to another (Director of Food and Drink, Entertainment Manager, etc.) under temporary authority. Tony was the "muscle", who was said to be fond of mayhem and violence, as long as he was the one doing the inflicting!

When Frank was Entertainment Manager, he hosted the Frank Rosenthal Show, a weekly talk show featuring many well-known celebrities of the time.

Frank and Frank appear on the Frank Rosenthal Show in the mid 1970s.

Things came to a head during some "family" disputes! Franks car was booby-trapped, and he barely escaped death by inferno after dining at Marie Callenders, having been pulled from the blazing wreck by a quick-to-act waiter. Tony and his brother ended up being buried alive in a midwest farm field following a "disagreement". If all of this sounds familiar, yes, these real-life events, among others, formed the basis of the film Casino.

Eventually, in the mid 1980s, the Nevada Gaming Commission revoked the license of the Stardust, following years of investigation into skimming and book-cooking. The Boyd Group (Sam's Town, Fremont, et. al.) was allowed to purchase and re-open the Stardust, and was in charge until the very end.

The iconic 190 foot sign, perhaps the most-recognized sign in Las Vegas's history, is now part of the Neon Museum's collection.

This particular "cloud of stars" sign replaced the original Stardust sign in the mid 1960s.

The original Stardust sign, a "googie" design of a space-age theme, lasted only about 8 years.

(From a ca. 1960 postcard.)

The particular typeface used for the original Stardust signage and logo is frequently referred to on the web by such names as "Electrajag", "Electra-Jag", "Electra Jag" and even "Electro Jag".

Having previously worked in the printing industry, I'm somewhat familiar with typefaces and fonts, and I had never heard of this particular typeface name. I've been unable to find that name in any typeface catalogs, current or historical. The Linotype Corporation does have several typefaces in their "Electra" series, but nothing like this one.

Doing a Google search for variants of "Electrajag" seems to always bring up the Stardust sign. :)

Anyway ... the original 1960s design of the "cloud of stars" sign retained the Electrajag typeface.

(Above photo from "Mtnman79", Creative Commons attribution)

In the 1980s, the lettering was replaced with what looks like a non-deco Futura Bold, which matched most of the Stardust's newer signage.

The Stardust had two hotel towers, the smaller 1960s vintage East Tower ...

... and the much larger 30-story 1980s vintage West Tower, which was considered to be the first "mega-tower" on the Strip.

The campus was quite compact when compared to today's megaresorts. You could walk from corner to corner in 15 minutes or so at a leisurely pace. There was a lot there, however, as we explore some of what was ...

Leaping waters!

Attractively-lit buildings ...

... very photogenic at night!

The Villa area was complete with such things as swimming pools, hot tubs, jacuzzis, gazebos, a fitness center, palm trees, and yes, outdoor cocktail service.

Yes, the North Strip once revolved around the Stardust ...

... and its footprints which lasted from 1958 through 2006!

Expensive room! :)

Expensive towels! :)

In Part Two (I see you shiver with antici ... {say it!}) we'll look at the demise and aftermath of the Stardust.