With the introduction of The Mirage, Steve Wynn changed the way hotels were built on the Strip.
Four years later, on Oct. 27, 1993, the developer forever altered the way they were destroyed.
“Captain of the Britannia,” Wynn called out to the man aboard the new $12 million ship in the lagoon at Treasure Island, which had opened the night before.
“Ready. Aim. Fiya!”
The iconic Dunes sign, relit for the occasion, exploded and collapsed to the ground following a series of cannon blasts. The hotel’s North Tower soon joined it in the rubble. There were so many fireballs, a security guard across the Strip at Bally’s described the heat as “like opening an oven door.”
As many as 200,000 people lined Las Vegas Boulevard, parts of which had closed to traffic for more than three hours, as crowds stretched from Buccaneer Boulevard between The Mirage and Treasure Island all the way past what’s now Planet Hollywood Resort.
The next day, we called the implosion “one of the biggest publicity stunts in the history of Las Vegas.”
It soon became the norm — minus some of the theatrics — as 13 additional casinos on and around the Strip have been imploded, all by Maryland-based Controlled Demolition, Inc.
Some implosions have been theatrical. Some were solemn. A few were afterthoughts.
While we wait for the Tropicana to join the list of the imploded, here’s a ranking:
Opened: April 19, 1970
Imploded: Feb. 10, 2015
What’s there now: proposed site of Majestic Las Vegas
Things rarely went according to plan for the hotel most recently known as the Clarion, as it was purchased at auction at least twice — once by Debbie Reynolds as a repository for her collection of Hollywood memorabilia, then by the World Wrestling Federation. Its implosion, the city’s first in more than seven years, didn’t go any smoother.
The early-morning demise of the hotel that also had been known as the Paddlewheel and the Greek Isles was delayed by a half hour when several residents near its Convention Center Drive site refused to leave. Once the dust cleared from the implosion, the hundreds of spectators watching from the Riviera and Westgate parking structures saw that the elevator shaft and stairwell remained standing. By 2:30 p.m., some 12 hours after the originally scheduled demolition, a crane and several trucks had felled the rest.
13. DESERT INN
Opened: April 24, 1950
Imploded: Oct. 23, 2001 and Nov. 16, 2004
What’s there now: Wynn Las Vegas and Encore
The Desert Inn had plenty of famous guests over the years. Frank Sinatra made his Las Vegas debut there in 1951. It was the preferred local hotel for the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, aka England’s former King Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson. Robert Urich’s Dan Tanna was a regular during the three seasons of “Vega$.” No visitor, though, was more influential than Howard Hughes, who arrived on Thanksgiving Day 1966, took over the entire ninth floor, and liked it so much he bought the hotel — thus kicking off his four-year run of treating Las Vegas like his own personal Monopoly game.
Coming just six weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks brought down the World Trade Center, the implosion of the Desert Inn’s Augusta Tower was destined to be a low-key affair. “We spent about $500,000 on pyrotechnics to make the Dunes implosion a spectacle,” Steve Wynn said at the time, “but we’re not going to make this a public event.”
The remaining towers came down three years later.
12. BOURBON STREET
Opened: February 1980
Imploded: Feb. 14, 2006
What’s there now: a parking lot
This one was seemingly doomed from the start. Despite having Wayne Newton as one of the early investors in the hotel — originally called Shenandoah, the name of his longtime estate — licensing troubles kept the casino from opening until its 1985 rebrand as Bourbon Street. At one point, the lack of a casino meant the small property, across Flamingo Road from what’s now Horseshoe Las Vegas, was losing between $400,000 and $500,000 a month. When it closed in October 2005, shortly after being acquired by Harrah’s Entertainment, Bourbon Street had just 100 slot machines.
Harrah’s didn’t announce its implosion until the day before, set it for 2:30 a.m. on Valentine’s Day and discouraged public attendance. It was as much a mercy killing as anything else.
Opened: Dec. 15, 1952
Imploded: Nov. 26, 1996
What’s there now: The Venetian
Best remembered as the home of the Rat Pack, thanks to a series of informal shows in 1960 while Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and the rest were filming “Ocean’s 11,” the Sands had another musical claim to fame. In 1956, during a break from performing at the New Frontier, Elvis Presley and his band members heard Freddie Bell and His Bell Boys perform a version of Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton’s “Hound Dog” in the Sands lounge. Two months later, Presley released his own take on it, and it went on to become one of his signature songs.
Hollywood got a couple of licks in on the Sands before its implosion when a full-size airplane was sent through the porte cochère and into the casino lobby for a scene in “Con Air.”
Sands officials said they purposely tried to keep crowds to a minimum at the implosion as they were too busy to make a show of it. Indeed, they didn’t unveil plans for The Venetian until just hours before the Sands fell. We described it at the time as “an implosion so clean and without frills, even the dust stayed on site.”
10. EL RANCHO
Opened: Sept. 2, 1948
Imploded: Oct. 3, 2000
What’s there now: Fontainebleau Las Vegas
The Thunderbird was the fourth resort on the Strip, following the El Rancho, the Last Frontier and the Flamingo. A confusing rebrand as the El Rancho, which had long since closed, did it no favors, and the hotel was shuttered in 1992. After several proposed replacements — including resorts with country music, spaceship and London themes — fell through over the next eight years, Turnberry Associates bought the crumbling property to implode it.
“We wanted to clean up the site for the people of Las Vegas and to get rid of an eyesore,” Jeffrey Soffer, a principal with the company that was building the neighboring Turnberry Towers, told us at the time. Turnberry requested an early-morning midweek implosion to keep crowds away and reduce security costs. Police estimated the number of onlookers at about 2,000. “The crowd was decidedly low-brow,” we told readers, “with many drinking libations from Westward Ho and Slots-A-Fun to-go cups.”
Opened: Sept. 3, 1954
Imploded: Jan. 11, 2006
What’s there now: the Showboat Park Apartments
“We really were the first true locals’ casino,” J. Kell Houssels Jr. said as the hotel he helped found was being brought down. Known as The Showboat for all but the final four years of its existence, the riverboat-themed property on East Fremont Street had been popular for its 106-lane bowling alley that for 40 years was a stop on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour. The Showboat Sports Pavilion hosted national TV tapings for the American Wrestling Association and was a temporary home for the L.A. Thunderbirds roller derby team before the venue was turned into a bingo hall.
Only about 100 invited guests — including a handful from Station Casinos, which demolished the building with future development in mind — witnessed the implosion a little after 7 a.m. on a chilly Wednesday morning.
Opened: Sept. 23, 1965
Imploded: May 9, 2006
What’s there now: Waldorf Astoria
The Coney Island-themed casino didn’t arrive on the Strip fully formed. In 1989, Norbert Jansen combined the Slot Joynt with a longstanding Holiday Inn, which had recently been rebranded as the Viscount, to form the Boardwalk. By the mid-’90s, its facade boasted large-scale models of a wooden roller coaster, Ferris wheel and parachute drop, and you could enter beneath a massive clown face to see Murray Langston, aka the Unknown Comic, tell jokes with a paper sack over his head for $5.95.
In the end, not even the famed 24-hour Surf Buffet — the subject of commercials in which boxer Eric “Butterbean” Esch declared “The Bean don’t eat no snooty food” — could stop the march of progress, as the Boardwalk stood in the way of what was then known as Project CityCenter. By the time of its implosion, all the artifice had been removed, with pieces of it ending up in former lieutenant governor Lonnie Hammargren’s backyard, so it looked less like a theme park collapsing into history than a bland parking garage biting the dust.
Opened: Dec. 24, 1962
Imploded: April 27, 1998
What’s there now: Planet Hollywood Resort
Elvis married Priscilla Beaulieu there, and Wayne Newton battled Johnny Carson for its ownership. The Aladdin was so tied to the mafia, it was the subject of Season 2 of our award-winning podcast “Mobbed Up: The Fight for Las Vegas.” Despite its prime location on the Strip, the resort was nearly as unstable financially as it was architecturally.
“This is the worst construction I’ve ever seen. It’s shoddy. It’s a poor man’s high-rise,” Mark Loizeaux, president of Controlled Demolition Inc., said at the time. It was so easy to drop, he decreased the amount of explosives from an estimated 370 pounds to 232 ¾ pounds.
The implosion attracted an estimated 20,000 onlookers, and seats in a nearby air-conditioned tent, at $250 a pop, raised more than $80,000 for Make-A-Wish Foundation of Southern Nevada.
Opened: April 20, 1955
Imploded: June 14, 2016 and Aug. 16, 2016
What’s there now: Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall
Over the years, it was home to everything from the iconic “Crazy Girls” — complete with its accompanying bronze butts statue — and “An Evening at La Cage” to the original “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling” to the Tangiers, the casino from “Casino,” which it portrayed on screen. The Riviera got one last Hollywood hurrah thanks to “Jason Bourne,” which brought a portion of the closed casino back to life — then drove a SWAT BearCat through it. “I was really happy we got to do that,” Matt Damon told us, “and also to put the Riv onscreen one more time before it went away.”
It was only fitting, then, that the implosion of the hotel’s 24-story Monaco Tower was treated as entertainment. The Barrymore at the Royal Resort, across the street from the Riviera, hosted a viewing party for the 2:30 a.m. demolition and the fireworks that preceded it. Tickets sold out within eight hours.
The 17-story Monte Carlo tower came down two months later with minimal fanfare.
Opened: July 2, 1958
Imploded: March 13, 2007
What’s there now: Resorts World
At various times, the Stardust was the world’s largest hotel, offered an RV park, drive-in movies and an equestrian complex and operated the nearby Stardust International Raceway and Stardust Country Club. In hindsight, we could’ve kept it around for another decade or so.
In early 2006, Boyd Gaming began preparing for the resort’s implosion to make room for the upscale Echelon Place development. That December, workers started hauling out 100,000 square feet of asbestos, along with pipes, wires, glass, carpet — pretty much everything except the load-bearing walls. Fireworks by Grucci launched a barrage of aerial shells, equal to about half of what the company supplied for that year’s New Year’s Eve celebration on the Strip, to signal the countdown to the implosion. By then, there was so little left of the Stardust, the city’s lights could be seen twinkling through its husk as it fell.
On Aug. 1, 2008, Boyd delayed Echelon before scrapping the project altogether. Resorts World finally opened on that site on June 24, 2021.
4. NEW FRONTIER
Opened: Oct. 30, 1942
Imploded: Nov. 13, 2007
What’s there now: an empty lot
Elvis Presley made his Las Vegas debut in 1956 as part of a two-week run at the New Frontier. The hotel also was the performing home of Siegfried & Roy for seven years. But by 2007, it was mostly known for housing Gilley’s, the honkytonk with the slogan “Cold beer … dirty girls” that hosted mud wrestling two nights a week and bikini bull riding on weekends.
That’s when El Ad Properties bought the New Frontier and its 36 acres with plans to turn it into a version of New York’s iconic Plaza Hotel, which the Israeli-owned real estate investment group had recently purchased.
The implosion was remarkably similar to the one of the neighboring Stardust, down to Fireworks by Grucci and the pyrotechnics forming the numbers 10 through 1 as a countdown. But there was more left of the New Frontier which, along with the way it was constructed, meant it required nearly twice the amount of explosives to bring it down.
Despite the big plans, the land remains empty to this day.
Opened: July 1, 1969
Imploded: Nov. 7, 1995
What’s there now: Las Vegas Convention Center West Hall
Its implosion may have been the best thing to ever happen to the Landmark and its legacy. The distinctive resort that resembled Seattle’s Space Needle sat empty nearly as long as it was active. Construction began in 1961, but the Landmark didn’t open for another eight years until Howard Hughes got involved in 1969. Just 21 years later, it closed in 1990 after no one purchased it during a bankruptcy auction.
Its demise may be the most famous demolition in Las Vegas history. Rather than simply crumpling to the ground like most casinos, the Landmark was cleaved in half, vertically, and the two sides took different downward paths.
Director Tim Burton filmed the implosion and included it in “Mars Attacks!,” his 1996 homage to ’50s sci-fi. “When it happened, the dust settled, and everything was just silent,” Burton told us. “It was just powerful, like watching an ancient species of animal dying or something. Everything just went silent.”
Opened: May 23, 1955
Imploded: Oct. 27, 1993 and July 20, 1994
What’s there now: Bellagio
The Dunes got off to a rocky start, opening a month after the Riviera and the Royal Nevada and a day before the Moulin Rouge threw open its doors, helping to create a perception that the city was oversaturated with casinos and hotel rooms. After changing management several times during its early years, the Arabian-themed resort became known for Sultan’s Table, regarded as the city’s first gourmet restaurant, and its sprawling golf course that stretched from Flamingo Road to Tropicana Avenue.
The theatrical demise of the Dunes’ North Tower, tied to Steve Wynn’s newly opened Treasure Island, set the standard for getting rid of hotels. The South Tower, though, came down the following year with little celebration.
Opened: Oct. 17, 1956
Imploded: Dec. 31, 1996
What’s there now: Mandalay Bay
The Hacienda was among the first local hotels to cater to families by adding a miniature golf course and a go-kart track. Given its proximity to the airport, the resort launched Hacienda Airlines to fly in guests. By the mid-’90s, though, after the arrival of Excalibur and Luxor, its location as the Strip’s closest casino to California was no longer enough to entice gamblers.
On Dec. 31, 1996, while Times Square had its ball drop, Las Vegas had a building drop as the Hacienda’s implosion was the centerpiece of the Fox TV special “Sinbad’s Dynamite New Year’s Eve.” Held safely down the street outside The Mirage, the party featured performances by the Doobie Brothers, Hootie and the Blowfish, Salt-N-Pepa and Siegfried & Roy. The Hacienda came down at 9 p.m. for the East Coast as Michael Buffer announced, “Let’s get ready to crumble!” The fireworks shows before and after the detonation served as a precursor to the massive Strip celebrations we know today.
Contact Christopher Lawrence at email@example.com or 702-380-4567. Follow @life_onthecouch on X.