Throughout the past decades, Las Vegas’ built environment has experienced bursts of transformation. During the 1940s and 1950s, Vegas saw its first building boom with luxury hotels and casinos being built along the Las Vegas Strip. From the Riviera to the Sands and the Aladdin to Stardust, each resort pushed architectural boundaries and expanded – rivalling one another to be bigger and better!
However, the 1990s and 2000s saw another burst of Las Vegas transformations - the advent of modern-day mega-resorts. While the legendary 1940s and 1950s resorts had icon status and determination to succeed, it was no match for the allure of the over-the-top, modern and mammoth mega-resorts. But, what happened to these historic buildings? Well, many were demolished by implosion to make way for new developments. Here, we look at the 10 most epic Las Vegas implosions – ranked by the impressiveness of the implosion!
The Boardwalk, in operation from 1966 to 2006, was a Coney Island-themed hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Originally designed by architect Homer Rissman, the modest resort was located on 6 acres (2.5 hectares) of land. The Boardwalk was perhaps best known for its carnival-inspired façade which was added in the 1990s.
The Boardwalk, originally a Holiday Inn hotel, opened in 1966. The hotel first opened with a 6-story tower known as Steeplechase and later with a second hotel tower named Luna Park. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the hotel and casino was known as Holiday Inn South and Holiday Inn South Strip. However, under new management in 1989, the property was rebranded as Boardwalk Hotel and Casino. In 1994, the Boardwalk became a public corporation and in the following year, the building was given an extensive renovation. The distinctive carnival-inspired façade was erected including an original 1906 parachute jump ride and a faux wooden roller coaster. In 1996, a 16-story tower was added.
In 1997, Mirage Resorts Inc. purchased the Boardwalk along with three adjacent pieces of land and later dropped the Holiday Inn name. At the time, the Boardwalk included 653 rooms and 33,000 sq ft (3,100 m2) of gaming space, however, a decision was made to replace the existing resort. The Boardwalk officially closed in 2006 to make way for a newer, more modern resort. In May of the same year, the main hotel tower was demolished by implosion. Today, its footprint is part of MGM Mirage's $7 billion Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas at CityCenter which is a mixed-use resort and entertainment complex.
Originally named the Showboat, Castaways was a hotel and casino located along the Las Vegas Strip. Built by William J. Moore and J. Kell Houssels and in operation from 1954 to 2004, the resort was well-known for its major live sports events and national bowling tournaments.
The Showboat opened its doors in 1954. While initially financially unsuccessful, a bowling alley was added in 1959 which soon became its main attraction. Hosting nationally televised tournaments, the bowling alley grew to 106 lanes - making it the third-largest in the country. The Showboat underwent various renovations, including the addition of a 19-story tower built in 1973 and 1976. In the early 1980s, a large unused space on the second floor was converted into the Showboat Sports Pavilion which hosted major wrestling events and roller derby matches. In its prime, the Showboat Sports Pavilion competed with Caesars Palace for high-profile boxing matches.
The hotel was successful until the 1990s. In 1998, the Showboat was sold to VSS Enterprises, however, unable to keep the name due to legal issues, it was renamed the Castaways. Following a decrease in tourism post the 9/11 attacks, the new owners were unsuccessful in generating revenue. Foreclosure proceedings began in 2003, prompting Castaways to file for bankruptcy. The property eventually shut down in 2004 and was later sold to Station Casinos. Due to construction and structure quality problems, demolition began in 2005 and the hotel tower was imploded in 2006. While a portable casino still operates on the site, Station still owns the property and plans to develop in the future. In 2021, Bengochea opened the Showboat Park Apartments on the property.
The Sands, in operation from 1952 to 1996, was a famed hotel and casino located on the Las Vegas Strip. Designed by Wayne McAllister, the building was well-known for the iconic “Sands” logo sprawled across the main entrance signage. Once partly owned by Frank Sinatra, the resort was host to countless celebrities and even shifted racial policies at the time.
Opened in 1952, the Sands comprised 200 rooms divided into four two-story wings each named after a famous racetrack. In 1953, mobsters Doc Stacher and Meyer Lanskey, acquired shares in the resort which later also attracted performer Frank Sinatra. During the 1960s, Sinatra bought shares and became an owner (and regular) at the Sands, bringing in ample business and revenue. Sinatra along with the legendary “rat pack”, were instrumental in transforming racial policy at the resort and within the state at the time. In 1960, the classic film Ocean's 11 was shot at the Sands – earning the resort icon status. In 1966, a 500-room tower was added to the property and in 1967, the Sands was purchased by Howard Hughes. (The first of several Las Vegas hotels to be purchased by the billionaire).
During its final years, the Sands was unable to compete with the newer, more exciting resorts and declined in popularity. One of its final owners, Sheldon Adelson, bought out his partners, and ultimately decided to shut the hotel and casino down to make way for a new resort. In 1996, the building was demolished by implosion. The historic building was incredibly sentimental to the public and was perhaps the saddest demolition in Las Vegas history. So much so that the demolition featured in the closing credits of the film, The Cooler. In 1999, the new 35-story, the Venetian megaresort, was built on the property at a cost of $1.5 billion.
The Riviera, in operation from 1955 to 2015, was the 9th hotel and casino built on the Las Vegas Strip. Designed by architects Roy F. France & Son, the Riviera was also the first high-rise along the Strip. Despite being in operation for decades, the Riviera had close mobster ties and suffered financial woes from the start.
The Riviera opened to much acclaim in 1955. However, it went bankrupt just three months after opening. Throughout the 1950s, the Riviera’s new owners, Chicago Mafia members Gus Greenbaum and Sidney Korshak, embezzled money and skimmed the casino's revenue. Regardless, the Riviera underwent several expansions throughout its lifespan. In 1959, an 8-story expansion was added to the south side of the original 9-story tower. Thereafter 12-story, 17-story, 6-story and 24-story towers were added in 1965, 1974, 1977 and 1988-1990, respectively. In its final years, the Riviera contained more than 2,100 rooms and 110,000 sq ft (10,000 m2) of gaming space.
During the 24-story tower expansion, the project went substantially over budget. In addition to this, the resorts which previously surrounded the Riveria were under construction leading to a lack of foot traffic. Due to this, the Riviera’s popularity decreased and from the lack of revenue, it filed for bankruptcy in 2010. In 2015, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority acquired the property and a year later demolished the existing building. Due to its significant size, the Riveria was demolished in two separate implosions. The first implosion dismantled the 24-story, 8-story and original 9-story towers and included a fireworks display. Later that year, the 12-story tower was imploded. Today, the 10-acres (4 hectares) of land is still available for purchase.
The Desert Inn, in operation from 1950 to 2000, was a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Designed by architect Hugh Taylor and interior designer Jac Lessman, it was the 5th resort to open on the Strip and the first hotel in Las Vegas to feature a fountain at its entrance.
The Desert Inn opened in 1950. With 2,400 square feet (220 m2) of gaming space, it was one of the largest casinos in Nevada at the time. In 1967, Howard Hughes purchased the resort (the first of many Las Vegas resorts purchased by Hughes) and lived in the building’s penthouse for the following four years. Thereafter, the Desert Inn changed ownership multiple times and was eventually purchased by Steve Wynn in 2000. During its prime, the resort hosted countless prominent figures such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Winston Churchill, Senator John F. Kennedy, and former President Harry S. Truman. In 1992, Frank Sinatra celebrated his 77th birthday at the hotel.
Although the Desert Inn had undergone extensive renovations, the new owners shut it down in 2000 to build a new resort on the property. In 2001, the Augusta Tower was demolished by implosion to make room for a new mega-resort. Taking place a month after the 9/11 attacks, the implosion event was met with less excitement than other Vegas implosions. The remaining two towers, the St. Andrews Tower and Palms Tower, were both utilised temporarily for the display of Wynn's art collection. Finally, the last two towers were imploded in 2004. Today, the Wynn and Encore occupy the property.
The Landmark, located across from the Las Vegas Convention Center, was in operation from 1969 to 1990. Designed by Ed Hendricks and later Gerald Moffitt and Thomas Dobrusky, the resort included a 31-story tower inspired by the design of the Space Needle tower in Seattle.
The Landmark, the tallest building in the state from 1962 to 1969, experienced a delay in construction due to lack of funding. However, famed billionaire Howard Hughes purchased the property in 1969 and opened the Landmark to the public that same year with a grand opening ceremony. Despite the fanfare and proximity to the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Landmark failed to make profits. In 1978, the Landmark was sold to Zula Wolfram, and Lou and Jo Ann Tickel. However, in 1983, an embezzlement scandal occurred, and the Landmark was then sold to Bill Morris. Though Morris made his best efforts to revitalise the resort, it struggled financially throughout the 1980s and ultimately remained in bankruptcy for the remainder of its lifespan.
The Landmark entered bankruptcy in 1985 and eventually closed in 1990. The property, which had accumulated $48 million in debt, was purchased in 1993 by LVCVA at a cost of $15.1 million. In 1995, the Landmark tower was demolished during a ceremony with an estimated 7,000 spectators. The 31-story tower was the tallest reinforced concrete building to ever be demolished in North America, and the second tallest building to be demolished in the world. Interestingly, it is said that the Landmark is the most seen Las Vegas implosion of all time. Why? Footage of the space-age tower falling to the ground was utilised in Tim Burton’s 1996 film “Mars Attacks!”
The Aladdin, an Arabian-themed hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip, was in operation from 1962 to 1998. Previously named the Tallyho Hotel, the property was once considered to be one of the most luxurious resorts on the Strip. Unable to keep up with the newer resorts, the Aladdin was the 5th hotel and casino to be imploded in Las Vegas.
The 450-key Tallyho Hotel opened in 1962. At the time, it was the only major hotel in Nevada to not include a casino. However, it closed later that year (due to low revenue caused by the lack of a casino) and was sold to Kings Crown Inns of America which reopened the property a month later as the King's Crown Tallyho. While a casino and showroom were later added, the opening of the King's Crown Tallyho was halted due to a lack of finance. Thereafter, Milton Prell purchased the property and carried out a $3 million renovation. In 1966, the property reopened as the Aladdin, boasting the largest casino on the Strip. Further expanding the property, a 19-story hotel tower was added in 1976.
Following various changes in ownership, the Aladdin closed in 1997 to make way for a new, larger resort. The owners intended to expand the hotel and casino to become three times the size and include a 7,000-seater theater. In 1998, the 19-story hotel tower was demolished by implosion. Due to the fanfare, an estimated 20,000 spectators watched Aladdin’s downfall and tickets were sold with proceeds benefiting charity. During the demolition event, the resort's sign read, "Out of the dust Aladdin rises anew. See you in 2000." The new Aladdin resort opened in August 2000, however, due to financial issues, the resort entered bankruptcy and was reopened in 2007 as “Planet Hollywood”.
The New Frontier, in operation from 1942 to 2007, was the second resort to open on the Las Vegas Strip. During its prime, the popular Western-themed resort famously hosted Elvis Presley's first Vegas appearance in 1956 and the final performance of The Supremes in the 1970s.
The New Frontier property originally got its start in 1930 as a nightclub called Pair-O-Dice. In 1942, it was developed into the Hotel Last Frontier and in 1955, it was renamed the New Frontier. While the New Frontier had ties with the Detroit Mafia, Howard Hughes purchased the resort in 1967. In 1988, it was purchased by Margaret Elardi and while the atrium tower was built in 1989, Elardi subsequently decided to scale down much of the hotel. Phil Ruffin purchased the property in 1998 and later partnered with Donald Trump to build a rise-rise luxury hotel condominium on part of its property. In 2007, El Ad Properties announced plans to purchase the New Frontier for $1.2 billion.
The New Frontier closed its doors in 2007 and plans to build the Las Vegas Plaza were put in place. For construction to start and make way for the new megaresort, the atrium tower was demolished by implosion. The demolition and its preparation were filmed for the National Geographic Channel and a series “Blowdown: Vegas Casino”. The older towers built in 1967, were dismantled in 2008. The Las Vegas Plaza project was cancelled in 2011 and the property was sold to new owners in 2014 who intended to build a new resort, which never materialized. In 2017, Wynn Resorts purchased the property along with an additional four acres of land. Development plans have yet to be announced to the public.
The Dunes, in operation from 1955 to 1993, occupied an 85-acre (34 ha) plot along the Las Vegas Strip. The 10th resort to open on the Strip, the Arabian-inspired hotel and casino was designed by architects John Replogle, Robert Dorr Jr., Milton Schwartz and Maxwell Starkman. Today, the Bellagio stands on its former grounds.
The Dunes opened its doors in 1955. With 200 rooms located across several two-story buildings, a V-shaped pool and Arabian Room, the resort was best known for its 35 ft (11 m) tall sultan statue which stood above its main entrance. From the late 1950s to 1970s, an 18-hole golf course was added as well as a 24-story tower (the tallest in the state at the time), expanding the hotel to 1,300 rooms. In 1983, a second casino in a separate building on the site opened. During its lifespan, the hotel and casino was host to many major professional boxing events, as well as famous performers such as Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Dean Martin and Jayne Mansfield.
Throughout the years, the Dunes struggled financially and in the 1980s, it filed for bankruptcy. While the hotel and casino kept trudging along, in 1992 it was sold to Steve Wynn's company, Mirage Resorts, Inc. In 1993, Wynn held a grand demolition ceremony, hosting 200,000 spectators with a dazzling fireworks display and cannon blasts. Wynn initiated the demolition with the implosion of the 32-year-old North Tower. In tribute to the hotel and casino, the Dunes signage read “No Vacancy” during the implosion. Nine months later in 1994, the 15-year-old South Tower was demolished.
The Stardust, in operation from 1958 to 2007, was a space-themed hotel and casino situated on 60 acres (24 hectares) along the Las Vegas Strip. Initially conceived by Tony Cornero, the building was once the largest hotel in the world. Now demolished, 2021 will see the land being used for one of the biggest casino projects on the Strip.
Stardust’s Construction began in 1954 but only opened in 1958. In 1959, an adjacent hotel and casino was absorbed into the property. Thereafter, it expanded to include an off-site country club and international raceway. After several ownership changes, Argent Corporation purchased the Stardust in 1974. Due to skimming operations, the property was eventually sold to the Boyd family in 1985. In 1990, a 32-story tower was added. Later in 2000, the original motel buildings were demolished to make way for an expansion. In its final years, Stardust included an 85,000 sq ft (7,900 m2) casino and 1,552 hotel rooms. The Boyd retained ownership for the remainder of the resort's lifespan.
In 2006, Stardust closed its doors in anticipation of demolition for a new resort, the Echelon. The 32-story and 9-story hotel towers would be demolished by implosion. Thousands of spectators watched the impressive implosion with the 32-story tower being the tallest building to ever be imploded on the Strip. Due to the 2008 recession, construction on the Echelon stopped. In 2013, Genting Group purchased the unfinished project and released plans to complete it as Resorts World Las Vegas. After several delays, it is scheduled to open in 2021 and will be one of the largest casino projects on the Strip.