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The Landmark

Paradise Rd, Las Vegas, c. July 1967.

Originally published Aug. 15, 2019. 

Las Vegas has been known, unfairly, for blowing up its past. We’ve lost some buildings we wish could have been preserved. But most of the more recent losses have been confined to the resort corridor. One of the hotels to topple was the Landmark. Tearing it down was quick. Building it was a story unto itself, as was its opening, fifty years ago this past July.

Frank Carroll, a Kansas City building contractor, had the original idea in 1960. Notice that’s nine years before it opened. His hotel was to be across from the recently opened Las Vegas Convention Center on Paradise Road. Carroll built an apartment complex and a shopping center while trying to build his hotel. He also was competitive. The downtown Mint Hotel was adding a 26-story tower. He decided to model the Landmark Hotel on the Seattle space needle. It would be the area’s tallest building at 31 floors.

That is, if it was built. Carroll got money from the Teamsters Pension Fund, among others, but he ran out of funds. The state wouldn’t license him because he was undercapitalized. Finally, in 1968, he sold the unfinished property for 17 million dollars to Howard Hughes. At the time, Hughes owned the Desert Inn, Frontier, Sands, Castaways, and Silver Slipper. As it turned out, he needed to finish some of the construction. That cost about three million.

Finally, the Landmark was ready to open … maybe. There were a couple of problems. One was that Kirk Kerkorian was close to opening The International down the block. First, Hughes had tried to stop Kerkorian from building. He didn’t like the idea of the competition. Then he decided that his opening should top Kerkorian’s. Unfortunately, Hughes couldn’t decide the exact date to open and kept stalling his top Las Vegas employee, Robert Maheu. Eventually, Maheu went ahead with plans and invitations. That upset Hughes, but they went ahead anyway. The Landmark opened on July 1, a day before The International. Befitting how far it reached into the air, the first two guests to enter the hotel were Apollo 10 astronauts Thomas Stafford and Gene Cernan. A bunch of celebrities followed, along with some high-powered Nevadans: Senators Alan Bible and Howard Cannon, and Governor Paul Laxalt. The opening night showroom star was Danny Thomas, who had opened the Sands in 1952.

Unlike the Sands, though, the Landmark wasn’t a big success. It proved unprofitable, despite the conventions going on across the street. In 1974, Hughes negotiated to sell it to William Bennett and William Pennington, who instead took over the Circus Circus. Finally, in 1978, after Hughes died, Summa Corporation sold the Landmark to Midwestern investors … and it turned out one of them was an embezzler. The Landmark wound up in bankruptcy court, where it found a buyer: William “Wildcat” Morris, a legendary Las Vegan, a lawyer and casino owner. Morris poured money into renovations, but ended up having to file for bankruptcy. The Landmark’s debt was so great that it couldn’t get a buyer. Finally, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority bought it in 1993 for 15 million and decided to tear it down. The Landmark was imploded in 1995 to make room for more convention center parking. The implosion wound up being part of the movie Mars Attacks. The film wasn’t a big box office success. The same could have been said of the Landmark.