Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2001 | 10:56 a.m.
One of the Desert Inn's towers was brought down by booming explosions this morning, closing a chapter in the life of the historic property that is being transformed into Steve Wynn's new megaresort.
The Las Vegas Strip resort's second tower, parking garage and golf course remain and will be a part of Wynn's Le Reve hotel-casino, which he's still designing.
About 240 pounds of explosives were placed throughout the skeleton of the Desert Inn's 292,000-square-foot Augusta Tower, and at 2 a.m. eight explosions boomed out over Las Vegas Boulevard, which had been closed.
Seconds later rapid fire blasts and firecracker-like flashes could be seen popping up and down the 15 stories of the resort's south tower.
About 20 seconds after the first blast, the tower collapsed in on itself from south to north, sending up a cloud of dust.
The tower had already been gutted, with all the interior walls removed, but for Jerry Cohen, 38, the steel girders and concrete columns still held memories.
"I remember working in the Crystal Showroom when Diana Ross or Bob Goulet performed," Cohen, a former stagehand at the resort said as he waited to watch the implosion from a sidewalk north of the New Frontier. "It was a fun place to work, and there were a lot of fun people who worked in the showroom.
"I understand that it had to go to make room for the new. That's how it is in Las Vegas."
Le Reve is French for "the dream," but long before Wynn got his start in the casino business the Desert Inn was the dream of builder Wilbur Clark. Clark opened the hotel-casino in April 1950. At the time it was only the fifth property on the two-lane highway that would become the neon-dappled Las Vegas Strip.
Billionaire Howard Hughes later bought the resort when management tried to move him out of the hotel's penthouse.
The Crystal Showroom became one of the resort's centerpieces, attracting such talent as Frank Sinatra, Edgar Bergen, Shirley MacLaine and Paul Anka as headliners. Later the Desert Inn provided the backdrop for Robert Urich's 1978-81 television series, "Vega$."
In April 2000, as his term as chairman of Mirage Resorts Inc. was ending, Wynn bought the Desert Inn from Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. for $270 million. He closed the property the following August.
Plans filed with the county indicate Wynn's property will include a 120,000-square-foot casino, 132,000 square feet of convention space, two theaters, shopping, restaurants and a luxury spa. It is believed the resort will cost more than $1 billion to build. The property's hotel tower will rise 45 stories above the Strip, and have 2,455 hotel rooms. It appears Wynn is targeting 2004 for Le Reve's debut.
Cohen was one of several hundred people who watched the implosion, with most of the onlookers gathering near the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Spring Mountain Road.
Around 11:30 p.m. more than 100 people had staked out spots along and on a brick wall near the main entrance to the New Frontier, but about an hour later Metro Police began moving people off the street. By 1 a.m. traffic was shut down on Las Vegas Boulevard between Spring Mountain and Desert Inn roads, and onlookers had been cleared out.
Vivian Couch, who is visiting Las Vegas from Atlanta this week, said she thought the Desert Inn looked like it had been a beautiful building.
"I just don't understand why they can't add on to what they already had," Couch said. "It's sad to see history torn down."
Today's implosion left only a 30-foot pile of rubble and dirt where the tower had been, and sent up a dust cloud that obscured the Stardust and the other properties to the north for about 10 minutes.
A fine covering of dust spread across Las Vegas Boulevard, and into the valet area of the New Frontier. Street sweepers cleaned up the dust before the Strip was reopened.