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September 20, 2014

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John Katsilometes talks with longtime Klondike Hotel owner John Woodrum about the place closing on June 30

Thirty years ago the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign was out of juice - no power, and thus, no light emanated from the famous landmark welcoming visitors to the Strip. The sign had been dark for two or three years, at least, so John Woodrum did something about it.

"I ran a (power) line to the sign and fired it up," Woodrum said. "It started running then. But someone cut the line - the County Commission didn't like the line running from my place to the sign there was a big dispute about who would pay for the power to the sign and the meter had been turned off. So I said, 'I'll keep the sign lit and I'll pay the power bill.' "

The dispute has since been settled and the county pays to keep the sign lighted. But there's nothing like an old Vegas tale spun by an old Vegas guy, and Woodrum is one of those. So it is with a tinge of regret that we report Woodrum's Klondike Hotel on the east side of the Strip, just a 9-iron from the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, will be shuttered on June 30. After running the 153-room hotel-casino since May 12, 1976, Woodrum has finally cashed out - and for a substantial profit. The buyer, Royal Palm Communities of Boca Raton, Fla., paid Woodrum $8 million per acre for his six-acre parcel ($48 million, according to my Casio).

Woodrum, who in 1975 split with Bill Boyd to start his own hotel, paid then-owner Ralph Engelstad $1.2 million for the Klondike. Woodrum said the establishment, already 15 years old in 1976, "was this old motel at the end of the Strip, condemned to be torn down. It's been a family-run operation ever since. Heck, when I came out here you could not see any light east or west of where we are now."

The new project to replace the Klondike, expected to cost $1 billion, will boast 1,200 hotel condominiums and an 80,000-90,000 square-foot casino. The McCarran International Airport height restriction on any project on the site is 25 stories; expect the new resort to touch that height, and construction could to begin in the first quarter of 2007.

Torn down will be the stately, crimson-painted Klondike. Gone will be the four $2 limit blackjack tables, two 10-cent roulette wheels, and the 24-hour restaurant that offers 99-cent breakfast specials (two hotcakes and one egg) around the clock. Between 70 and 80 employees will have to find new jobs.

"We'll take a lot of people out to Sunset," said Woodrum, whose family (principally, son Michael) owns the Klondike Sunset Casino on Sunset Road and Boulder Highway, which has not been sold. "A lot of people have been hanging on just because they didn't want to leave me in a lurch."

And when June 30 rolls around?

"It'll be a sad day for a lot of people," Woodrum said. "But there won't be any big fanfare. That's not us."

NoteMart

Growing pains: In today's edition of the Los Angeles Times, writer Carina Chocano crafts a comprehensive look at Red Rock Resort. Chocano praises the resort's architecture and all that dazzling crystal but she is particularly critical of VIP-conscious nightclub Cherry, where, she notes, even hotel guests are required to wait in line while VIPs file in. She also writes that hotel guests are not allowed to use the poolside lounge chairs, which are reserved for VIPs.

A person who is not an L.A. Times writer - that would be my brother, Bill - also stayed at Red Rock, on Friday night, after getting a "crazy deal on the Internet." He reports that his room had no hot water (a problem that, we surmise, is temporary), but the plasma TV was "awesome."

Barry good time: An expansion of the Barry Manilow souvenir store - called the Manilow Store - at the Las Vegas Hilton is set to be finished today. On Friday a construction crew working on the expansion happily hammered away as "Copacabana" blared over the sound system ...

Hey, there's Bill and Mary, or Bill and Marge: On a silver Cadillac, heading east on the 215, BILNMAR.

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