Friday, April 6, 2012 | 2 a.m.
The Stratosphere is the third gambling facility built at the location by the late maverick casino developer Bob Stupak, who did not attend school beyond the eighth grade and arrived in Las Vegas selling 2-for-1 restaurant coupon books.
In 1974, he opened Bob Stupak’s World Famous Historic Gambling Museum, only to watch it burn down two months later. On that site he then built his delightfully tacky, space-themed Vegas World. Next door in 1996 he, in partnership with Grand Casinos, opened the 1,149-foot Stratosphere, which caught on fire during construction, spectacularly raining embers onto the Strip from high in the structure’s pedestal.
The Stratosphere filed for bankruptcy in January 1997. To settle its bankruptcy case, the Stratosphere’s debt was converted to equity in a new corporation, giving Carl Icahn control of the resort. He sold it in February 2008 to American Casino & Entertainment Properties LLC.
Stupak had envisioned an 1,800-foot tower, but the Federal Aviation Administration wouldn’t have it.
Still, the Stratosphere tower is the tallest freestanding observation tower in the United States and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, according to its owner.
It has proved popular for its top-of-the-tower dining in a rotating restaurant, taking in the view from its 360-degree deck and riding thrill rides on the top deck, including some that over the years have stalled, leaving breathless riders stranded over the side of the building until rescued by firefighters. Among the rides that weren’t built: a 70-foot gorilla that, loaded with 48 passengers, would scale part way down the tower, missing its step at one point for a 30-foot free fall. Also proposed and rejected: a roller coaster that would drop from the top to across Las Vegas Boulevard, reaching speeds of 120 mph.
It is virtually impossible to be anywhere in Las Vegas and miss the Stratosphere. It towers 1,149 feet above Las Vegas and is the tallest observation tower in the United States. The casino itself is 55,784 square feet and contains 950 slot machines, 120 game tables and 2,427 hotel rooms.
Of the hotel's 2,427 rooms, 909 were recently remodeled into Stratosphere Select rooms.
The Stratosphere is mostly known for its rides at the top of the tower. The Big Shot, located at the 113th floor, torpedoes riders up 160 feet using compressed air. X-Scream is a teeter-totter perched at the top of the observation deck — if that wasn't scary enough, the coaster arm flings the riders out 27 feet over the edge of the tower. Guests looking for something more sedate can just hang around the 107th floor and simply look at the scenery.