LAS VEGAS: Five decades ago, the Las Vegas
Strip was a dusty desert highway from Los Angeles to a small cluster
of casinos 5 miles to the north. There were no pyramids, faux
European cities, or half-sized Statues of Liberty to beckon the
road's tired, hungry, and sweltering masses.
That job fell to a motel with a 9-foot-deep aboveground swimming
pool with seven mammoth portholes to show off what must have seemed
to weary drivers to be the bluest water there ever was.
Now, that pool and motel are slated for demolition, marking
the destruction of one of Sin City's most enduring icons. In
the 1990s alone, scenes from the movies "Casino," "Indecent
Proposal," and "Leaving Las Vegas" were filmed there. Photographer
Annie Leibowitz shot Brad Pitt for Vanity Fair there.
It is unclear precisely when the institution will become rubble
-- the owners, TG Investments, would not give the date or discuss
future plans for the site -- but the motel was vacated and employees
were laid off in mid-September. "No trespassing" signs hang
from a chain-link fence that surrounds the still-filled 56,000-gallon
"It's another of our treasured, aged landmarks that's going
to be demolished," said David Frommer, president of the Nevada
chapter of the American Institute of Architects. "It's kind
of a conundrum. There's a sentimentality about these things,
but part of the amazement of Vegas is that we continually reinvent
ourselves. It's almost an accepted practice that things go down
in search of the next generation of building."
In this case, the next generation, the age of billion-dollar
megaresorts with 3,000-plus rooms based on fantastical themes,
has long since arrived. Today there is little use for a rundown
46-unit motel along the 10-lane Las Vegas Boulevard, the name
of which was changed from Los Angeles Highway in the 1970s to
represent the fact that the Strip's growth had made it the central
attraction of the burgeoning city.
The Glass Pool Inn -- called the Mirage Motel until hotel
visionary Steve Wynn bought the name for $350,000 for the resort
he opened in 1989 -- sits on some of the last land left on the
Strip where major new casinos can be built, so developers have
hungrily bought up the jigsaw of parcels to create contiguous
Longtime owners Allen and Susie Rosoff, who sold their 1 1/2
acres for $5.5 million in 1999, said they are pleased to hear
of the pool's fate. "Truthfully, it makes me feel good," said
Allen Rosoff, 69. "The place was getting so deteriorated that
I felt that with all the fond memories of almost 50 years involved
in my family, I would rather remember what it was than see how
rundown the motel was getting."
Still, it was never the motel that attracted passersby. It
was the 26-foot-by-55-foot kidney-shaped pool with 4-foot-wide
portholes that Rosoff's parents and uncle installed in 1955
to make the place stand out. "We were way out on the south end
of nothing," Rosoff said. "People used to come in asking how
far it was to Las Vegas."
Movie producers noticed immediately. The first film shot there
was "Las Vegas Shakedown" in 1955, starring Dennis O'Keefe,
and a parade of cameras followed. Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth
Shue kissed underwater in "Leaving Las Vegas." Woody Harrelson
and Demi Moore checked in while considering "Indecent Proposal."
Cindy Crawford filmed an episode of her former MTV show, "House
of Style," in a suite that was once Rosoff's parents' apartment.
The band ZZ Top shot a video there in which they had the pool
emptied, played a song in it, and then digitally added the water
back in. The Las Vegas tourism board did one better, once shooting
an advertisement in which bikini-clad women played a slot machine
while actually submerged. Television commercials for hairpieces
and cosmetics used the pool to show that the product didn't
"It screams Las Vegas; it's so eye-catching," said Trent Othiel,
president and co-owner of Insomnia Entertainment, a movie production
company based in Las Vegas. "You immediately look when you pass
it. That's what you want on film."
Producers frequently cast the motel as the archetypal sleazy
Vegas joint, though in 50 years the only death on the premises
was a suicide. "Publicity is publicity, good, bad, or otherwise,"
Rosoff said. "I would tell a guest, `I'm going to put you in
Room 126,' and the guest would ask, `What happened there?' I'd
say, `That's where Marilu Henner and Nicolas Surovy slept in
the movie `Stark.' People get impressed that way."
Occasionally, the Rosoffs themselves became part of the scenery.
In the opening montage of a short-lived 1991 ABC series called
"The Man in the Family," the character played by Ray Sharkey
drives away from the Glass Pool Inn with Allen Rosoff waving
from the office window. "Indecent Proposal" director Adrian
Lyne considered using them behind the counter to check in Moore
and Harrelson, but concluded that the innkeepers "didn't fit
the part of desk clerks," Rosoff said.
Usually, Rosoff had little contact with the stars, although
he remembers chatting amiably with Henner and being surprised
by how short Moore is. He most enjoyed a video shoot for a Robert
Plant song because the band and crew, slated to stay at the
Las Vegas Hilton, decided instead to drop anchor at the Glass
Pool. "For a little tiny hotel, we had quite a following around
the world," he said.
Despite all that, there is little interest locally in rescuing
the landmark. Clark County Museum administrator Mark Ryzdynski
said that moving the pool would not be feasible, but added that
it would be further documented before its destruction to "make
sure the photographic record is complete up until and through
its final days."
Many Las Vegans reacted with disappointment at plans to raze
the pool. But Vegas has always had a peculiar disregard for
the city's history, making a party throughout the 1990s of imploding
classic hotels of the Bugsy Siegel era to make way for megaresorts.
"Las Vegas is a place where the past is truly prologue," said
Hal Rothman, chairman of the history department at the University
of Nevada at Las Vegas and author of "Neon Metropolis: How Las
Vegas Started the 21st Century."
"We don't really care about the past. Preserving what we were
yesterday is not as important as divining what we will be tomorrow."
Rosoff said he hopes that the hoteliers who produced replicas
of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty might someday
build another Glass Pool.
"That would be nice, but as for this place, it was built 50
years ago to the code of those days," he said. "It is time."