December milestones

On Dec. 1, 2009 … After expenditures of $8.5 billion, the highly anticipated CityCenter development begins a series of rollouts of its multiple elements. Highlights include the ribbon-cutting for its nongaming, 1,495-room Vdara Hotel and Spa. The 67-acre complex debuts with 6,000 hotel rooms and 2,400 residences among its six buildings. And a breathtaking city within our already breathtaking city springs to life.

On Dec. 1, 2010 … Officials announce that online footwear/clothing retailer Zappos.com will move into the former City Hall building at 4th Street and Stewart Avenue. In a city that loves to bet, this one is a shoe thing.

On Dec. 2, 1976 … Elvis begins his final, 10-night engagement at the former Las Vegas Hilton. He would die eight months later, on Aug. 16, 1977, turning every resort in Las Vegas into Heartbreak Hotel.

On Dec. 3, 2009 … Crystals makes its bow as part of CityCenter. With its 500,000 square feet of retail and entertainment options it, shall we say, Crystallizes Las Vegas as a consumer paradise.

On Dec. 4, 2009 … The Mandarin Oriental, a 47-story nongaming hotel/condo development, debuts in CityCenter. Since then it has transitioned into the Waldorf Astoria Las Vegas. Every great city needs at least one great hotel brand. But this city collects them. 

On Dec. 5, 1973 … The original MGM Grand Hotel opens at the corner of Flamingo Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, with Dean Martin on the opening night marquee. At the time, it was the world’s largest hotel, boasting of 2,200 guest rooms and suites, five restaurants, two showrooms, a movie theater for classic MGM films, and an area for spectators to watch, and wager on, live jai alai games. Don’t forget the little touches — crystal chandeliers, coffered ceilings, tapestry and statuary. But in 1980, tragedy struck when a fire ravaged the resort, killing 85 people. Repairs were made, the property was sold and today it is Bally’s. But the MGM Grand would rise again.  

On Dec. 8, 1962 … President John F. Kennedy tours the Nevada Test Site. His visit comes barely a month after the Cuban Missile Crisis — and after people the world over exhaled in unison. 

On Dec. 8, 2010 … Owners of Downtown’s Lady Luck hotel-casino announce renovations for the idle property because, as Sinatra might have put it, Luck wanted to let a city see just how nice a dame she could be. Today, she’s the Downtown Grand Las Vegas hotel-casino, making her a very nice dame indeed.

On Dec. 8, 2018 … Triple-A baseball squad the Las Vegas 51s are officially renamed the Las Vegas Aviators. The name — for a team owned by the Howard Hughes Corp. — is a nod to Hughes, a Vegas legend and aviation pioneer.  It’s generally viewed as a more rugged name than the Las Vegas Spruce Geese.

On Dec. 9, 2010 … Madame Tussauds wax museum on the Strip unveils its $300,000 Lady Gaga figure. Simultaneously, other replicas of the popster make their debut at museums in New York, Hollywood, London, Amsterdam, Berlin, Shanghai and Hong Kong, each sporting a different outfit. Our Gaga is outfitted in a Minnie Mouse outfit: a one-shoulder, black latex bodysuit and long, straight hair topped off with Minnie Mouse-style buns. And a Wax Star Is Born.

On Dec. 13, 1995 … With a price tag of $70 million, the Fremont Street Experience opens Downtown. Between the stores and the light show? You can shop till you drop while you gaze to be amazed.

On Dec. 14, 2009 … Binion’s Gambling Hall and Hotel closes 365 hotel rooms, lays off 100 workers, closes Binion’s Original Coffee Shop and discontinues keno. Room closures, layoffs and no place to get a bagel and some java? That’s life. But … no keno? C’mon!

On Dec. 14, 2010 … Metro Police start searching for the baddie dubbed “The Bellagio Bandit,” who first robbed the Suncoast on Dec. 9 of nearly $20,000 in cash. Then, to up the ante (and earn his nickname), he tried his luck on the Strip — by holding up a Bellagio craps table at gunpoint and high-tailing out on a motorcycle with a booty of $1.5 million in casino chips. The culprit, later identified as Anthony Carleo — who called himself “The Biker Bandit” — was convicted and sentenced to three to 11 years in prison for doing a wheelie bad thing.

On Dec. 15, 1952 … The Sands hotel-casino opens, becoming the seventh resort on the Strip. And a Vegas legend is born.

 On Dec. 15, 2010 … Cosmopolitan Las Vegas opens on 8.7 acres between Bellagio and CityCenter. By the numbers, that’s 2,995 more rooms at an overall price tag of $3.9 billion. Or is that 3.9 billion rooms? Looking around the city, it’s happily starting to feel that way.

On Dec. 16, 2008 … S-N-O-W-S-T-O-R-M! In V-E-G-A-S! Yes, we got one serious, multi-day storm that dumped as much as 10 inches of that chilly, powdery stuff on parts of the Las Vegas Valley, the most since 1979. We’re dreaming of a White Vegas, just like the ones … we fled from when we moved here. 

On Dec. 16, 2009 … CityCenter’s Aria resort-casino — at 4,004 rooms — opens, giving the development its only casino. Why does it need one? Well, it’s still Vegas, baby, isn’t it?

On Dec. 16, 2011 … Caesars Palace opens Octavius Tower. It’s promoted as sporting a “hotel within a hotel” feel. After all, nothing succeeds (and exceeds) like excess, and in Vegas — where every hotel deserves another hotel — excess is never excessive.  

On Dec. 17, 2009 … Cloud Nine, a tethered balloon ride across Mandalay Bay hotel-casino, closes. Sadly, up, up and away becomes down, down and goodbye.

On Dec. 18, 1992 … The first Las Vegas Bowl is played at Sam Boyd Stadium. We’ve been bowled over ever since.

 On Dec. 18, 1993 … Kirk Kerkorian’s MGM Grand opens at a cost of $1 billion, rising up after the original MGM Grand at Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Avenue — site of the infamous 1980 fire — had been sold and became Bally’s. The new MGM, at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue, originally featured an entrance in the shape of the MGM mascot, Leo the Lion, promising a roarin’ good time.  

On Dec. 18, 1996 … The Orleans hotel-casino opens. Who says Mardi Gras is better in Louisiana?

On Dec. 18, 2001 … Green Valley Ranch hotel-casino opens. Seventeen years have rolled by, but this one’s an evergreen.  

On Dec. 19, 1948 … The first official plane takes off at the new Las Vegas McCarran Field, ditching its former name, Alamo Airport. Ever since, it’s been the Gateway for the World to the Entertainment Capital of the World. 

On Dec. 21, 1928 … The Boulder Canyon Project Act is approved, giving the green light to begin construction of a dam on the Colorado River. And the rest is architectural history.

On Dec. 22, 2005 … South Coast — now South Point hotel-casino — opens, giving our off-Strip profile another major upgrade. 

On Dec. 22, 2008 … Encore hotel-casino opens alongside sister property Wynn Las Vegas, bringing another 2,034 hotel rooms to the Strip. Their theme song could have been that Irving Berlin chestnut: “Sister, Sisters, there were never such devoted sisters …”

On Dec: 25, 1995 … Dean Martin dies of lung cancer at age 78. And a Vegas legend is gone.

On Dec. 26, 1946 … The Flamingo hotel-casino opens. And Bugsy Siegel etches his name in Las Vegas history books — along with the Mob. For which our Mob Museum is eternally grateful. 

On Dec. 28, 2009 … Hard Rock’s HRH Tower welcomes its first guests to its 359 suites, seven penthouses and eight spa villas. Luxury with a capital L. Also with capital UXURY.  

On Dec. 28, 2018 … Lady Gaga opens her residency at the Park Theater. A Strip Star is Born Again.

On Dec. 31, 1996 … The Hacienda hotel-casino is imploded. Yet its distinctive signage — that neon horse carrying that jubilant neon rider that greeted visitors — lives on forever at (where else?) our Neon Museum.

On Dec. 31, 1999 … Barbra Streisand’s New Year’s Eve concert at MGM Grand becomes Vegas’ highest-grossing concert ever. Nobody ever rains on Babs’ parade.

— Steve Bornfeld


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