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March milestones

On March 1, 2007:  Upon its impending reopening, Barbary Coast is renamed Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, in honor of company founder Bill Harrah. By 2014, the folksy title had gone more tuxedo style when it was reinvented yet again for the boutique property The Cromwell.  

On March 1, 2009: The M Resort debuts. We’re still hoping they decide to open a companion resort with the same name, so we can call it M&Ms.

On March 2, 1999: Vegas literally goes for the gold when Mandalay Bay opens on the Strip. We assume the only builders who could outdo the new resort’s passion for this distinctive coloring would be Bond villain Auric Goldfinger and the current president of the United States. 

On March 5, 1971: Actress/activist Jane Fonda and labor rights leader Cesar Chavez join the march in support of the Nevada Welfare Rights Organization, which shuts down the Strip. That year, Fonda was at the height of her acting fame with her Oscar-winning role in Klute, and the following year would hit the nadir of her activism notoriety — at least to conservatives — when she visited North Vietnam, earning the sobriquet “Hanoi Jane.”

On March 5, 2007: SBE Entertainment buys the iconic Sahara Hotel. Since purchased by businessman Alex Meruelo and now operating as SLS Las Vegas, it is undergoing a $100 million renovation. While landmark Vegas hotels are routinely imploded, this one — whatever it’s named — happily lives on.

On March 7, 2000: MGM Grand buys the Mirage Resorts for $4.4 billion. And in business parlance, a mega-giant becomes an uber-power.  

On March 10, 1995: Las Vegas celebrates the opening of the world’s first Hard Rock Hotel. Its famous guitar signage becomes an instantly recognizable part of Las Vegas architecture, even famously getting mauled by a crashing airliner in the movie Con Air. After greeting visitors outside the property for years, it has now been proudly re-illuminated at the Neon Museum Boneyard.

On March 10, 2012: The Smith Center for the Performing Arts opens at a cost of $470 million at the 61-acre Symphony Park downtown. Hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, the star-packed opening event, titled From Dust to Dreams (and taped for broadcast on PBS) features performances by Jennifer Hudson, country superstars Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Emmylou Harris and Martina McBride, singer-songwriter Carole King, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, violinist Joshua Bell and gospel singer Mavis Staples, among others. Culturally-speaking, Vegas arrives at the big-time. 

On March 11, 1989: Evander Holyfield squares off with Michael Dokes at Caesars Palace. Holyfield scored a TKO victory in the 10th of 12 scheduled rounds. Ring magazine called it one of the best fights of the 1980s. Even better than Reagan vs. Carter or Bush vs. Dukakis.

On March 13, 2007: There’s now one less star scraping the Nevada sky as the Stardust hotel-casino is imploded at 2:33 a.m. Sadly, its demise also deprived the Strip skyline of that distinctive, neon-constellation sign, which at night could be spotted from more than three miles away. For its next trick, the land the Stardust stood upon will house the $4 billion, Chinese-themed Resorts World Las Vegas, now under construction and scheduled for a 2020 debut.

On March 13, 2012: Irish-themed Fitzgeralds hotel-casino gives way to the more contemporary-themed D Las Vegas, as entrepreneur-with-flair majority owner Derek Stevens becomes a major player in Downtown Las Vegas.

On March 16, 1911: Las Vegas is incorporated as a city. High rollers — and pleasure-seekers in search of the high life — have helped us become one of the aces of American cities, and our attractions and appeal keep multiplying by the year.

On March 21, 2003: Vegas pays off big-time as a 25-year old Los Angeles man hits a record Megabucks jackpot of nearly $40 million at Excalibur. Imagine everything he can buy at Bonanza Gifts Shop (aka the World’s Largest Gift Shop).  

On March 25, 1960: Jim Crow restrictions are lifted in Las Vegas. As reported in a Las Vegas Sun story the following day: “‘I think the people of Nevada have accepted the idea of integration 100 percent,’” said Dr. James B. McMillan, local president of the NAACP, in commenting on the Negroes’ acceptance in local establishments following assurances from downtown and Strip business that the policy of race discrimination in Las Vegas has ended.”

On March 27, 1967: Inaugurating an era that transformed Las Vegas, revolutionary recluse Howard Hughes buys the Desert Inn from Moe Dalitz. Hughes would go on a Vegas buying tear after that, gobbling up the Sands, the Frontier, the Landmark, the North Las Vegas Airport and the land surrounding McCarran International Airport. Hughes and Vegas have been intertwined in legacy ever since.

On March 28, 2007: The Grand Canyon Skywalk opens. Horseshoe-shaped and 10 feet wide, the cantilever bridge extends 70 feet over the rim of the Grand Canyon, allowing visitors — the ones who don’t get dizzy or faint — to peer down 4,000 feet to the Canyon floor. Reportedly, the sturdy structure can hold the weight of 747 passenger jets — 70 of them. Even so, before you venture out, you might want to skip that extra oversize pretzel. Better safe than sorry.

On March 28, 2009: Las Vegas — not to mention sequins and feather boa manufacturers — mourns a major loss: Iconic Folies Bergere shutters at the Tropicana Hotel, just a few months shy of its 50th anniversary. Though it largely represents the end of an era, the showgirls at the heart of its appeal remain a forever symbol of this city.    

On March 30, 1959: Our state Legislature creates the Nevada Gaming Commission, which has been chaired by, among others, Harry Reid and Brian Sandoval, both of whom went on to bet on politics and won big-time.

On March 30, 2011: A precursor to the Mob Museum, the Las Vegas Mob Experience opens at the Tropicana hotel-casino. Before leaving to see it, guests hopefully left the guns but took the cannolis.

On March 31, 2014: At a staggering 550 feet tall and 520 feet in diameter, the High Roller observation wheel opens at the Linq hotel-casino, its dimensions immediately crowing it the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, its debut instantly making it a Strip skyline star. Kudos for its name, tying in both its spectacular height and its Vegas location. We’re guessing it wouldn’t have been as appealing if dubbed Acrophobia: The Experience.

Steve Bornfeld

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