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Video Vault | Planned night club made from 'Spruce Goose' plane faced big problems

Spruce Goose at Koval and Reno [KSNV]

News 3 recently ran a story about the Anatov An-225, the largest airplane in the world. But the plane with the widest wingspan ever was the Hercules H-4 "Spruce Goose," designed by eventual Las Vegas billionaire recluse Howard Hughes.

There was also a later plan that was a fixture just off the Strip in Las Vegas in the 1980s and '90s that was informally nicknamed the "Spruce Goose" by locals.

News 3 checked in on the original Spruce Goose in 1980, when it was moved for the first time in decades.

"It all began at sunrise this morning in Long Beach, California, when the largest plane ever built was moved to a new location after only flying one time," reported News 3's Steve Schorr.

That was during what was supposed to be just a water taxi test, when - with Hughes at the controls - it rose 70 feet in the air and flew for a distance of 1 mile.

The 1980 relocation to a museum setting in Long Beach Harbor next to the Queen Mary had the media grasping for superlatives.

"This is the only airplane ever built where you can actually stand in the wing and work on the engines while the plane was in flight," reported KNBC's Cynthia Allison from inside the aircraft.

Our 'Spruce Goose'

A few years later, a much smaller plane that became popularly known as the "Spruce Goose" in Las Vegas - despite its metal construction - showed up as a permanent installation at Koval and Reno.

"They dropped some fences and literally drove the plane to that location," remembered Michael Mushkin in 1996.

The Las Vegas attorney had been working with investors to clear the way for what was planned to be "The Plane" nightclub, with dining inside and dancing on the wings.

"And at just that period of time, the Hacienda-Koval interconnect project was announced," said Mushkin.

"The county needs a portion of the property to construct part of the Koval Lane/Hacienda Avenue extension," clarified Clark County Public Works engineer Ken Lambert. The project eliminated three hard 90-degree angles, replacing them with the gentle curves we see today - one of which required land from "The Plane" developers.

That meant that though owners thought they'd picked an ideal location, the airplane had to be pushed back an additional 20 feet from the curb.

"Between the parking concerns and the setback requirements make it very difficult to effectively use the plane," said Mushkin.

"The county did try to buy the land from the owners," News 3's Laura Garcia told viewers. "But they weren't interested in selling. And the county, being determined to go on with its street project, had the district attorney file a lawsuit."

Homeless refuge

Clark County prevailed, and the plane was relocated. But with limited access or parking space to move forward, the project languished and the plane became a refuge for the homeless, who found easy access through an unlocked gate.

"It kept us out of the rain and the wind," Roger Overton told News 3 in 1999. "I thought it was probably like a blessing from God."

But the character of the plane soon changed as more and more people heard how easy it was to get in.

"When you first walk in, you almost gag from the smell of human waste," said News 3's Kurt Goff, walking through the fuselage. "But if you think this is nothing more than just a makeshift shelter, you'd better think again."

Goff pointed out beer cans, cigarettes, drugs - even beds with sheets. This Spruce Goose had become a hot spot, but just not in the way investors had envisioned.

"Well we heard some bums up here partyin' last night," a 20-something fun-seeker told News 3. "So we figured the cops didn't mess with you, so we came up to see what was up here."

The plane - technically a Douglas C-124 Globemaster - was beyond repair, torn apart and disposed of more than a decade ago. The location is a vacant lot today.

The original Spruce Goose built by Howard Hughes is still on display for tourists. These days it's located at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinneville, Ore.


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