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VIDEO VAULT: Finding the blueprints for the Las Vegas Strip's possibilities

Titanic Project.jpg

No city matches Las Vegas when it comes to fantasy architecture on a large scale. Today's Strip is home to a volcano, a pyramid, the Arc de Triomphe, a pirate bay and more.

A new exhibit at the UNLV Library's Special Collections Department, called "Unbuilt," looks at the blueprints, conceptual renderings and more which have been used — not always successfully — to turn dreams into reality.

"Things that would not work in any other city, you can try in Las Vegas," explains exhibit curator Peter Michel. "And we see what has been built are experimental, and you look at it and say, 'That's amazing, I can't imagine anyone building Circus-Circus someplace else,' as Homer Rissman said."

Rissman was the architect who designed the outsized big top at the property, which opened in 1968. He also designed as the Flamingo towers, the Dunes Country Club, the Hacienda, and the largely forgotten Bonanza Hotel and Casino, which was constructed on a parcel that is now part of Bally's Grand.

"With its original design, which was to replicate the TV show, the ranch house from the TV show," says Michel. "That was actually built."

Las Vegas News Bureau footage brings back the memory of the property's 1967, which included a special appearance on stage by TV series star Lorne Greene.

The film shows you what existed for five years before being demolished. But the UNLV exhibit gives an idea what was going through Rissman's head to get there.

"He came up with a number of different ideas. And some of them you can see they went through a first drawing and they changed their mind and they came up with a second set of drawings, third set of drawings, fourth set of drawings."

One thing that jumps out in renditions of the never-constructed portions of the Bonanza, is the degree of minutia, which was meant to excite the developer.

"And so it's going to be a little bit more elaborate than you're actually probably going to be able to construct it. So you're showing a lot of detail. You're showing a lot of people, trees. Things that if you looked at it, you would wonder how could they possibly build this?"

When a project does come to fruition, it is sometimes not quite as glamorous as artwork displayed at the groundbreaking.

"Get ready for the unveiling of our new 4000 room resort," boomed a Circus-Circus stage announcer in October of 1988. "It's called...Excalibur!"

A woman in Arthurian raiment pulled back a set of curtains to reveal the planned new resort. It's recognizable as the Excalibur that opened in 1990, but has a more streamlined appearance than the slightly boxy reality.

"What you're trying to do is show the client how wonderful, magnificent, sexy -- whatever it is -- that this project might be," says Michel.

The Bonanza and the Excalibur were both brought to life, if not quite exactly the way they were conceived by artists. But there are many other proposed and planned projects that never got off the drawing board.

"Raising the Titanic on the Las Vegas Strip," said casino mogul Bob Stupak in 1999 as he unveiled artwork of a hotel themed around the doomed liner. "In the form of a ship."

Stupak's Titanic foundered, as did plans for a mid-1970s mega-resort called Xanadu, which would have been on the parcel that became Excalibur.

Some of the Xanadu ideas were incorporated into a proposed addition to the troubled Landmark Hotel and Casino.

"Which would have been quite an elaborate project had it been constructed. Of course, they ran out of money, went bankrupt and it got blown up in 'Mars Attacks'," says Michel, referring to a 1996 movie by director Tim Burton that incorporated film of the actual hotel implosion.

There was also a proposed Motown-themed resort, and restaurant/retail complex called Regent Center that would have been where the Showcase Mall is found today.

"The projects that weren't built in Las Vegas are even more interesting than some of the projects that were built," muses Michel.

Artwork for most of those projects as well as many others are being exhibited at UNLV Special Collections on the third floor of UNLV's Lied Library through June. It's free and open to the public.

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