MGM Grand Hotel (now Bally's)
When the original MGM Grand Hotel opened in 1973, it was the most lavish hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. Every facet of the hotel oozed with class from its casino that was the size of three football fields, to its MGM themed high-end gourmet restaurants such as Gigi's, Barrymores and Tracey's. Chandeliers were everywhere. The shopping area, located downstairs from the main casino floor, was filled with high-end stores and at the end, a movie theater that played classic studio era MGM films. It was a hotel to remember.
But in 1980, an early morning fire changed forever the way we remember that beautiful hotel. There were, by estimates, 5,000 guests staying the luxury hotel on the morning of the fire.
It was the deadliest hotel fire in Nevada history and the second deadlist in American history. On November 21, 1980, early in the morning, a fire, that had started hours earlier, broke through a wall soffit in The Deli and roared into the casino.
The fire had been sparked by wiring inside the soffit. That wiring powered the refrigeration unit for a nearby food cabinet display. The vibration of the rotating cabinet had caused the wiring to fray and the wires rubbed together. The fire began there and burned for a while, undetected. Had the Deli still been open around the clock like it had been when the hotel originally opened, the fire would likely have been spotted and contained easily.
Unfortunately, the Deli no longer was open 24/7 and the fire began while the Deli was closed for the night. One of the workers on a marble and tile replacement crew entered the Deli to check for broken tiles and noticed a flickering light. On closer inspection, he discovered the fire. He immediately called security and went looking for a fire extinquisher. He tried to contain the fire but as it grew bigger he realized that not only was his life in danger but casino patrons and other workers were as well.
He opted to warn as many of them as he could.
Firefighters from nearby stations had arrived and were making their way to the Deli which was now enveloped in black smoke. They were barely 40 feet inside the hotel when a fireball roared out of the Deli and through the casino gaining speed as it raced across the three football fields burning everything in its path.
Later estimates by the Clark County Fire Department clocked the speed at 15 to 19 feet per second! Many of the elegant touches like the wall paper, the paintings of famous MGM characters, the carpet and more fueled the fire as it raced.
It finally roared out the front doors of the hotel destroying everything from the slot machines inside to the cars parked waiting for the valet.
Seven people were killed inside the casino area.
The fire fueled with toxic smoke had only one place to go and that was up. Due to faulty smoke dampers, the fire was able to get into the hotel ventilation system.
Don Feldman was a baker on duty that morning. Along with John Scott and Clarence White, he had stayed behind when word began to spread of a fire. As he explained at a panel discussion on the subject that I moderated five years ago as part of "Untold Stories", he felt that staying behind to continue working wasn't putting himself in danger because, after all, it was the MGM and surely they would take care of the problem before it got too big.
As the smoke intensified and the lights began to flicker, Feldman realized that staying behind perhaps wasn't the best choice.
The three men sought refuge in the walk-in freezer. As time passed, Feldman would go out and try to raise someone on the phone to let them know where they were. The phone line was dead. Clarence White finally decided to go for help.
While White was gone, Feldman wrote a message on the back of pie liner. He began to think they might not make it out alive. When they could take the cold no longer, Feldman and Scott decided to try and find a way out.
As they inched down the dark and smoky hallway, they found White's body. He had died of a heart attack.
They made their way to the stairs and up to the casino area. The casino was covered in water and windows were blown out. Bodies were strewn about. But, luckily, firefighters saw them and helped them to safety.
Elsewhere, the toxic smoke was making its way through the ventilation system. Hotel guests were roused by other guests in the hallway or by knocks on the door. The fire alarms were strangely quiet.
Many guests opted to take the elevators down to the casino. Of those that did, many died in those elevators.
Others ran towards the stairs and began the descent down. Many encountered thick black smoke and had to turn back. While some returned to their rooms (those who had their room keys could, those who left them behind on nightstands and in purses found themselves locked out), others raced up the stairwell for the roof.
As the fire raged on, guests could be seen on balconies and at windows begging for help. Helicopters from around the valley, including Nellis Air Force Base, helped rescue rooftop guests. Some 2,000 guests made their way to the rooftop hoping to be rescued.
Fire ladders only went as high as the 9th floor but the hotel was 26 stories tall. Guests on higher floors screamed for help. Some jumped. Hotel workers used scaffolding to try and reach and rescue guests on higher floors.
Less than two hours after the alarm was sounded, the firemen had the fire in the casino under control and were busy evacuating people floor by floor. It became a race against time.
The thick, black smoke, filled with toxins, moved swiftly and quietly throughout the air conditioning and ventilation systems. Guests who were sleeping through the fire died in their sleep of smoke inhalation.
84 people died on that tragic day with another three dying later of injuries sustained during the fire.
The MGM Grand fire led to lawsuits and trials. As the pictures above show, the casino area was destroyed. Smoke and water damage on the lower level destroyed many of the fabled shops. The hotel closed and was rebuilt. But the damage couldn't be repaired to the psyche of the American conscience. Kirk Kerkorian, the owner of the hotel, sold the hotel to Bally's.
The fire changed the way hotels were built in America. Now every room is equipped with fire sprinklers, each room comes with a binder that explains evacuation routes in case of fire, elevators are now disabled when the fire alarm sounds.
Much of the original MGM Grand still stands, its lovely bones still there amid all the remodeling that Bally's did. For more on that, click here.
The Las Vegas Strip is very different today than it was 35 years ago. But because of the tragedy of the MGM Fire, hotels in Las Vegas and around the country are now safer to stay in.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE DATE OF THE CASINO SCREENING HAS BEEN CHANGED TO SATURDAY, DEC. 5th AT 2:00. THE LOCATION STAYS THE SAME!!!!
Darlene Dalmaceda is working hard to save the Riviera. On Saturday, December 5th at 2:00 the Clark County Library on Flamingo, she will host and celebrate the Riviera with a special 20th anniversary screening of Martin Scorsese's classic mob film, Casino.
As Classic Las Vegas fans know, Casino tells the story of Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal and Tony Spilotro's days on the Las Vegas Strip in the late 1970s-early 1980s. Though the real story took place at the Stardust, when Scorsese was looking for a Strip hotel that still retained its 1970s vibe, the Stardust came up short (too many renovations had killed its Classic Las Vegas vibe) and Scorcese instead filmed at the Riviera.
After the screening there will be a gathering at Piero's.
To RSVP for this event, please visit the Save the Riviera's Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1504756079835440/
This Saturday November 7th, the Mob Museum will celebrate the real story behind the story of Casino with a panel discussion that includes attorneys, FBI agents and reporters involved in the investigations of the facts behind the movie as well as Oscar Goodman, Rosenthal’s criminal defense attorney in real life and also in the film.
Journalist Gwen Castaldi who covered the story for local news,
Oscar Goodman, Rosenthal's attorney and the former mayor of Las Vegas,
Marc Kaspar retired FBI agent,
Deborah Richard, retired undercover FBI agent and
Jeffrey Silver, long-time gaming attorney.
The discussion begins at 7:00 at the Mob Museum and admission is $25.00 with a 10% discount for museum members.
It promises to be a great evening of stories, so don't miss it!
Also, for those who were extras and had small parts in the movie, they were interviewed for an article by Leslie Townsend Rogers that appears in Vegas Seven magazine: Vegas Seven article.
Wishing everyone a safe and spooky Halloween!
Don't forget, Turn Back Your Clocks tonight before going off to Dreamland!!!!
As Halloween is almost here, we thought it might be fun to share some of the places in Las Vegas where you can partake in haunted houses and parties.
Have fun and enjoy the creepy, scary fun!!
Twisted clowns and goblins descend upon the Circus Circus Adventuredome, twisting it into darkness and turning it into Fright Dome again this year.
This year marks the thirteenth edition of Fright Dome, which can mean only one thing, a visit from the frights at Friday the 13th. Delve into the horrifying world of Jason Voorhees with “Friday The 13th 4-D: A Deadly 4-D Experience.”
Get your fright on in six haunted houses and four scare zones, including the new Freakshow attraction.
This is the place to face your fears. One of the haunted houses, Insanitarium, is unique in that you go through alone.
The haunting starts after dark at 7 p.m. on weekends and select weekday dates.
For more information on Fright Dome, please visit fightdome.com.
The popular trio of haunted houses that is Freakling Bros. returns for 2015. This year, Gates of Hell and Castle Vampyre are joined by a new haunt, The Coven of 13.
There is a little something for everybody here, depending on your level of sickness and depravity.
Gates of Hell remains the first and only R-rated haunted house in Nevada. What does this mean? In order to enter Gates of Hell you must be at least 17 years old or accompanied by parent or guardian and you must sign a waiver.
Unlike most haunted houses, the actors may touch you. You can expect both mental and verbal abuse throughout. In case you cannot make it out, you are provided a safe word that will end your experience and return you to safety.
Also returning to Freakling Bros. is The Victim Experience. Based upon the Gates of Hell, The Victim Experience takes it up to a whole new level. Not much is revealed about this ahead of time, except that in the first year, only 30 percent of the “victims” were able to complete the experience.
Freakling Bros. is located at 4245 S. Grand Canyon Drive and opens at 7 p.m. nightly.
Asylum and Hotel Fear
Located in the Northwest Corner of the Meadows Mall (4300 Meadows Lane), Asylum and Hotel Fear are two haunted houses not to be missed.
Not to give too much away about these haunted houses, but the Asylum and Hotel Fear actually have themes and backstories that are linked together. Going through both houses gives you the complete story.
The haunting begins at 6:30 p.m. on weekends and select weekdays dates.
For more information on Asylum and Hotel Fear, please visit the website atlasvegashaunts.com.
Paws on the Patio Halloween Party
Halloween is not just for humans anymore. Now, with the Paws on the Patio Halloween Party, you can celebrate with your furry friends too.
The party is taking place on Tuesday, Oct. 27 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Crave in Downtown Summerlin.
It is a great place to bring your pet and socialize with other pet lovers. Crave features a spacious patio, which is the perfect setting to mix and mingle.
Crave American Kitchen and Sushi Bar is located at 10970 Rosemary Park Dr. For more information on Paws on the Patio Halloween Party, please visit them on Facebook.
Haunted Halloween Party at Sagos
Darkness falls upon Sagos Tavern on Thursday, Oct. 29 when the Las Vegas Informer hosts its Haunted Halloween Party.
Enjoy a scary-delicious Halloween-inspired cocktail special, including the Vampire Blood $3 shot.
Dress up as your scariest, sexiest or best duo costume and win a prize.
See into your future with a psychic reading.
Or just mix and mingle with your fellow ghosts, witches and super heroes.
Pictures from the event will be published in the Las Vegas Informer online.
Sagos Tavern is located at 4790 S. Fort Apache Rd. Party time goers from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
For more information on the Las Vegas Informer’s Haunted Halloween Party, please see the event page on Facebook.
Oktoberfest Fright Fest at Fremont Street Experience:
Fremont Street turns into a monster party during the Halloween season. This year Fremont Street will be celebrating it's seventh annual Oktoberfest and Halloween with halloween themed FREE live entertainment and specials. OktoberFrightFest is the ultimate festival that combines Oktoberfest and Halloween for a month-long street party. Costumes are welcome.
Show Dates: October 4 to November 1, 2015
This years Performers / Events
"Frank & The Steins"
"Frank & The Steins" will perform on 1st Street Stage (near Binion's and Golden Nugget), - Date/Time: Oct. 4 through Nov. 1, 2015, 8:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. (dark Mondays and on Oct. 20). On Halloween night, they'll perform 7:00 p.m. to midnight.
Halloween-inspired Viva Vision light shows
Special Halloween Viva Vision shows will play each night, set to musical favorites such as "Thriller," "Ghostbusters," "Monster Mash," "Time Warp" and the themes from "The Addams Family," "Halloween" and "Nightmare on Elm Street."
Date/Time: Nightly, following the regular light shows at 7:00 p.m., 8:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.
Duration: 3-4 minutes long
Sixth Annual Fall Beer Festival at Golden Nugget
Featuring beer selections from more than 30 breweries, live entertainment, culinary offerings and more.
Date/Time: October 9 - 10, 2015
Fetish & Fantasy Halloween Ball 2015:
Fetish & Fantasy Halloween Ball 2015returns to Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas. Considered the mother of all Las Vegas Halloween parties, the annual Fetish & Fantasy Halloween Ball is a jaw dropping event guaranteed to be one of the most outrageous, bizarre and risque Halloween parties you will ever attend. Expect lots of go-go girls, laser lights, fire breathers and aerial silk dancers.
Strict admission requirements dictate that everyone wear something fetishy, fantasy like, or a Halloween costume.
When: Saturday Oct 31, 2015
Venue: Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas
Hours: 10:00pm – 4am
Must be 21 & over to attend
Join Las Vegas PRIDE at Fuso Nightclub for Halloween Party and Zombie Ball on October 25th. Expect ghoulish GoGos, tasty treats, Jell-O Shots and a fabulous costume contest for cash and prizes!.
Location: Fuso Nightclub on the roof of Larry Flint's Hustler Club
Date: October 25, 2015
Admission: No Cover
Must be 21 & over to attend
If you are looking for more kid-friendly adventures:
Town Square Las Vegas
Saturday, October 31
3 p.m. to 8 p.m for Halloween activities
4 p.m. to 7 p.m. for trick-or-treating
Town Square turns into Town SCARY this Halloween, and children of all ages are invited to trick-or-treat through the streets of Town Square as participating stores and restaurants will be passing out candy from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on October 31. Several activities will take place throughout the shopping center including:
- Costume Contests brought to you by 98.5 KLUC and pediped footwear
- Halloween Photos in Town Square Park
- Undead Maze- *not recommended for kids under 10 years old
- Cactus Coaster Rides
- Clark County Fire Department
- Bounce Houses
Town Scary is free and open to the public. Children are encouraged to bring their own basket for trick-or-treating.
Haunted Harvest at the Springs Preserve
Spring Preserve's annual Haunted Harvest is a family-friendly event that's fun for all ages. The spooktacular Haunted Harvest at Springs Preserve features a haunted hay maze, trick or treat stations, carnival games, live entertainment, a petting zoo, "haunted" train rides and much much more.
When: Oct. 16-18, 23-25, Oct. 30-31, 2015
Time: 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.; Admission: $7.00
HalloVeen at Opportunity Village:
Every weekend in October 2015 Opportunity Village will transform the magical forest into HallOVeen. This Halloween family friendly event will feature lots of fun games, events and entertainment for all ages. Included will be:
• The Haunted Adventure by Santino and Rocco Panaro
• Boris the Elf's 3D Experience
• The Spooktacular Forest Express Passenger Train
• Cheyenne's Enchanted Carousel
• The Slightly Scary Snowflake Slide
• Rod's Monster Mini Golf
• Nightly parades, crafts and movies
Dates: October 3-5, 10-12, 17-19, 26-28 and 30-31 from 6:00 to 10:00p.m.
HallOVeen at the Magical Forest is located at 6300 W. Oakey Blvd Las Vegas, NV 89146
Linq Promenade Halloween Party:
This halloween The LINQ Promenade is the place to celebrate halloween. Begining October 22, The LINQ Promenade transforms with Halloween decorations as street musicians, face painters, stilt walkers and zombies take over the promenade and create a very festive halloween party.
2015 The LINQ Promenade Halloween Events
Thursday October 29
Families can TRIQ or Treat for candy at various retailers throughout the LINQ Promenade. Time: 6 p.m.- 10 p.m.
Friday October 30
Children TRIQ or Treating.Time: 6 p.m.- 10 p.m.
A Thriller flash mob will perform the classic horror of Michael Jackson's "Thriller". Time: 7 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Saturday Oct. 31
The High Roller wheel lights up with a Halloween-themed pattern. The High Roller will feature an all new Zombie Zone with actors and staff members dressed up as zombies throughout the High Roller experience. Time: 6 p.m. to midnight.
Saturday Oct. 31
Free live band performs at The LINQ fountain stage as The LINQ Promenade hosts a Halloween costume contest for guests 21 and over with $15,000 in cash prizes. Time: 7 p.m. - 11 p.m.
Ghosts and goblins will take over the Shark Reef Aquarium at Mandalay Bay. Enter the Haunted Reef's dark and eerie tunnels at your own risk as rattling chains, creaking doors and spine-chilling music replaces the jungle noises and soothing sounds of the ocean that typically fill the air at the aquarium.
On opening day October 30th, kids 12 and under in Halloween costume and adults who donate blood at the United Blood Services booth from 10 am to 6 pm get FREE admission and candy treats.
(Space is limited, appointment recommended) To make an appointment contact United Blood Services at 702-638-7400 or visit unitedbloodservices.org and enter sponsor code: SharkReef
Dates: October 30 – November 1, 2015
Haunted Reef Hours:
Friday, October 30th; 10am - 10pm. (last admission at 9pm)
Saturday, October 31st; 10am - 10pm. (last admission at 9pm)
Sunday, November 1st; 10am - 8pm (last admission at 7pm)
General Admission: Adults: $20.00; Children (4-12): $14.00; Children (3 & under): free; Seniors (65+): $18.00
It was an institution on Fremont Street for over seventy years but the Las Vegas Club could not survive in 21st-century Las Vegas.
Word came down in the last couple of weeks that the venerable casino was closing for good. No word yet on what will take its place at the corner of Main and Fremont Street but it is well worth remembering the history of not only the Club but that corner as well.
The Las Vegas Club was originally located across Fremont Street in the block where the Pioneer Club once was. At that location it had been home to several different businesses including the Isis Theater in the early days of Las Vegas.
The Isis gave way in the 1920s to the Las Vegas Hotel and Cafe and then became the Smokehouse Restaurant. The Smokehouse had a tough go of it at that time. The Union Pacific Railroad had pulled out of Las Vegas during the strike of 1922. While trains still came through hauling passengers and freight, the machine and welding shops were closed. "Live was pretty tough in those days", remembered the late Ed Von Tobel, Jr.
As the population dwindled down to only the most heartiest who continued to believe in the town, the Smokehouse closed. The Bank Club opened very briefly and then in 1930 reopened as the original Las Vegas Club. The Las Vegas Club received one of the first gaming licenses offered in 1931.
The Las Vegas Club would remain at this location untlil the late 1940s. It was then that owner Kell Houssels, Sr. moved the Club across the street to its present location.
The new location was already steeped in Las Vegas history. In the beginning it was the Overland Hotel. Pictures of the Overland Hotel dating back to 1906 can be found on old postcards and at Special Collections and the Nevada State Museum. John Wisner bought the property at the 1905 land auction for $1,750. (Don't ya wish you had a time machine?) and built the Overland Hotel.
In 1911, the Overland had a devasting fire and burned down. The firefighters lacked equipment except for some fire hoses and a cart. This event was a turning point in the city decided to incorporate later that year.
They rebuilt the Overland bigger and better. It now had a free sample room where traveling salesmen could display their wares. George Foley, Sr recalled a trip to Las Vegas with his father in 1926 when George was just a boy. They stayed at the Overland and George remembered "I looked out the window that night and Fremont Street was only lit by one bare light bulb and I remember feeling very afraid".
The Overland briefly became Frank Donovan's Chatterbox Club as well as the Talk of the Town Bar before, in the late 1940s, Kell Houssels, Sr decided to move the Las Vegas Club across the street, perhaps thinking that the Club might do better being right across Main Street from the Train Depot. The Overland continued as a hotel above the Club. The Overland had a separate neon sign with a train engine that hung above the second floor.
In 1961, Jackie Gaughan and Mel Exber bought the Las Vegas Club and redid the facade, adding much more neon. They also bought out the Overland and the Las Vegas Club became a hotel and a casino.
The casino thrived in those classic days as Gaughan and Exber understood the tourists and locals who frequented Fremont Street.
Once Gaughan sold the property in 2002 to the Tamares Group, the casino/hotel began to falter. They tried opening a new poker room in 2007 and toyed with the idea of turning the place into a high-rise condo/hotel. Those plans evaporated in the wake of the Great Recession.
There was talk of turning the eastern part of the property into a mega-pharmacy (because the one thing Las Vegas needs is another CVS or Walgreen's, I guess) but finally the owners sold to Greg and Derek Stevens, current owners of the Golden Gate and D Hotel.
There is talk of renovating the Club but as of now, no one is sure what will happen to the property.
Watch this space.