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Nevada History - June 2003

Nevada Swings Into the Seventies

By Tony Illia

Nevada hit the 1970s in full swing, adding to its already dazzling display of resort casinos and entertainment amenities. In Las Vegas, for example, a number of high-profile projects raised the level and quality of Strip offerings. Notably, Circus Circus, which had opened in 1968 as a $15 million 700-slot casino, built a 15-story, 400-room hotel tower and 850-seat showroom. Developed by Jay Sarno, creator of Caesars Palace, the major addition was financed with a $15.5 million Teamsters Pension Fund loan and completed in July 1972.

One year later, mega-resort developer Kirk Kerkorian, who had opened the 30-story, 1,512-room International in 1969, the world's largest hotel-casino at the time, sold the property to Hilton Hotels less than a year after its opening. Kerkorian, nicknamed "The Quiet Lion," would quickly roar back by building the 26-story, 2,084-room MGM Grand hotel-casino. The $107 million property, which opened on Dec. 5, 1973, required 15 million sq. ft. of gypsum drywall, 20,000 tons of structural steel, 1,895 miles of electrical wiring and eight-acres of glass to complete.
Martin Stern, Jr., and Associates of Beverly Hills was the architect, and Taylor International Corp. of Las Vegas was the general contractor.

The massive, 2.5 million sq.-ft. MGM Grand set a new standard in defining the mega-resort. The monolithic building, larger than in size than the Empire State Building, had over 300 miles of draperies, 2,300 television sets, and enough heating and cooling capacity to serve 8,000 homes.

The 363-ft.-tall MGM also contained more than 300,000 plumbing fixtures, enough for 6,000 homes or to build a complete restroom every one-fourth mile between Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Remarkably, the hotel opened 19 months after construction began with over 1,000 workers finishing the building 210 days ahead of schedule.

Also in 1973, Selby and Claudine Williams opened the Holiday Casino on the Strip followed by the Silver City Casino (1974) and the Marina hotel-casino (1975). Later that decade, Jackie Gaughan unveiled the $11.3 million, 150-room Barbary Coast hotel-casino on the Strip in March 1979. Other resorts ensued such as Ralph Engelstad's 650-room Imperial Palace, the 100-room Vegas World, and the 17,700-sq.-ft. Slots-A-Fun Casino, all of which opened in 1979.

Meanwhile, Southern Nevada's population catapulted from 273,288 in 1970 to 463,087 in 1980.
Driven by new jobs in the construction and hospitality sectors, the needs of Las Vegas Valley changed. Until 1970, Southern Nevada had drawn all of its drinking water from ground wells tapped in the Old Las Vegas Springs. When the springs dried-up, unable to keep pace with the region's growth, the Las Vegas Valley Water District decided to draw water from Lake Mead. On June 2, 1971, the Alfred Merritt Smith Water Treatment Facility opened, capable of treating and distributing up to 400 million gallons of potable water a day.

At the same time, McCarran International Airport's passenger count more than doubled from 4 million in 1970 to 10.5 million in 1979. As such, the airport finished a $30-million expansion in 1974 only to adopt a long-range master plan program four years later in order to keep pace with demand. The $300 million, three-phase "McCarran 2000" plan included a new central terminal; a nine-level parking facility; runway additions and expansions; additional gates; upgraded passenger assistance facilities; and a new tunnel and revamped roadways into the airport.

Reno also grappled with unprecedented growth during this period, seeing its population jump from 72,863 residents in 1970 to 100,765 by 1980. Several large construction undertaking occurred throughout the 70s such as the 1,015-room MGM Grand Reno, designed by Martin Stern, Jr., and Associates, which opened at 2500 E. 2nd St. on May 3, 1978. As it did in Las Vegas, the MGM Reno set a new standard for opulence with a 2,000-seat theater, a 50-lane bowling alley, two movie theaters, over 40 retail shops and 140,000-sq-ft. of exhibition space.

The 104-room Circus Circus also opened that same year in downtown. The impact of corporate money in Reno resulted in several new hotel-casinos such as the Sundowner, Holiday Inn, Eldorado and Del Webb's Sahara Reno. Casino magnate William F. Harrah also stayed active during this time, taking his company public, and starting construction on 18-story, 250-room Harrah's Lake Tahoe hotel tower in 1972. Four years later, Harrah would begin opening hotel rooms in Harrah's Tahoe 290-room second phase.

JC Penny Company built a $50 million, 36-acre warehouse in Stead, just north of Reno. Opened in 1979, the facility would employ up to 2,000 people whose combined annual earning were $12 million, creating an economic diversification breakthrough for the thriving city.

Yet nothing in the 70s could have prepared the state for fast and wild thrill-ride it was to experience in the 1980s -- a decade of unrivaled prosperity, excess and big spending, that fueled a building spree like no other in Nevada's history.




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