Nevada Swings Into the Seventies
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
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
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.