El Rancho implosion marks end of an era

LAS VEGAS - After the dust settled, more than 50 years of Las Vegas history - including the last eight as a Strip eyesore - came tumbling down as the El Rancho hotel-casino was imploded early Tuesday morning by a company developing a luxury condominium project.

The 2:30 a.m. demise of one of the oldest properties on Las Vegas Boulevard went off without a hitch as more than 2,000 spectators watched from parking garages, neighboring hotel rooms and an empty lot across the street.

It took less than 10 seconds for the 13-story building to crumble into a cloud of dust. Las Vegas-based LVI Environmental Services Inc. and Maryland-based Controlled Demolition Inc. used 700 pounds of dynamite for the implosion, company officials said.

In the nearby Riviera's Nickel Town and main casino, gamblers were oblivious to what has become another form of Las Vegas entertainment.

For truck driver Brant Hartnell, who lives in Las Vegas, attending implosions has become somewhat of a hobby.

''I like the noise,'' said Hartnell, who added that he was on hand for the earlier implosions of the Dunes and the Sands hotel-casinos.

Mickey Braeux, a conventioneer from Port Neches, Texas, said he was amazed by the feat of engineering it took to get the building to fall on itself.

''I thought it was neat,'' he said.

Linda Rouleau of Pelham, N.H., had her video camera ready for the implosion. ''I got a great shot,'' she said standing on the Strip while the plume of dust settled.

Rouleau, who was on vacation with her husband and her mother, said they had bought tapes of the other implosions on previous trips to the Neon City and they couldn't pass up the opportunity to experience one live.

''It was awesome,'' Rouleau said.

Florida-based Turnberry Associates, the developer of the adjacent $600 million Turnberry Place condominium project, in May bought the deteriorating 52-year-old property that was shuttered in 1992 because of losses. It has stood vacant ever since.

LVI rented all the rooms Monday at the El Rancho's nearest neighbor - the Algiers Hotel - primarily for dust control, said Burt Fried, LVI president. The hotel as well as an adjacent shopping mall were covered in plastic to protect them from dust.

The implosion was part of an overall site cleanup to make it a first-class property for the condominiums' 700-plus residents, said Bruce Weiner, Turnberry president. The El Rancho was in clear sight of the high-end condos - the first phase of which is set to open in December, with a 40-story, 184-unit tower.

The property owners weren't the only ones happy to see the ghost town turned to rubble.

''This has been a thorn in the side of the other property owners and Metro (police),'' said Clark County Commissioner Myrna Williams.

Turnberry paid defunct New Jersey company International Thoroughbred Breeders $45 million for the El Rancho.

Company officials have not announced what they plan to build on the property after the demolition. Options being considered include the development of a hotel-casino or a time-share property.

The first El Rancho, built across on the street on the southwest corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue in 1942, was destroyed by fire in 1960.

The current site was developed in 1948 as the Thunderbird and later became the Silverbird. Casino operator Ed Torres purchased the 21-acre parcel and renamed it the El Rancho in 1982.

Las Vegas Entertainment Network Inc., based in Los Angeles, bought the closed El Rancho in 1993 for $36.5 million, then resold it to International Thoroughbred Breeders Inc., of Cherry Hill, N.J., in 1996 for $43.5 million and a percentage of future cash flow.

Unlike other implosions of old casinos that were major events with fireworks and parties, owners wanted the El Rancho to be a subdued affair.

The last implosion witnessed in the city was when the original Aladdin was brought down in 1998.

The first was the Dunes Hotel in October 1993, followed by the Landmark in November 1995. The Sands Hotel was imploded a year later and the Hacienda was demolished in a New Year's Eve spectacle in 1996.


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