Home of big fiberglass, plaster
Years ago someone asked me if I had ever seen any giant fiberglass cow statues in Nevada. I racked my brain and recalled that I’d seen one in front of a café in Currant, a wide spot in the road at the intersection of U.S. 6 and State Route 379.
I don’t know if the Currant cow is still there but it all got me thinking about all of the weird fiberglass or plastic statues that have been erected throughout the state. In nearly every case, the oversized object d’ art was put up to promote some kind of business.
The list gets even longer if you look at giant neon sign objects like Wendover Will and Vegas Vic, the pair of electronic cowboys that grace Wendover and downtown Las Vegas.
So where are some of the best of these enormous figures? The following are some of the most well known examples of this unique style of roadside art found around the state:
• One of the most famous of the bigger-than-life statues is “Last Chance Joe,” the 36-foot prospector that was for more than a half-century perched atop John Ascuaga’s Nugget resort in Sparks.
The cartoony Joe was built in the 1950s and removed earlier this year after the Nugget was sold and the new owners decided to remodel the property. Fortunately for Joe, the Sparks Museum and Cultural Center recently arranged for him to be moved rather than destroyed. Plans call for him to eventually stand in front of the museum, which is located at 814 Victorian Avenue in Sparks.
• A former companion of Joe’s is the giant prospector that now stands adjacent to the Chocolate Nugget candy factory in Washoe Valley. Usually just called “Giant Prospector” or the “Washoe Valley Prospector,” the massive gold miner originally kneeled on top of a long-gone casino in downtown Sparks, across from Joe.
In the 1980s, the 20-foot fiberglass sourdough was relocated to the lot next to the candy shop.
• There are a couple of other prospectors—they’re shorter at about 15 feet tall—who can be seen kneeling while panning for gold in the parking lot at the Gold Strike Inn in Jean.
• Travelers to Elko will find a couple of about 20-foot tall plaster polar bears wearing cowboy hats that stand above the two main entrances to the Commercial Hotel. The faux ursines, which carry the name, “White King,” are actually replicas of a real, mounted polar bear that is on display inside the casino.
The real White King is considered the world’s largest polar bear. He stands 10-feet, 4-inches tall and, when alive, weighed 2,200 pounds. He came to Elko following a challenge in 1957 to find the largest polar bear in the Arctic Circle.
The bear was shot by an Eskimo in Alaska on an unknown date and purchased by Red Ellis, former owner of the Commercial. He was trucked in one piece to the casino, placed in a display case in 1958, and hasn’t been moved since.
• Yet another fiberglass bovine can be found standing alongside State Route 373, the road through the Amargosa Valley area. This black and white cow, which stands about 8 to 10 feet tall, apparently once stood on top of the Holy Cow Brewery in Las Vegas. She (it has giant udders—one can only imagine all the selfies that have been taken there) was retired to the southwestern Nevada desert sometime in the 1990s.
• A newer example of the larger-than-life school of art can be found on the façade of M&M World on the Las Vegas Strip. There, you’ll see a pair of brightly colored, smiling, round M&M characters welcoming visitors to the attraction. Tucked between them is a giant bag of the candies with large replicas of the coated chocolate pellets falling from a torn end.
• Las Vegas is also home of a giant plaster replica of the Egyptian Sphinx, positioned at the front entrance to the Luxor Resort. Between the paws of the regal monolith is a smaller statue of an Egyptian pharaoh. The Vegas Sphinx is ten stories high and 265 feet long—making it about 35 feet taller and 25 feet longer than the original.
• While it’s not made of plaster or plastic, another impressive casino statue is the 45-foot tall, 100,000-pound bronze lion at the entrance to the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. This shiny, muscular feline was erected a few years after the resort opened to replace a more cartoon-like lion façade that had been built at the hotel’s entrance. Apparently, some Asian gamblers avoided the casino because it is considered bad luck to enter through a lion’s mouth, as was originally the case.
Rich Moreno covers the places and people that make Nevada special.