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The Falling City

April 27, 2017

The wonderful insignificance of a dead hotel

Landmark Blue - SMALL.jpg

[Editor’s note: Already awash in nostalgia, I wrote this remembrance in 2003. Another wave recently hit me—nostalgia for nostalgia—and I’ve resurfaced from the archive, safe if not quite sound. The paintings are by the talented and inimitable Eric Roberts.]

By Greg Blake Miller

There is, I’m sure, something in the subconscious to explain my attachment to all things old, but here on the surface, where I am unblissfully unaware of what that something might be, I’m stuck taking seriously the task of mourning things that will soon go missing. Cultures far greater than Vegas have been plowed under and sowed with salt and little lamented. And yet, eight years after the fact—it is not even an anniversary; my sentimentality demands no news hook—I find myself suddenly and inexplicably lamenting the fall of the Landmark Hotel.

It had been a failure almost from the start, and I didn’t care. My grandfather liked the Landmark, and I liked it, too. It was the 1970s, and Grandpa visited often from LA. He was approaching 80 and already long retired. He hadn’t made a great career, and he knew everyone around him knew it. He spoke softly, rarely, and always about the past. I liked to think he saved his words for me. He told me about 1910: He told me about selling now-defunct newspapers on Montreal sidewalks in the shadows of buildings he could still describe, buildings he could still go see if he chose to. We talked about places much older than our Landmark. Who knew the Googie Vegas casino would take its place among buried Pharaohs and sunken cities long before the old mansard rooftops of French Canada? I suppose I knew. Maybe that’s why I liked the Landmark; my parents always said it was a dump. I liked the Landmark because it was unappreciated and marked for death.

The Landmark was a monument to irrelevant exuberance. A giant lollipop of a place with hotel rooms in the skinny stick, it missed the entire point of why casinos had hotels attached to them, the whole concept of the semi-captive in-house audience, the lazy beauty of stay-here play-here thinking. But a big blocky room tower next to the stick would have ruined the whole pretty confection. The Tootsie-pop top of the Landmark was a riot of square tinted windows, glass upon glass, like a viewing wall at the airport, or the air-traffic tower, or the control room of a faraway space station; I gazed upward and mixed my metaphors. The lollipop became a flying saucer. The saucer looked huge on the stick; the whole structure looked top-heavy. I dreamed of impending flight. The stick was the fuel tank, to be jettisoned once it had done its job. The saucer would do the flying. I suppose the vision is fitting enough for a place where the rooms themselves seemed an afterthought, a sort of hasty mental correction after the long, pleasant dream of putting restaurants in the clouds.

I can’t think of a single time I ever went into the Landmark. It was, like so much of the Las Vegas of my childhood, a place not to experience but to glimpse and re-conceive. My grandfather would say, I went to the Landmark, and I would picture the place in my mind, with its chilly blue stripes and ice windows, and I’d see it in all its beautiful uselessness, this place that was loved by my grandpa the dreamer, who—as I’d heard often enough—had the brains to do more in the world but had inexplicably chosen not to. He and I shared this secret admiration of inexplicable choices; in this, we were alone in our family, and we took pride in the loneliness. Of course, a dream leaves you nothing to hold onto but its memory. I knew even then that the Landmark was slipping away. I used to think of what I might turn it into—A small college! An office building with movie theaters up top! But it almost hurt to plan for the future. I regarded the Landmark with the advance mourning one reserves for things not of this world.

After seven years out of town in college and grad school, I came home in 1995. I parked my car on Paradise road, lined up the Landmark and the rising Stratosphere in my viewfinder, and I snapped a picture. I snapped another. I snapped and snapped until the sky went dim and the film ran out and the night arrived when the old dream would die.

This story originally appeared in the Las Vegas Weekly in 2003.

Landmark and Stratosphere - SMALL.jpg

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