Whoever said “the house always wins” never heard about the troubled history of the Landmark, an orphan of a casino plagued with massive problems from the start and since demolished into desert dust. Part 1 of 3.
The Landmark Hotel and Casino seemed to hold all the cards. Build a tall tower and they will come was the supposition. But it was dealt one losing hand after another and eventually folded in 1995.
The Construction Phase
The futuristic-looking resort which resembled the Seattle Space Needle once stood at the northwest corner of the intersection of Paradise Road and Convention Center Drive, across the street from the Westgate. It was one of Las Vegas’ rare flops, especially financially. The tower and surrounding development were a bottomless money pit. It lost money virtually every year it operated and lost even more before its doors opened. The entire operation wallowed in debt for decades, punctuated by multiple bankruptcies, internal scandals, changes in ownership, building code violations and design flaws, and — strange as it sounds in a city that’s built on house edges — just plain old bad luck.
All that remains today as a blurry reminder of what used to be a 31-story structure is an old 60s era “Landmark” neon sign, which stands more like a tombstone than the tall tower which proceeded it. Initially envisioned as a master-planned development — including a world-class casino, a luxury hotel, restaurants, an observation deck, high-end apartments, and a shopping complex — construction broke ground in 1961 during a boom building period in Las Vegas.
Construction was expected to take 18 months, but Frank Caroll (real name Frank Caracciolo), the original owner, ran out of money. Not a good thing when trying to open a new casino. Nonetheless, juggling the books and stiffing a battalion of contractors netted results. By the end of 1962, the tower was 80 percent complete. But Caroll couldn’t raise the additional funds desperately needed to finish the job. In a bizarre omen that would be repeated decades later at the nearby Fountainbleau, the unfinished Landmark project sat idle for more than five years (the Fountainbleau disaster is now entering its 14th year, and counting).
So, where did Caroll get his money to finish the job? Riding to the rescue was the Central Teamsters Pension Fund. You do the math.
However, even the muscle of the Teamsters wasn’t enough. Caroll, an inept businessman and/or the unluckiest man in Las Vegas began having labor issues. Contractors weren’t paid. Suppliers waited for months, then years, then sued. The bills piling up faster than Caroll could count them. Several “grand opening” dates were pushed back — at least six times by one count. Delays were almost entirely due to the mismanagement of funds.
However, even with all the chaos, by the end of 1967, the Landmark’s opening was imminent given the massive investment of money and resources. And that’s when the cruelest beat of all befell the man who envisioned it. Just when he thought his troubles were behind him, Caroll was denied a casino license by the Nevada Gaming Control Board. The reason given was Caroll’s shaky finances. If he couldn’t pay the mattress company the $25,000 in beds that were delivered, how would the casino pay gamblers in the casino? A whale on a hot streak might end up owning the joint, not that anyone would want to inherit the myriad of troubles swirling up and down and around the tower of disaster.
Caroll didn’t help his chances during a media tour of the Landmark pre-opening. In a baffling incident, he got into a fistfight and beat up the project’s interior designer. This happened right in front of reporters. Nothing leads to “good press” like the spectacle of a casino owner pummeling the guy responsible for decorations. As the tour was cut short, Caroll was arrested and charged with assault and battery. The charges were later dropped after he agreed to withdraw his application for a casino license and essentially get the hell out of the gaming industry.
It was mid-1968, and the Landmark hadn’t even opened its doors yet!
What next? What else could possibly go wrong?
Oh wait — how about this….a plane crash!
On the hot night of August 2, 1968, an airplane mechanic depressed by the break-up of his month-long marriage, stole a Cessna 180 airplane as part of a suicide plot. Shaw flew the stolen plane toward the Landmark tower but inexplicably pulled up just before hitting it. The plane scraped the top of the tower before crashing into the Las Vegas Convention Center across the street. The pilot was killed instantly.
The Landmark’s troubles were only to get much worse. As if things weren’t crazy enough already, the Landmark was finally sold. The official grand opening was still six months away.
The new owner was Howard Hughes.
Coming in Part 2: The Grand Opening and Begining of the Howard Hughes Era
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