LAS VEGAS -- Five decades ago, the Las Vegas Strip was a dusty desert highway from Los Angeles to a small cluster of casinos 5 miles to the north. There were no pyramids, faux European cities, or half-sized Statues of Liberty to beckon the road's tired, hungry, and sweltering masses.
That job fell to a motel with a 9-foot-deep aboveground swimming pool with seven mammoth portholes to show off what must have seemed to weary drivers to be the bluest water there ever was.
Now, that pool and motel are slated for demolition, marking the destruction of one of Sin City's most enduring icons. In the 1990s alone, scenes from the movies "Casino," "Indecent Proposal," and "Leaving Las Vegas" were filmed there. Photographer Annie Leibowitz shot Brad Pitt for Vanity Fair there.
It is unclear precisely when the institution will become rubble -- the owners, TG Investments, would not give the date or discuss future plans for the site -- but the motel was vacated and employees were laid off in mid-September. "No trespassing" signs hang from a chain-link fence that surrounds the still-filled 56,000-gallon peach-colored pool.
"It's another of our treasured, aged landmarks that's going to be demolished," said David Frommer, president of the Nevada chapter of the American Institute of Architects. "It's kind of a conundrum. There's a sentimentality about these things, but part of the amazement of Vegas is that we continually reinvent ourselves. It's almost an accepted practice that things go down in search of the next generation of building."
In this case, the next generation, the age of billion-dollar megaresorts with 3,000-plus rooms based on fantastical themes, has long since arrived. Today there is little use for a rundown 46-unit motel along the 10-lane Las Vegas Boulevard, the name of which was changed from Los Angeles Highway in the 1970s to represent the fact that the Strip's growth had made it the central attraction of the burgeoning city.
The Glass Pool Inn -- called the Mirage Motel until hotel visionary Steve Wynn bought the name for $350,000 for the resort he opened in 1989 -- sits on some of the last land left on the Strip where major new casinos can be built, so developers have hungrily bought up the jigsaw of parcels to create contiguous plots.
Longtime owners Allen and Susie Rosoff, who sold their 1 1/2 acres for $5.5 million in 1999, said they are pleased to hear of the pool's fate. "Truthfully, it makes me feel good," said Allen Rosoff, 69. "The place was getting so deteriorated that I felt that with all the fond memories of almost 50 years involved in my family, I would rather remember what it was than see how rundown the motel was getting."
Still, it was never the motel that attracted passersby. It was the 26-foot-by-55-foot kidney-shaped pool with 4-foot-wide portholes that Rosoff's parents and uncle installed in 1955 to make the place stand out. "We were way out on the south end of nothing," Rosoff said. "People used to come in asking how far it was to Las Vegas."
Movie producers noticed immediately. The first film shot there was "Las Vegas Shakedown" in 1955, starring Dennis O'Keefe, and a parade of cameras followed. Nicolas Cage and Elisabeth Shue kissed underwater in "Leaving Las Vegas." Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore checked in while considering "Indecent Proposal." Cindy Crawford filmed an episode of her former MTV show, "House of Style," in a suite that was once Rosoff's parents' apartment.
The band ZZ Top shot a video there in which they had the pool emptied, played a song in it, and then digitally added the water back in. The Las Vegas tourism board did one better, once shooting an advertisement in which bikini-clad women played a slot machine while actually submerged. Television commercials for hairpieces and cosmetics used the pool to show that the product didn't come off.
"It screams Las Vegas; it's so eye-catching," said Trent Othiel, president and co-owner of Insomnia Entertainment, a movie production company based in Las Vegas. "You immediately look when you pass it. That's what you want on film."
Producers frequently cast the motel as the archetypal sleazy Vegas joint, though in 50 years the only death on the premises was a suicide. "Publicity is publicity, good, bad, or otherwise," Rosoff said. "I would tell a guest, `I'm going to put you in Room 126,' and the guest would ask, `What happened there?' I'd say, `That's where Marilu Henner and Nicolas Surovy slept in the movie `Stark.' People get impressed that way." Occasionally, the Rosoffs themselves became part of the scenery. In the opening montage of a short-lived 1991 ABC series called "The Man in the Family," the character played by Ray Sharkey drives away from the Glass Pool Inn with Allen Rosoff waving from the office window. "Indecent Proposal" director Adrian Lyne considered using them behind the counter to check in Moore and Harrelson, but concluded that the innkeepers "didn't fit the part of desk clerks," Rosoff said.
Usually, Rosoff had little contact with the stars, although he remembers chatting amiably with Henner and being surprised by how short Moore is. He most enjoyed a video shoot for a Robert Plant song because the band and crew, slated to stay at the Las Vegas Hilton, decided instead to drop anchor at the Glass Pool. "For a little tiny hotel, we had quite a following around the world," he said.
Despite all that, there is little interest locally in rescuing the landmark. Clark County Museum administrator Mark Ryzdynski said that moving the pool would not be feasible, but added that it would be further documented before its destruction to "make sure the photographic record is complete up until and through its final days."
Many Las Vegans reacted with disappointment at plans to raze the pool. But Vegas has always had a peculiar disregard for the city's history, making a party throughout the 1990s of imploding classic hotels of the Bugsy Siegel era to make way for megaresorts.
"Las Vegas is a place where the past is truly prologue," said Hal Rothman, chairman of the history department at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas and author of "Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Started the 21st Century."
"We don't really care about the past. Preserving what we were yesterday is not as important as divining what we will be tomorrow."
Rosoff said he hopes that the hoteliers who produced replicas of the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty might someday build another Glass Pool.
"That would be nice, but as for this place, it was built 50 years ago to the code of those days," he said. "It is time."