Question of the Day November 27, 2015
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Q:I seem to remember Main Street Station being called Rosie's with a large dual staircase to the second floor where dancing took place. Am I correct?
A:No, not quite. Rosie O’Grady’s Goodtime Emporium was part of entrepreneur Bob Snow’s revamping of the defunct Holiday International Hotel & Casino, a property remembered (if at all) for its five-cent beers. The City of Las Vegas approached Snow to create a Vegas version of his Church Street Station, in Orlando. This was a historic move, if only because the city used its powers of eminent domain for the first time ever, to try and accommodate Snow’s grand vision. The ensuing litigation took so long, however, that Snow had to develop from the existing Holiday International infrastructure.
Steve Wynn was sufficiently moved by the result, done in Barbary Coast style, that he took out a full-page ad in the Las Vegas Review-Journal to hail Main Street Station as "the most beautiful casino and entertainment project ever built in Las Vegas." This was quite some praise, coming from the man who'd debuted The Mirage two years earlier (in 1989). Frommer’s rhapsodized, "The overall look here, typical of Downtown, is early-20th-century San Francisco. However, unlike everywhere else, the details here are outstanding, resulting in a beautiful hotel by any measure. Outside, gas lamps flicker on wrought-iron railings and stained-glass windows. Inside, you’ll find hammered-tin ceilings, ornate chandeliers, period antiques and artwork, and lazy ceiling fans. It’s all very appealing and just plain pretty."
Snow was unstinting in his extravagance. In addition to the property’s signature Pullman car, he hung the ceilings with chandeliers from the Coca-Cola building and from a Paris opera house, and filled the windows with stained glass from 19th century American actress Lillian Russell’s mansion. From the Kuwaiti National Bank, Snow acquired and installed a façade and bronze doors. The crowning touch, in a sense, was the slab from the Berlin Wall which Snow used to mount the urinals in the men’s room.
As his "director of entertainment and television production," Snow brought in Fred "Mickey" Finn, known for his ragtime and Dixieland piano stylings. According to the Deseret News, Finn "first rose to fame in the early 1960s with a popular 'speakeasy' motif nightclub in San Diego and his own NBC television show."
He and Snow bonded over shared passions for music, hot-air ballooning, and antique airplanes and had precocious dreams to mirror Snow's prior success with Church Street Station in Orlando and transform the entire block into a Downtown Development District, replete with a hotel-casino, shopping mall, and entertainment and dining facilities, including a Cheyenne Saloon and a Rosy O'Grady's Good Time Emporium, à la the Church Street prototype. (The latter was named for Rosie O'Grady's Flying Circus, the Orlando aerial-advertising company and entertainment company, in which Snow was a partner.)
Apparently, the city of Las Vegas raised $12 million in bond financing as its contribution to what was originally to be named Winchester Station, we discovered in the course of this research, and Snow's plan was to launch beginning with Rosie O'Grady's and then add all the other elements as part of a five-year plan. "When Rosie O'Grady's opens, Finn will have a full eight-piece band, can-can girls and a Red Hot Mama (shades of Sophie Tucker)," the Deseret News promised. Finn was a former Caesars Palace headliner and had played Vegas as recently as 1988.
Sadly, however, all this largesse was more than the market could bear – especially for a previously boarded-up lot a couple of blocks off an already depressed Fremont Street. The property closed in 1992, whereupon Boyd Gaming bought it out of bankruptcy in 1993 for a song: $16 million. Rosie O’Grady’s was still on the marquee in 1995, during a period (1994-96) when Boyd was using Main Street Station merely as a dormitory to house overflow guests from its neighboring California hotel-casino. Main Street Station didn’t resume operations as a casino until 1996 and Boyd Gaming spokesman David Strow says little was changed; the "incorporation of antiques and antiquities is a holdover from Bob Snow’s original design."
But what of the 1977-80 Holiday International, other than second-hand casino chips? Little information can found on it and even less on its 1980-90 successor, The Park, although the latter is reviled for revoking Holiday International’s nickel beers – a tradition reintroduced by Bob Snow. An old issue of now-defunct Blackjack Forum lists The Park as having 10 blackjack tables – later expanded to 14 – some with $1 minimums. If you can’t keep a Vegas casino open with $1, single-deck blackjack, what can you do? Maybe it was bad karma for rescinding the 5-cent beer.
Now here’s the kicker: According to Strow, Rosie O’Grady’s was never a designated space in the casino. "It was merely a decorative sign," he observes, although a previous questioner submitted to QoD, recollecting how they remember "Main St being called Rosie's, with a large dual staircase to the second floor where dancing took place" and we're inclined to believe them, although the venue can only have been open briefly. Boyd Gaming subsequently took down the Rosie O’Grady’s lettering, kept the semicircular backdrop and moved it to the northeast corner of the building, where it proclaims "Main Street Station."
So it goes in the transitory world that is Las Vegas.