Saturday, December 17, 2016

Back to Vegas

Entrance to Fremont St. Experience
As I've said many times before on this blog, I may not be a big fan of today's Las Vegas, but I do have a soft nostalgic spot for the Vegas of yore, when the tourists and entertainers were a lot more glamorous than the buildings. Luckily, our good friends Suzanne and Mike feel the same, so we were happy to meet them in "Sin City," earlier this week, to help celebrate their 10th wedding anniversary.

An hour after arriving, we found ourselves eating at Siegel's 1941, an old-school restaurant in the El Cortez, the longest continuously-running hotel and casino in Las Vegas and a favorite of 1940s mobster Bugsy Siegel, who, along with Meyer Lansky and others, bought the place in 1945. Following dinner, we walked over to the Fremont St. Experience, dedicated to preserving the neon heyday of mid-century Vegas. Situated in the heart of the old downtown area, the two-block Experience is covered by a protective ceiling that projects films above pedestrians, casinos and shops. Though I'm glad my parents' favorite casinos (from the old days) have been saved, the whole thing smacked of the worst elements of Times Square and Hollywood Blvd., so we did not stay long. (But we do love neon, so more about that part of Vegas in my blog entry below.)

 Tim (lower righthand corner) looking at all the neon and
ceiling projections

Mike in front of the Four Queens casino

Binion's casino
The next day, we spent a couple of hours touring the Nevada State Museum, an unassumingly hidden gem located in Springs Preserve, far from the hub-bub and gaudiness of The Strip. In addition to a permanent collection of artifacts tracing the history of Nevada, from dinosaurs to present day, the Museum is currently featuring two small but fascinating exhibits:"Les Folies Bergère: Entertaining Las Vegas One Rhinestone at a Time," about the Tropicana hotel's now-gone cabaret show, and "Branding Las Vegas, 1941-1958," highlighting hotel memorabilia collected by Richard and Nancy Greeno. Both are wonderful reminders of Vegas' true glory days.

Typical "pouf" headdress worn by 

1960s costume (front)

 And back

 Men, as well as women, danced in the Folies

Greeno collection: memorabilia from the now-gone New Frontier hotel

Tiki items from the once fabulous Stardust hotel

Frontier hotel poster

 When smoking was sexy: Tropicana hotel ashtrays

Desert Inn roulette wheel ashtray

Flamingo hotel: paper ephemera

Museum's permanent collection: old one-armed bandit slot machines

BTW, we stayed at the Signature at MGM Grand, a completely smoke- and game-free condo property, a couple of blocks off The Strip, that was relatively cheap, too. Highly recommended if, like us, you don't smoke or gamble.

Saw this double rainbow as we were leaving Vegas

Good luck followed us back into California 

Neon Boneyard

Today's Las Vegas is all about spectacle and imitations of attractions from other parts of the world. In the old days, however, neon signs were king, attracting visitors to hotels and casinos that were otherwise rather nondescript. Fortunately, as more and more of the old buildings are destroyed, the Neon Museum is on hand to collect, preserve, and showcase the once-glorious signs (over 200 items) in a small neon boneyard, open to the public day and night. We opted to tour it at night, in hopes of seeing lots of showy neon.

Sadly, few signs were actually lit. Still the tour was fabulous, using the signs—which are arranged chronologically—as a visual metaphor of the history of Las Vegas. We, of course, loved the old casino signs the best, but there were also less well known—and just as interesting—ones: the Green Shack's simple "cocktails, chicken and steak" sign, for instance, and the Yucca motel's amazing neon yucca. Highly recommended for either day or night tours.

Fabulous plexiglass sign for the La Concha motel, part of which
now houses the Neon Museum gift shop

A section of the entrance facade of the old Horseshoe casino 

Yucca motel

When it opened, the Green Shack served cocktails, chicken and steak,
just like it says on the sign

Another meat-centric restaurant: House of Steak

Las Vegas Club: the only sign in the collection that mentions Vegas

Recently restored sign: Jerry's Nugget 

Stardust casino's highly recognizable atomic font

Sahara casino 

 Riviera casino

Another recently restored neon: La Concha

Hacienda horse and rider, now part of the Neon
Museum's public neon tour on Las Vegas Blvd.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Castle Green

Castle Green tourists in its early days
I've been intrigued by Pasadena's Castle Green ever since I noticed what I now know is a bridge that used to reach across Raymond Avenue, connecting east and west structures of the Hotel Green resort. Built in the late 1890s, the magnificent hotel was a getaway for rich tourists wishing to experience Southern California's sunny climate. The eastern half of the resort was eventually destroyed, but the western half remains as a private condo complex. Although the property is open to the public twice a year—on Mother's Day and again in December—we've never been able to squeeze the tour into our busy schedule. That is, until today.

The grounds, first floor and several units at Castle Green were open today, starting at 1PM. Not wanting to drive all the way to Pasadena, we instead took three different lightrail lines from Culver City. We left the house at 11:15AM and arrived at the Castle 20 minutes early. There was already a line to get in. Twenty-five minutes later, we were inside, roaming around the first floor, while a choir sang Christmas songs. Taking a tip from someone who had done the tour before, we climbed seven flights of stairs and started at the penthouse, which was originally built as a conservatory for tropical plants. Its glass ceiling was covered during WWII and now the space is the largest apartment in the building. Its view of Pasadena is spectacular.

On our way into the building

 Lobby staircase

View of Pasadena

From there, we walked down the staircase to each floor, where several tenants welcomed us—and everyone else—into their homes. Most of the units were small—one bedroom at most—but each one was completely unique, reflecting the tastes and interests of its occupant(s). If I didn't love our house so much, I would have been ready to pack everything up and move to Castle Green in a flash. Of course, we would have to get rid of 90% of our stuff to fit into a one-bedroom unit, but what a wonderful place to live!

Wrought iron staircase

A Buddhist shrine in one living room

Another living room was completely Victorian

Kitchens were tiny, but a focal point—this one was recently

Another kitchen (my fave) was completely retro: mauve cabinets
with yellow counters, refrigerator, and . . .

stove (I want one!)

Yet another style of kitchen. As one woman said, how does
one even cook in here?

Bathrooms were fun, too—most with ancient

I loved this pink one the best

Interesting light fixtures

Love this!

Two enormous lamp shades in the downstairs sitting room

View of the remaining bridge from one of the unit's balcony 

North end of complex

One of two distinctive turrets

Turret (detail)

Bridge (detail)