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Turning Back The Clock: The Showboat

October 17, 2012 at 6:12 PM | by | Comments (7)

We love Las Vegas and part of that is loving Las Vegas’ history. So, while we enjoy telling you what we love about Vegas and keeping you up-to-date on what's going on, we would like to take some time to look back at Vegas past. Today, we continue a special series on shuttered (but not forgotten) Las Vegas hotels and casinos. We hope you enjoy the stroll down memory lane.

In downtown Vegas, the Showboat was once king. The project of William Moore of the Last Frontier and J. Kell Houssels of the Las Vegas Club, the $2 million Showboat opened in September 1954, according to Wikipedia.

The hotel debuted with 100 rooms, but the casino itself was reportedly run by managers from the Desert Inn. That stopped a few years in after proving "unsuccessful." New management introduced .49 cent breakfast specials and, in 1959, a bowling alley was added as well. By 1979, the alley had grown to 106 lanes, "making it the nation's third largest."

As the years went on, a 19-story hotel tower was added. The first nine floors opened in 1973 and the rest of the 500 rooms came online three years later. In the early 80s, more changes came to the 'boat:

...a large unused space on the second floor was converted into the Showboat Sports Pavilion, which hosted American Wrestling Association events and Los Angeles Thunderbirds roller derby matches, and competed with Caesars Palace to book high-profile boxing matches. The Pavilion was later converted into a bingo hall.

When the 90s came along so did the rise of the mega-resorts on the Strip and Showboat's popularity waned. Wikipedia reports that, in 1998, Harrah's Entertainment purchased parent company Showboat Inc. for $1.15 billion. It sold the property two years later to VSS Enterprises for $23.5 million. However, Harrah's didn't sell the name so the hotel-casino was renamed The Castaways.

The new owners never did well and according to the Associated Press, the facility was crippled by a downturn in tourism that occurred in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. Discussions were held in 2002 to rebrand the property as a Holiday Inn and start a $57 million renovation and expansion, but these plans did not come to fruition.

Instead, money woes, foreclosure proceedings and bankruptcy ensued. In January 2004, Vestin, a mortgage company, took possession of the casino and shut it down. Vestin had planned to sell the property to MGI Group for $21.6 million, but Station Casinos talked (read: paid) their way into the deal instead.

In 2005, Station Casinos began to demolition the property after discovering "construction quality problems." In January 2006, the hotel tower was brought down to make way for a $90 million concept dubbed Castaways Station:

That idea ended up sinking, though, and, in 2009, Station Casinos put the empty lot up for sale for $39.5 million dollars. The property, located at Fremont and Boulder Highway, still sits unused to this day.

(PHOTOS: globalpostcardsales.com, classiclasvegas.squarespace.com, mrhalliday.com, lasvegashotel.com, YouTube)

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Memories And Notes

I remember around 2000 when the Castaways had an all-night buffet for something like $2.99. I had a condo near Nellis and Vegas Valley and my friend lived on Charleston near the 95. We headed to Castaways about midnight as he needed to grab a bite to eat. While he hit the buffet, I hit a royal at the bar. Good times!

There is some debate about Station's true intentions. By shuttering the property, they were protecting Boulder Station.

Also, that neighborhood was getting pretty "tapped out". Long-time homeowners were aging, on pensions, and didn't have the disposable income a gaming property in that area would need. Especially a new property.

Although I believe they still pull a gaming trailer in there every couple of years to keep the site license intact, we obviously won't see development for a long time. Downtown would have to explode with live/work/play and Fremont Street development would have to domino east, reaching all the way to Eastern and almost creating a downtown "Strip" activity.

Completely out of the question? Not necessarily. East Fremont to Castaways is less than 2 miles. But we're talking 2025, not 2015.

Thanks

Thanks for this turning back the clock article.  I love history and the history of Vegas interests me a lot.  I look forward to your next story!

@AccessVegas

Yes, I remember the gaming trailers, too. I tried to find some current info on that but failed. I'm not sure how often they need to do that. The last one I saw take place was earlier this year for the Moulin Rouge site.

I can definitely see downtown "spreading" east. Eventually (dot, dot, dot). I wonder if Tony and the Downtown Project have something scrawled down as a footnote to their master plan regarding this plot of land.

Bingo at the Boat

I remember the first time my parents and I went to Vegas, my parents stayed here. I actually really liked this hotel.  It was huge and I loved the theme.  I distinctly walking down a hallway passing a Nevada Nickels progressive to go to the bingo hall.  I miss the hotel.  The one in Atlantic City is nothing like this one.  
I think because of my experiences with this hotel it's why I prefer to stay at locals hotels when I come to Vegas.

The Showboat

I stayed there the first time I went to Vegas. Went there for a bowling tournament in the summer of 1981. I could see the "strip" from my hotel and decided (like an idiot) that it wasn't that far and I could walk it. It wasn't that bad..... it was only 104 and I was wearing a three piece suit because I was going to a show. I have no idea how far I made it before I decided to stop at a bar and call a cab. I do remember that they only had male dealers at the time. Someone asked the dealer why that was and he said that they had some kind of "deal" worked out with somebody not to hire women. Was there when the wrestling matches were held as well. After they were over, they all came down and played blackjack and craps.

Stayed there a total of three times, all for the bowling tournaments they had every summer. We had a great time.

Lucky

I was lucky enough to work as a summer hire in 1968 as a security guard. Got to work all the different shifts. My Uncle JO Smith was a LV detective so got me the job for the summer from collage. Lot of great memories. Old ladies in house coats coming in for the free late night bingo and free coffee. Loved it when the slots dumped the jackpot in the tray. Great cheap breakfast. Had a few interesting events happen but not for tell.

No Mention of the 106 Lane Bowling alley?

Joe Kelley added a Bowling Alley in 1959, which soon became the Showboat's signature attraction, hosting nationally televised PBA tournaments. Showboat bowling leagues were organized in Los Angeles and Phoenix, offering winners free trips to Las Vegas for championship events. By 1979, the bowling alley grew to 106 lanes, making it the nation's third largest.

I stayed and bowled their for a NABI all week tournament in 1996 from Sunday until leaving Friday morning.

And now its spinoff in Atlantic City is now about to shut down.

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