Las Vegas Sun

July 28, 2014

Hacienda glory days recalled

Whether you call it the end of an era, bidding farewell to yesterday, casting out the old to herald in the new or simply progress, no quaint expression can restore the loss of the Hacienda hotel-casino tonight.

But self-professed "old-timers" admit that the best part of the Hacienda can't be destroyed by an elaborate pyrotechnic display and implosion.

"They can't blow up our memories," said Dick Taylor, the first general manager of the Hacienda back in the 1950s.

Taylor ran the hotel-casino for more than a decade and remembers when it was considered a novelty -- modern and innovative.

He has become the unofficial historian of the Hacienda, compiling a book that documents the birth and life of the Las Vegas hotel. The 1989 publication, now out of print, contains financial reports, a history of the property and newspaper clips that date to before the Hacienda opened its doors.

After the implosion, Taylor plans to produce a second volume that details the death and aftermath of the hotel.

He credits being a packrat for his extensive collection on the hotel, but in the early days most people probably would have told him he was wasting his time.

In 1956, a smart gambler would have bet against the $6 million establishment known as the Lady Luck.

Architect Homer Rissman explained that "gaming was still on trial."

"Back then the owners told me to design something that would stay up for three years, not 40, because things were high risk in those days," said Rissman, who says he had no idea he was creating what would become a Las Vegas mainstay.

He said the developers were limited "by good sense, so they wanted to make sure they could get their money out quickly." At the time there was the threat of the federal government or state agencies coming in to impose severe restrictions on gaming.

"This place would just have been a wide spot in the road without gaming," said Rissman, who also designed the Flamingo Hilton, Frontier, Whiskey Pete's and Primadonna.

He said he hates to see one of his creations reduced to rubble, but he's getting used to it. Having watched many of his projects -- the Silver Slipper, Castaways, Tropicana Country Club and Bonanza -- torn down over the years, "I've grown accustomed to the idea that you can't stand in the way of progress."

Rissman estimates the property on which the Hacienda sits -- worth $150,000 in 1956 -- is now "virtually priceless" with an asking price easily at $50-60 million.

So the Hacienda, which has undergone numerous face-lifts over the years, has lasted longer than most, but it's still hard for many to believe the Hacienda will crumble from the Las Vegas skyline forever.

"I guess they had to blow it up to get rid of me," said Jennie Mead, who has been employed by the Hacienda since 1956.

She began work there as a waitress a few weeks after it opened, took a year off to give birth to her son and stayed at the hotel until its doors were closed Nov. 30. Mead admits the planned implosion hastened her retirement.

"I don't think I can work for another hotel, but I probably would have stayed there another year or two if it were still going to be there," Mead said.

"I always thought it would be around forever ... or at least a little longer than this."

She says she saw a lot of people come and go and come back again over the years and remembers many of the mainstay entertainers such as comedian Redd Foxx, whom she referred to as a "true character." To warm up for his stage performance, sometimes he would come into the kitchen to joke with the employees.

Dick Daugherty, who spent 17 years at the hotel after being hired as a security guard in 1967, remembers standing a few feet from greatness -- Muhammad Ali -- to keep fans at bay while he tried his luck in the casino.

But one memory "sticks out in my mind, because it was embarrassing as hell."

At the time, people with a Nevada driver's license weren't allowed to park in front of the hotel, because it was reserved for valet and out-of-towners who were registering. So, ever vigilant, he told the owner of a plush Cadillac to move along quickly when its owner hastily parked in the reserved area. She did, but later introduced herself as Judy Bayley, co-owner of the property.

"I felt about an inch high when she said that and I thought she would fire me on the spot, but she just thanked me for doing my job," said Daugherty, who admits that if he had realized the personalized Nevada license plate reading, "JUDY" belonged to Bayley, he never would have told her to move.

He used the familiar refrain that "times were different then," implying that they were simpler, kinder and better.

"People say it all the time, but things really have changed," said Laura Stanfield, who spent 14 years at the Hacienda in the dining room. "Sometimes I think it's for the better because of progress, but the town's not as friendly as it was and the casinos sure aren't."

Stanfield joined the hotel in 1959. She and her husband came to Las Vegas to escape the snow in Minnesota. She says she left the Hacienda soon after Judy Bayley died, because "it just wasn't the same place anymore."

She admits it wasn't always charming and friendly. She remembers the pit boss and a manager chasing a dealer "with long pockets" who was stealing chips as he worked. They pursued him out of the building and into the desert, hoisting guns in the air as they trailed the culprit.

"That's the way they used to do things. It sure made a believer out of the crooks," Stanfield said. She even remembers the would-be thief, whom she refused to name but who still resides in Las Vegas and now works in real estate.

Edward "Eddie" Campiglia called the Hacienda a "place you never forget because the people were so memorable. Everyone who worked for it back then boasted about it. Everybody knew everybody and liked each other for the most part."

Joan Scano Morris said she will certainly be on hand to bid farewell to the Hacienda, where she developed a number of lifelong friends.

"It's sad," said Morris, the first executive secretary at the hotel under Taylor. "Everything is changing so fast that I can't keep up. Just when I think they can't do much more, they do. It's sad, but let's put it this way: Nothing is forever and we are all here on borrowed time. Time just ran out for the Hacienda."

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