Las Vegas Sun

September 19, 2019

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Columnist: Build it and they will come

IT took daring to finance and build the Stratosphere.

So it figures that the towering monument to Las Vegas excess would attract equally extreme people and ideas.

In fact, daredevils have been swarming to the pointy-headed wonder like bedazzled moths to napalm.

In their imaginations, at least.

The fax machines have been churning and the phones blazing in Pat Marvel's office at the monolith's base. You wouldn't believe, says the public relations manager, what some people want to do.

"We've gotten all kinds," Marvel says wearily. "I'm beginning to lose my sense of humor."

One London company, for example, seriously proposed a motorcycle jump off the tower into "a moving Chinook helicopter."

The faxed proposal from the 51/50 Event Management Company claims it has professional stuntmen who have worked on "all the top movies, i.e., Indiana Jones and James Bond 007."

The company's diagram makes the jump look like a piece of cake, but one senses they've perhaps watched one too many of their own movies.

One good desert gust could turn Golden Eye into a Temple of Doom.

A little high and the driver becomes red mist, a little low and he's an unguided missile.

The Stratosphere politely declined.

Then there's the Las Vegas man who wants to set the Guinness Book record for pole-sitting on the tower.

"He thought it would be fun to order pizza and see if they could deliver in a half-hour," Marvel says.

"We said, 'No thanks.'"

That's not to say the company will reject all proposals.

"If the right kind of event was proposed," Marvel says, "we would consider it.

"It's definitely going to be something that's professional and authorized, with safety being the primary concern."

Which means it's a good thing Marvel doesn't know what's been going on the last few weeks a thousand or so feet above her head.

Union electrician and free-lance rock climber George Smith has been scrambling to the tower top for fun.

"I've stood on the absolute summit of that building -- on one foot," says the 35-year-old Boulder City extreme sportster.

The tower needle, Smith says, is a 5-foot-square frame of steel beams with a ladder running up the inside. And on top of that frame, two 4-inch beams form an X that Smith likes to visit.

"I've gone up on more than one occasion," he says, "just for a lunchtime thing. I just stand there right in the middle."

"Oh man, it's incredible. What a rush!"

Rushes, though, are relative.

The tower is less than a third the height of Yosemite's El Capitan, which Smith's climbed twice.

Still, standing like a flamingo on the top of the Stratosphere with desert inns 1,000 feet down in every direction does impart a certain extreme satisfaction.

"Ahhhh," Smith says, "it's quite an experience."

Not that he feels through with the Stratosphere yet.

Smith also wants to parachute off the top. At least three other people -- two of whom he knows -- have taken the leap.

Problem is, he says, they've all landed in the arms of the police, gone to jail and had their parachutes confiscated.

"I want to keep my parachute."

Of course, there's also the hunger to climb the thing -- a longing shared by many in the valley.

"It just looks climbable," says Trent Billingsly, co-owner of Rocks And Ropes climbing gym.

Before the tower was finished, he says, the concrete had formed holes every 4 feet. But when it was painted, the holes were plugged.

"When I saw them doing it I said, 'Oh, dooh, I missed my chance.'"

Now, he says, the tower isn't really "free-climbable."

Unless ...

"You'd either have to put bolts on it or find a crack system," Billingsly says. "Or maybe they just put putty in the holes.

"Somebody will figure it out. I'm sure sooner or later somebody will do it."

In the meantime, rock climbers and the stunt-inclined will look at the Stratosphere and drool.

"It's just a beautiful, big, imposing monument," Billingsly says wistfully. "It just attracts attention."