Tuesday, March 12, 2013 | 9:40 a.m.
A piece of Las Vegas' past vanished from the Strip on Tuesday, as workers removed the sign from the old Sahara resort.
The sign is being removed as part of a project to transform the Sahara into SLS Las Vegas, the high-end resort project announced in January 2012 by Los Angeles-based hotelier Sam Nazarian. Nazarian heads SBE Entertainment, a hospitality and entertainment empire with real estate, restaurants, clubs and hotels nationwide.
The company expects to spend upwards of $750 million on the project and aims to open the SLS in early 2014.
For Tuesday's portion of the renovation project, northbound lanes of Las Vegas Boulevard were closed to traffic as workers used a crane to dismantle portions of the Sahara sign and lower them onto flatbed trucks. One southbound lane was opened for northbound traffic. Although traffic was slowed in the area, no major tie-ups were reported.
A crew of 24 Vision Sign construction workers began pulling apart the iconic Sahara sign from the top down at 11 p.m. Monday. Six members worked inside the sign structure, severing electrical wires with torches so portions of the sign could be pulled from the rusty metal columns that held them in place. The rest of the workers were stationed on the ground, in charge of directing pieces to the ground and peeling off the welding so they could be transported in 10-foot pieces to a recycling plant near the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The sign's history is not lost on Vision Sign Project Manager Rob Crosbie, who said several crew members taking it down had been in charge of assembling it in the 1990s. Crosbie said it was rare for his crew to strip a sign completely. Typically, they either build new ones or renovate old signs.
"I've been doing signs for 25 years in town, (and) these are the fun projects," Crosbie said. "When you are involved in something like this, it is pretty cool."
The Sahara closed in 2011 after 59 years of operation. In its prime, it was well-known for its lounges and popularity among A-list celebrities. The Beatles stayed at the resort during a concert in Las Vegas, and entertainers who regularly performed there included Louis Prima and Don Rickles. Judy Garland and Sonny and Cher were among the stars who appeared on the showroom stage, and the casino was featured in the original version of the film "Ocean's Eleven."