Iconic casino gets its due

The Plaza Hotel & Casino has been a focal point of downtown Las Vegas for 50 years. If you have ever been downtown, you can’t miss it, as it looms large at the end of Fremont Street, as if looking over all of its children. On Tuesday, the Nevada Preservation Foundation recognized as a building of “historical significance.”

At a ceremony yesterday morning, the Foundation presented Plaza CEO Jonathan Jossel with a bronze plaque to commemorate the designation. Jossel said that the plaque will be placed somewhere in the lobby for all to see.

Even with its history, some felt a decade ago that the property should be razed to make way for a new, modern casino. One of those people was then-Las Vegas mayor Oscar Goodman, who wanted something new there that could serve as a scenic entrance to Union Park. Instead, a $35 million renovation project began in 2010.

“But we felt that there was good history here, enough brand power, and good enough bones that we could actually do a successful renovation,” Jossel said Tuesday. “And that turned out, in my opinion, to be the correct decision, and we’ll continue to reinvest into the Plaza and build on that further.”

Important part of Las Vegas’ history

The Plaza is about to celebrate its 50th birthday – it opened on July 2, 1971 on the site of Las Vegas’ first train depot. In fact, the property’s original name, Union Plaza, was derived from Union Pacific, which bought the train station in 1921. The relationship to the railroad continued until the Desert Wind route was discontinued in 1997, as Amtrak had a station very close to the Plaza. The Plaza was actually connected to Amtrak’s station and ticket windows.

When the Plaza opened, it was the largest casino-hotel in the world, with 500 rooms.

As one might expect from a Las Vegas casino, the Plaza has been featured in a number of films, including The Stand (1994), Casino (1995), The Mexican (2001), and The Grand (2008). It was also the inspiration for Biff Tannen’s Pleasure Paradise Casino Hotel in Back to the Future Part II (1989).

The under-construction Union Plaza can even be seen at one point in the James Bond film, Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

Nevada Preservation Foundation executive director Cynthia Ammerman said that the Plaza is the first commercial building to receive the bronze plaque. It is normally given to a residential building that, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is “at least 40 years old, holds historical significance and has iconic architectural design.”

Ammerman said that when she took the job, she noticed that buildings like the Plaza that represented the heritage of the city were underrepresented.

“And so why not celebrate what everybody else is already celebrating?”

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