I visited Venice again earlier this year. Russian dissident, Alexander Herzen wrote of Venice;
“To build a city where it is impossible to build a city is madness in itself, but to build there one of the most elegant and grandest of cities is the madness of genius.”
Venice has evolved over the past two thousand years, always innovating to offer value to its citizens and visitors, as a trading outpost, a transport hub, an industrial complex and of course a centre of tourism. It remains one of the most iconic and impressive cities in the world and reminded me a lot of Las Vegas, not just of the themed casino resort.
Incidentally, the origins of the modern casino are found in the Ridotto, in the private wing of the Chiesa di San Moisè, which opened in 1638. Unlike other gaming saloons, it was Government owned and offered games of chance where the house offered bets against the players.
Kirk Kerkorian 1917-2015
America’s Venice is Las Vegas and this week we saw the passing of Kirk Kerkorian, a gambler, a builder and a visionary, who had more to do with the development and evolution of modern Las Vegas than any other.
Others will write tributes focusing on Kerkorian’s daredevil entrepreneurship, his legendary company building and aggressive corporate manoeuvrings, however my tribute is somewhat different. We look at Venice and instantly recognise the landmarks that have gained iconic status over centuries – St Mark’s Basilica and square, The Rialto Bridge and Doge’s Palace. Kerkorian’s influence on Las Vegas is as pronounced.
In the 1960s, post-war entrepreneurs Howard Hughes and Kirk Kerkorian introduced the corporate world to Las Vegas and as respected and respectable business leaders, they saw the vision of what Las Vegas could be. However Kerkorian stands apart; he was genuine visionary. Whereas nothing remains of Hughes’ Las Vegas properties, Kerkorian’s legacy is evident in the kaleidoscope of colours when viewing the modern Las Vegas Strip.
Without Kirk Kerkorian it is certain that Las Vegas wouldn’t exist as the same town. Notwithstanding the clean finance and strategic investment via corporate acquisitions, his influence is felt in so many ways that even the casual visitor would be aware of his legacy, if not his name.
Kirk Kerkorian was originally a land investor. Indeed MGM is still one of the largest landowners on the Strip area and have been proactive in supporting external ideas and innovations on or near their current properties. Without Kerkorian’s acquiescence as a landowner, Jay Sarno wouldn’t have built Caesars Palace, which was on Kerkorian’s land. So no Caesars means no hedonistic escapism, no themed properties, no illusionary excess and a whole chunk of gaming iconography just wouldn’t exist.
Without Kerkorian’s gamble, the integrated mega-resort wouldn’t exist as it was the International (now Westgate) which opened as the largest hotel in the world in 1969 and which first tested the Y-shaped building structure, subsequently seen from the Mirage to the Bellagio in resort design. Again he broke the mould with the MGM Grand (now Ballys) in 1973 and the new MGM Grand in 1993. All three were the largest hotels in the world on opening. Without these bold steps, gone is the grandeur and spectacle.
Kerkorian was in the entertainment business. His desire to entertain the post-war generation and integrate Hollywood to Las Vegas was pivotal. It was he that introduced Elvis Presley, the first post-war icon, at the heart of the International, where Elvis played every one of his 626 sold out concerts – see the video above! The assimilation from a gaming city to an entertainment town owes much to Kerkorian and MGM. From leading sporting events, magic shows, theme parks, singers and nightclubs, MGM has consistently pushed the envelope and tried to innovate.
Venice wasn’t built in a generation. Las Vegas was, and much of that is due to Kirk Kerkorian, a genius among men and one that never seemed to want to take any credit. May his memory blow through the desert wind for many years to come.