Five decades ago, the Las Vegas Strip was nothing but a dusty desert highway from Los Angeles to what is now the downtown cluster of casinos. Back then, tourists would drive without air-conditioning from California and know they were almost in Vegas when they spotted the Glass Pool Inn, standing alone and beckoning the road to give it her tired, her hungry and her sweat-drenched masses.
The Glass Pool, which turns 50 this year, was the original Las Vegas "water feature": a stunning 9-foot-deep above-ground tank with huge round windows to peer through and take funny photos of friends. As the city grew up around it, the pool remained a constant relic of the old days and a frequent draw for filmmakers parading scantily clad women around a vintage Vegas image. It was originally named the Mirage, which this kidney-shaped, 54,000-gallon tub must have appeared to be to those road-weary visitors. But Vegas entrepreneur Steve Wynn bought the name from then-owner Allen Rosoff in 1988 to use for his new hotel and company.
Today it's endangered. Rosoff sold it in 2000 to New World, a partnership of Las Vegas land developers that has purchased 77 acres east of the Mandalay Bay resort for a new hotel. Earlier press reports said the Glass Pool would be preserved within the new hotel. The New World did not return calls for comment.
For now, though, it remains in its iconic location. Most guests are foreigners sensible enough to realize that they can spend just $45 a night to stay on the Strip. Non-guests can swim there by paying $5 per person.
The pool once had a diving board and a slide, but they have been removed. Although the water is clear and refreshing, the edges are so grimy that a popular pastime is scratching one's name in the black residue. The restaurant closed and is now a sign shop. And the deck has just a few plastic lounge chairs.
Doesn't sound like an A+? Ah, but all this fits the Glass Pool Inn's theme as surely as the Coney Island roller coaster that loops around New York New York. That theme? Classic Vegas. In a town where nothing lasts and where everybody's trying to transport guests to some phony European scene, this one's authentic in its own strange way.