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Demolition in Ever-Changing Las Vegas a Booming Industry

As ConExpo 2014 nears, we take a look at how Las Vegas construction has boomed in recent years.

Thu August 22, 2013 - National Edition
Matthew Willett

(Editor’s Note: The following article was published in the March 11-15 CEG ConExpo Special).

There are lights, cameras and fireworks.

Thousands crowd together to feel in their chests the greatest show in town, a town whose shows are legend. And in a town where everything is on a fast track to bigger, grander, brighter this show’s the topper of them all.

The 32-story 49-year-old Stardust fell March 13, 2007, its reinforced concrete skeleton broken by 1,200 lbs. of explosives and folded in on itself.

It was then only the latest in a string of memories that fell to the undeniable winds of change in Sin City, a city with demo up its sleeve.

“Demo in Las Vegas? It’s the most exciting. Part of demolition is the high-press, high-publicity aspect, but it’s very fun — I mean, there’s fireworks that are usually attached to the implosions. It’s a spectacular sight out there. We like to call it the capitol of demolition,” says President Josh Clauss of Lakeside, Calif.-based Clauss Construction.

Clauss could be described as part of a new generation of demo contractors in a city with an open call for them. He doesn’t let the fast pace mar his enthusiasm for the work.

Diversified Demolition Company Inc.’s vice president Ken Mercurio is another family contractor. Diversified’s parent company, Diversified Concrete Cutting, has been in business for 20 years and, as Mercurio said, his family has “definitely had a presence [in Las Vegas] much longer than that.”

“Demolition is kind of a spectator sport,” he says. “It intrigues a lot of people. You get a lot of Lookie Loos. When we did the implosion at the Boardwalk Hotel and Casino we did the implosion on that at 2:30 in the morning on a Tuesday, which is the time window when it would be the least congested, and there were still about 30 or 40 thousand people out there to watch.”

Foot traffic safety issues, ever-compressing time frames and a city with a fast-turnover mentality like no other combine to make demolition in Las Vegas challenging and exciting, contractors say, but it’s the character of the city itself and the structures they work in that make it unique.

It’s Vegas.

“It’s a different deal, a real good life and good times doing it. It’s a lot of fun, and the longer it goes, it totally amazes me.”

That’s Art Goldstrum. If you want to know about demolition in Las Vegas, you could pick a worse place to start.

Half Century of Experience

Goldstrum will be 74 in May. He came to Las Vegas in 1940, and he’s seen it come and go more than once.

Over the years, he’s played an instrumental role in the?“go” part.

As the president of Art Goldstrum Enterprises and its predecessor, Goldie Demolishing Company, Goldstrum’s been a part of demolition in Las Vegas from the beginning of its golden era.

“Seventy-two to present. We really aren’t doing much now, but we did the Fitzgerald downtown, we did a bunch at the Horseshoe, and all those downtown, the Nugget, and on The Strip we tore stuff out of the Stardust and we did the Dunes, both of them, the Hacienda and most all of the big hotels,” he says. “We did most all of the work for several years that was done around here until all the new guys came.”

The list goes on and on. The Boardwalk. Bourbon Street. The El Ranchero. The Sands.

Goldstrum remembers when the city was young.

“There was only like seven major hotels, and as it grew everything had to go,” he explains. “Like the Flamingo, it just didn’t fit into the era. Right now there are a lot leaving that weren’t that old either. The town grew and everything had to go and be replaced. Nothing was sacred. Well, most places.”

Already the character of the town was being formed. In the late ’60s and throughout the ’70s new hotels and casinos began to challenge the old guard built in the ’40s and ’50s, like the Rivera, the Sahara, the Sands and the Tropicana.

It was increased competition in a town where bigger means better, a town where time is money. A town where the press of electric neon lights means time is immaterial — day or night, it’s Vegas.

“At first it seemed like the buildings, when they were built, five, six, seven of them, like they would be there forever,” Goldstrum remembers. “As the town has grown now there’s nothing of them there, or the MGM is there. It was just nothing compared to what has been built. It’s like the Tropicana. The Tropicana is a piece of history, but you can’t make it work in this mega-environment right now.”

Making it work in an environment like Las Vegas drives the demolition industry. As the city grew, landmarks like The Thunderbird and the 20th Century had to go.

And as the original structures’ replacements were built the cycle began anew. Goldstrum says the impermanence of Las Vegas structures continues to amaze him.

“I’ve been here since 1940, and I never would have believed it would happen, never in my wildest dreams did I figure. There was the El Rancho [Vegas], it was right there at the Sahara and it was a big hotel, then the [Last] Frontier that they tore down years ago — those two and a couple of others,” he says. “They went away and they’re all

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