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Fire in the sky: images of an ever-changing Strip

Talk about a photographic memory. In his 26 years taking photos for the Las Vegas News Bureau, Darrin Bush has witnessed the evolution of the modern Strip. If there was an implosion, he shot it. New casinos growing from the rubble? He chronicled it. Grand opening fireworks? He was there.

Bush retired from the News Bureau in October, but his photos will continue to tell the story of Las Vegas for a long time. Here are a few of his favorite images and memories from a career capturing Las Vegas. (All photos by Darrin Bush, Las Vegas News Bureau.) — Andrew Kiraly

 

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Dunes implosion, Oct. 27, 1993

I liked photographing implosions because I was able to witness events that changed the face of Las Vegas. My first was the Dunes hotel in 1993. I shot it from the roof of the Barbary Coast parking garage. It was quite a spectacle because Steve Wynn filmed it for a TV movie called “Treasure Island.” People lined the strip to watch. I used two cameras, one with black and white film and the other one with color film. Because Steve had a flair for the dramatic, there were explosions and fireballs. First the marquee fell over, and then the building caved in. Implosions all have the same thing in common. You wait for two hours to shoot a-10 second event. 

 

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Landmark implosion, Nov. 7, 1995

I loved shooting implosions. They were usually scheduled late at night, because traffic on the Strip was at a minimum. The Landmark Hotel was my favorite. It was certainly the most visual. Warner Brothers was in the process of filming a movie called “Mars Attacks,” starring Jack Nicholson and Glenn Close. The movie was a spoof on aliens attacking earth. On November 7, 1995 I was on top of the Debbie Reynolds Hotel for that event. The studio wanted to film it at 5 a.m. They wanted to get the glow of the sun rising in the background. I remember watching the rehearsals a couple of hours before the actual event. The actors were running west on Convention Center Drive away from the hotel, and people were driving cars as if in a panic. When the time came for the real thing, they only had one take to get it right. The implosion was for real.

I looked down and saw Lorraine Hunt push the plunger. The cameras were rolling and the actors were running. The sky was glowing orange, and the hotel tumbled down. Afterward, I went to the Hilton for breakfast. I didn’t get dirty that morning because I was so high off the ground. I liked implosions, but I always had mixed feelings about them. As a photographer, they were exciting. As a Las Vegas native, it was sad to see the changing of the guard.   

 

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Sinatra tribute, May 14, 1998

The morning news spread across Las Vegas like a wildfire: Frank Sinatra had just died. Because he had been sick for such a long time, the hotels already had a plan to eulogize him. Through their collected efforts spearheaded by the News Bureau, the hotels would dim their exterior lights for a one minute tribute to the man who helped turn this small desert town into the “Entertainment Capital of the World.” 

At 8:30 p.m. the testimonial began. One by one, the hotel lights dimmed. Caesars Palace, Harrah’s, The Mirage, The Imperial Palace and The Flamingo were suddenly dark. The tourists driving down the street began honking their horns to add their personal touch to the event. It was quite a scene. Las Vegas had suddenly taken on a spiritual essence.

At 8:31 p.m., the tribute to Frank was finished. The hotel lights came on, and the traffic began to flow in its usual manner. After a short conversation with another photographer, I walked back to the Flamingo and put my camera equipment away. I then drove past the hotels one last time to absorb the significance of the event. I stopped at the Desert Inn and took this one last photo. 

 

 

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Luxor construction, Sept. 3, 1993

I enjoy construction photography. It makes me feel as if I’m getting a glimpse of the future. I also realize that many years from the construction date, someone will want to see the photos. The pictures are actually important documents. They can’t be re-shot. I photographed different stages of the Luxor, during its construction. When I look at the images, it seems like yesterday. It was one of the most interesting hotels to shoot, because of the pyramid and the sphinx.

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MGM Grand construction, April 6, 1993

The signature MGM lion foretells the opening of one of the Strip’s signature megaresorts in 1994.

 

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Tropicana Hotel, 1995

For every two hotel/casinos that are imploded, one manages to hold on -- and hopefully live long enough to reinvent itself. 

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Bellagio opening, Oct. 18, 1998

I sent a lot of photos of Las Vegas to the Associated Press over the years, some of huge significance. The opening of the Bellagio generated an image of great publicity value. The VIP gala was successful, but it was windy outside, so they cancelled the fireworks show. Something told me that Steve Wynn would showcase the event with spectacular fireworks at some point, so I went back the next night and parked myself in front of the hotel. I took a chance, and it paid off. The fireworks went off at dusk, and they were truly beautiful. They were launched from Bellagio’s lake and lit up the entire property. I went back to the office, and sent a picture to AP. That photograph ran all over the world. It was not just the opening of the Bellagio, it was the opening of the most lavish hotel Las Vegas had ever seen. 

 

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Luxor Hotel in the snow, Dec. 17, 2008

The Luxor’s ancient Egyptian theme takes on an unusual look on this snowy December day in 2008.

 

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New Year’s fireworks, Jan. 1, 2013

Dawn of a new day and a new year on today’s much more familiar-looking Strip — which, as we all know, doesn't look familiar for very long. 

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