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Union Plaza, Part 2

Union Plaza
Courtesy By AmyESMaierPR - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Last time, we were talking about the group that built the Union Plaza—Frank Scott, Sam Boyd, Jackie Gaughan, and Kell Houssels, Junior, along with investors like Bill Boyd and Howard Cannon. Let’s look at what they produced.

They broke ground on August 10, 1970. Zick and Sharp, a longtime Las Vegas firm, were the main architects. The hotel opened on July 2, 1971—not warp speed, but fast. The Union Plaza was unusual for downtown, and, indeed, for the Las Vegas gaming industry. It was substantial at 504 rooms and suites. The operators promoted it as the “world’s largest casino” and it was, at about an acre and a half, or 66 thousand square feet, along with a parking garage that could accommodate 1,000 cars. It opened with a midnight champagne party with enough bubbly for 10,000 celebrants. The more formal grand opening ceremonies lasted over three nights in August. Its main showroom opened with Fiddler on the Roof, then the longest-running Broadway show ever—and the film version came out that November. Just to annoy you, we’ll tell you that the dinner show cost 5.75 and the late show was 4.50.

Fiddler set the template for bringing actual Broadway and Broadway-style shows to the Union Plaza, though the kinds of shows would vary. Maynard Sloate, a onetime jazz drummer and veteran of the Tropicana, became entertainment director in 1972. He continued to import plays and musicals to the hotel, including shows like Mind with the Dirty Man, featuring porn star Marilyn Chambers, and Norman, Is That You, about a Jewish couple surprised to learn that their son was gay. But Sloate also brought in other Broadway classics, like The Unsinkable Molly Brown, and plays like The Owl and the Pussycat.

Another contributor to the Union Plaza’s success was a radio station. KDWN wasn’t the first Las Vegas radio station to broadcast from a hotel. But it was the area’s first 50,000-watt station, and later a pioneer in conservative talk radio. And for many years, the station identification blared throughout the Southwest, announcing it was at “Number One Main Street, the Union Plaza Hotel.” They also proudly noted they were UP-town while being downtown.

Sam and Bill Boyd sold their interest in the hotel and opened the California. But the Union Plaza also kept growing and changing. It added a tower and convention space. The swimming pool overlooking Fremont Street gave way to the popular Center Stage Restaurant. The Union Plaza also was home to the local Amtrak station until service ended in 1997, and the Greyhound bus station has been right next door.

Most of the original owners were largely gone by the early 1990s, and the owner changed its name to Jackie Gaughan’s Plaza. Gaughan sold in 2002 to Barrick Gaming, and Tamares Group later took over the operation and bought out the company. Today The Plaza Hotel and Casino, as it’s known, is still at Number One Main Street, with nearly 1,000 rooms, 80,000 square feet of casino space, 25,000 square feet of convention space, an equestrian center, and pickleball courts … and Oscar’s Restaurant, named for the former mayor, who’s known to show up there. CEO Jonathan Jossel is looking at redeveloping the space vacated by the Greyhound bus station. Fifty years after opening, the Plaza still has ties to old Las Vegas, as it builds anew.