The Invisible Ruins of Las Vegas

The ruins of ancient Pompeii and the modern day Detroit are obvious to the naked eye. Ornate and grand structures surrounded by decay, silently call attention to themselves. Ravaged by time, they sit, eerily beckoning the curious to appreciate the splendor of a bygone era.

The ruins of Las Vegas do not enjoy such a status. They are not grand structures capable of drawing the eye of a curious onlooker. The ruins of Las Vegas hide in their anonymity.

Having been hurriedly constructed during what appeared to be an unending boom, they are neither opulent nor grand and unlikely to stand the test of time. They are the thousands of nondescript office parks, retail plazas, strip malls and warehouses, assembled together in a mad rush to feed the boom. Like other ruins, these buildings, conceived and constructed during better times, now, too, decay idly. They do not command the same attention garnered by a once glorious train station or opera house, or the fresco of a Roman bath. They sit invisible in plain sight, unable to compete with the omnipresent lights of the tourist corridor.

Except for the hulking carcass of the 68-story Fontainebleau and the nearby aborted Echelon, most of the ruins of Las Vegas are not easy to discern. Thousands of empty buildings, millions of square feet of space, unused and unwanted, lie in ruin, incapable of fulfilling the visions of those who brought them into existence. They sit, staring blankly over partially constructed streets, amid the mounds of dirt moved to make way for their arrival. Others are interspersed among the living, juxtaposed between the partially occupied spaces that surround them. “For Sale” and ‘For Lease” signs dangle precariously, clinging to the once hopeful facades in a feeble bid for a last minute reprieve from their almost certain fate.

Then there are the rows upon rows of cookie cutter stucco houses, organized neatly together into modern day ghost towns. Neighborhoods where people once stood in line for the right to purchase a house, sit nearly abandoned as the once proud owners crawled from the wreckages of an imploded local economy and crashing home values. Vast tracts of homes, vacant and deteriorating, menace the few remaining souls with the myriad of threats unique to abandoned property: vandalism, burglary, teen house parties and old fashioned squatting.

Oversized pools, squeezed into undersized lots no longer sparkle with the hope and enthusiasm of a boomtown, having been completely drained or left to turn to various shades of green. Weeds poke up from the concrete driveways and streets as the indeterminable desert plants reclaim their spaces from entire neighborhoods, hastily built just a few short years ago.

Other ruins consist of neat orderly grids of sidewalks, streetlights and concrete pads, devoid only of homes and people to occupy them. They sit like a child’s train garden, with everything in place, except houses and people to dwell in them.

The speculation and construction boom that pushed the boundaries of the metropolitan area farther and deeper into the desert has ceased, as the population contracts, the ruins are left on the edges of the city, like rocks exposed by a retreating surf. Far from the drunken revelry of the Strip or the glowing neon, they sit in darkness, shunned relics from a previous era, all but invisible, the modern ruins of Las Vegas.

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