My friends and I are currently on our annual trip to Las Vegas. Our Chicago-based collective lands somewhere between the Rat Pack and the Brat Pack, being at once old-school at heart and also very Midwestern, like slightly grown-up versions of the youths in the fabulous John Hughes movies of the 1980s. I’ve opted into these yearly trips only back as far as 2012, but I’ve savored every one. I’m a terrible gambler with a very reactionary, rubber face, but what I lack in prowess at the card table, I feel I more than make up when it comes to walking around, taking pictures, talking to locals and documenting many facets of this rapidly changing entertainment center of a city.
Many aspects of an average day of my Vegas vacations are usually filled with so many things that are over-the-top that it becomes pretty easy to forget some of the social unease to which I am prone. It’s almost as if the barrage of sensory-overloading stimuli seems to cancel itself out and let me blend in with all the freaks, geeks, cool cats, tourists, hipsters, and everyone else who has descended on this adult playground at the same time as me. Merely being in a place like Las Vegas, where so many things (drinks, snacks, amenities, etc.) can be complimentary, can leave one feeling like royalty.
The association between the color purple and royalty goes back thousands of years, as purple dye had originally been exorbitantly expensive, owing to the rarity of the source materials (mollusks! who knew?) and cost to produce it. Generation X’ers like me might more commonly associate purple with grape Kool-Aid and Prince but, for me, anyway, it has still managed to seem like a somewhat fancy color – perhaps due to my having paid attention during Sunday school. (Okay, some of the time.) Whenever on vacation, whether to Vegas or some other destination, while I’m always true to myself at my core, it is fun to try on different hats and experience things I wouldn’t have otherwise. This is another reason why it’s called a “vacation”. Why not allow myself to be pampered if I’m a paying customer, and I’m getting something for free?
This beautiful, mildly customized ’54 Chevy was parked outside my hotel, the Golden Gate Hotel & Casino, last year as our group slowly dissipated at our respective departure times at the end of another fun vacation. I felt that purple was the perfect color for this classic, as Chevrolet has traditionally been automotive royalty in the United States. Many of us wept when fellow GM brands Oldsmobile and Pontiac went away, but can you imagine a world without Chevrolet? At this writing, I cannot. One can identify it as a mid-range 210 model by its side trim. Below it sat the 150 Special, and above it was the 240 Bel Air. As a middle kid in my family, I can appreciate the mid-tier position of this model. I can also appreciate that it was from the last year before the first year of the Tri-Fives came along and blew everyone away with their combination of high style, available power, quality, and low price.
This 210 two-door sedan had a starting weight of about 3,200 pounds, and was priced between $1,700 for the base model and $1,800 for the Delray. This was in line with Ford’s numbers for its mid-pack Customline, which both weighed and cost about the same. The powerplants of the Chevy and Ford even had similar horsepower ratings, with the former’s 235.5-cubic inch six yielding either 115 or 125 horsepower, and the latter’s 223 six-cylinder offering 115 hp, and its 239.4 c.i. V8 offering 130 horses. Nineteen fifty-four was one of those rare years when had Ford managed to outproduce Chevrolet, albeit by a margin of less than 2% (1.17 million vs. 1.14 million).
Back to my Vegas vacations, with so many things that seem to change from year to year, I’m always looking for chances to experience Old Vegas before places succumb to either demolition or massive renovation. Last year’s stay at the newly renovated Golden Gate was exemplary, as I feel my suite combined the best of modern and retro design, with tasteful, comfortable appointments. There had been an old hotel in the northwestern Chicago suburb of Lincolnwood, originally called the Lincolnwood Hyatt House (colloquially known as the “Purple Hotel”) that I had always been curious about before taking some pictures of its exterior in the summer of 2011. It had the most beautiful, purple-glazed bricks on its exterior, and was an upscale destination both for lodging and entertainment through the early ’80s. Perry Como, Roberta Flack, and Barry Manilow are among the celebrities who had reportedly stayed there at some point.
Sadly, the “Purple Hotel” (as it was finally branded) was demolished six year ago after having sat vacant for some years and falling into severe disrepair. Still, this hotel, originally opened in 1960, maintained a somewhat regal appearance in the end, even in spite of the plywood nailed over some of its broken windows and large weeds growing in front of its grand entrance, which I attribute both to its fantastic, space-age, “Googie” architecture as well as the marvelous, purple hue of the bricks on its facade. Vegas is known for its encouragement of shenanigans, but I have remembered the beautiful, purple finish on some of my favorite, mid-century finds of the past decade or so, including our featured Chevy, and tried to conduct myself with a bit of dignity as I enjoy myself. Like royalty.
Downtown Las Vegas, Nevada.