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Chris Jones

No Room at the Inn for Past Glory

8 October 2003

Though the wrecking ball looms for the quirky business his family owned and operated for nearly five decades, you won't find Allen Rosoff mourning the demise of the Glass Pool Inn.

"It really is time," Rosoff said Monday. "I would rather see it torn down than to remain like this. Cherish the memories."

In recent weeks, the iconic motel at 4613 Las Vegas Boulevard South has been hidden behind a chain link fence, its new owner reportedly intent on knocking down its buildings and signature aboveground pool to make way for something bigger and better.

But in the memories of Rosoff and many other longtime Las Vegans and visitors, the Glass Pool Inn will be remembered as one of the city's most unique attractions, a roadside stop that over the years drew the eye of Hollywood icons, rock stars and countless visitors.

"It was probably the most famous 48-unit property in the country," said the 69-year-old Rosoff, who with his wife, Susie, operated the motel from 1971 to 1999. "In one sense, it was the first themed Vegas resort. ... It's just hard to capture the whole thing."

The property opened in 1952 as the Mirage Motel, complete with 22 rooms and an office. The following year it was bought by Robert and Betty Rosoff, Allen's parents, who quickly realized the inn needed a hook to lure travelers from Southern California on their way to more-established hotels several miles to the north.

"People would stop in and ask how far was it to Las Vegas," Rosoff said. "(My parents) needed an attraction, and they felt this pool would do it."

In 1955, Rosoff's parents and uncle built the aboveground pool with glass-enclosed windows that allowed people to peer in below the water's surface. The blue waters beckoned passers-by at a time when few cars had air conditioning and pools were uncommon in Las Vegas, Rosoff said. And once the water was poured, the Rosoffs had unwittingly kicked off a new era in Las Vegas pop culture.

Beginning with the 1955 crime drama "Las Vegas Shakedown," the motel over time became one of the city's most photographed destinations.

From motion pictures ("Casino," "Indecent Proposal" and "Leaving Las Vegas") to television shows ("Vega$," "Crime Story" and "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation") to music videos (from artists such as Robert Plant, ZZ Top and Bon Jovi, among others), the motel's signature glass pool served as a backdrop for various local productions.

Even still photographers brought their cameras, including Annie Leibowitz, who once captured actor Brad Pitt there for Vanity Fair magazine, Rosoff said. He credits the property's popularity to its unique look as well as its owners' willingness to work with film and television production companies.

"We were very easy to get along with so it didn't cost anyone a fortune for the location," Rosoff said. "And the idea that they could film underwater without all of the expensive equipment helped too."

Despite its repeated star turns, Rosoff in recent years realized the Glass Pool's best days were passed.

The motel and lounge -- which were renamed in 1989 when developer Steve Wynn opened The Mirage megaresort -- were never big money makers, which made it all the easier for the Rosoffs to sell the site in 1999 to developers Howard Bulloch and David Gaffin for about $5.5 million.

"You're dealing with things that were built years back, and now you're competing with these beautiful themed megaresorts," Rosoff said of challenges he faced during the inn's final years. "It got to the point where enough was enough."

Though its fate has largely been sealed since that sale, exactly when and by whom the inn will be razed remained unsettled for nearly four years.

Bulloch, Gaffin and then-partner Tom Gonzales transferred ownership of the site to a group known as New World in 2000.

With hopes of building a megaresort on the site, New World combined the Glass Pool parcel with others to form a 77-acre plot. However, Gaffin said Monday the group split within the past few weeks, with Gonzales' TG Investments assuming control of roughly 46 of the 77 acres, including the Glass Pool Inn site.

"Gonzales is going to do his own thing and we're going to do our own thing," Gaffin said.

Efforts to reach representatives of TG Investments were unsuccessful Monday, but Las Vegas Billboards owner David Harris said Gonzales last month evicted his company from space it leased inside the former Glass Pool Lounge, shut down the motel and announced his intention to raze the building and pool.

Rosoff, for one, will welcome the motel's destruction. Its current state only diminishes its past glory, he said.

"Everybody who thinks of it as an icon has a memory of it as an active place with people and everything up to date," Rosoff said. "Now is no longer the time for a 48-unit property."