Vegas is filled with down on your luck stories. Bad breaks. Right Place, wrong time. Usually, it’s about people. This time it’s about a place. Perfect location, bad timing, bad neighbors and good deals gone wrong. The history of the Golden Palms Casino and Hotel.
It started out in 1980 as a Travelodge. A 150 room hotel that soon became a Howard Johnson complete with an IHop restaurant. From there, it became the Golden Palms Casino and Hotel with dreams of redeveloping into South Beach, a 24-story, 460-unit hotel-casino and timeshare property. Now it has new owners and waits to become a pile of dust to be reborn as a Hilton timeshare.
As with most Las Vegas stories of luck and misfortune, the story seems short and sweet yet has many little twists and turns in its telling. And that is what I love about Las Vegas, the stories behind the story. The i-Hop that was open sometimes and sometimes it wasn’t. The tiny grind joint of a casino that was open sometimes and other times it was shut down. The karaoke it was infamous for as much as the hookers and the tourists that found the cheap and easy offering too good to pass up.
In 1980, it was built as a Travelodge. Then Marvin Lipschultz, a bootstrapping entrepreneur from Illinois via Hollywood bought it and turned it into a Howard Johnson hotel with the Golden Palms Casino. He paid more for the franchise than he did for the 3.5 acres of land at a prime location. Just off the Strip, at one major I-15 off ramp and in the shadows of MGM Grand.
By the turn of the new century and the Vegas Boom in full swing with no end in sight, Lipschultz wanted to play with the big boys. His idea was to tear it all down and rebuild it as a timeshare/hotel and casino. But his plans would get in the way of what the Big Boys wanted to do. Stations Casino owns Wild West Hotel Gambling and Casino across the street, complained that the new development would cause too much traffic problems at that busy corner. Even as they argued this, they were planning on redeveloping the Wild West property into a mega resort similar to the Mirage.
Lipschultz ultimately won approval to build just as the economy started to signs of shrinking. Money for new projects by unknown players started to dry up. Construction costs spiked. He was derailed before the ink could dry on the plans. In 2005, he joined with restaurateur Charlie Palmer to help develop the property into a large boutique hotel. That turned into a court battle when Charlie Palmer went another direction with his empire.
The Vegas Boom had yet to bust and new plans for new resorts were still popping up in the news almost weekly. The IHop was a busy place one week with locals and stranded tourists, then closed the next for some unknown reason. The bar was known for its awful karaoke that would draw in people for its people watching entertainment value alone. When it was open. It was open, then closed, then opened. And that was just one week. It was kind of hit and miss for us chauffeur’s looking for a quick, cheap bite close to the Strip. The bad deals, the lawsuits, and the economy of running a tiny hotel-casino wanting to be a big player took its toll and Lipschultz surrendered or did not renew his valuable unrestricted gaming license. That closed the tiny casino. Without that and no new investments, the hotel suffered and closed soon after.
Then came the International economic melt-down and what some called the Obama Recession. Trust me, He Did a Ton of Damage to the Las Vegas economy with that one planted comment… The money suddenly dried up faster than the tourist who disappeared overnight. It was that fast. Almost all construction seemed to have come to an abrupt halt one day. The layoffs from MGM and Caesars was a blood bath and the Golden Palms was totally shuttered and almost abandoned.
After waiting for the city to recover, Lipschultz planned for a rebirth. He put up billboard around the property proclaiming ““Hotel Casino Coming Soon.” He even ordered food and other necessities needed for a grand opening party that never came. The former IHOP was reopened shortly as an “all nite diner” that wasn’t always open and wasn’t open all nite. That did not last long and closed.
The property has sat almost vacant for almost 8 years. Marvin Lipschultz kept an office operating on the ground floor. Otherwise, the only activity you would see were the occasional graffiti removal experts followed almost immediately by vagrants writing over what they just covered up. The fire department and Metro would use the hotel occasionally for training exercises. Otherwise, it sat empty surrounded by homeless encampments and patrolling hookers from the Motel 6 across the street.
Today I learned that it had been sold to Hilton for a new timeshare complex and will be razed in the next 30 days. People watching will certainly be more interesting at that corner… Timeshares hustlers and criagslist hookers comingling??? That could be an interesting incentive to buy.