Alexandra Epstein

In your infinite wisdom, you have come back to this place. There was New York. You’ll always have that. Columbia U—a diploma that never grows old. Paris. Paris. Paris. You studied the history of beautiful things, or things that were thought to be beautiful at the time, anyway. You understand the way time leaves its mark. And here you are, back in the city that raised you, 105-year-old Las Vegas, a city that dreams of time’s absence. You are on the corner of Sixth and Fremont streets, though, working at the El Cortez, a place that has always forgotten to dream that particular dream.

You are working for your father. He owns the joint. You are strong-willed, have your own way of seeing things. He’s got his way, too. He is a father, though, and if there is one thing a father learns after 25 years of raising a clever daughter, it’s that he cannot possibly win by failing to see things your way. So he makes you a project coordinator and gives you a project: Take the shambles next door and turn it into a boutique motel. The 1977 Ogden House Motel is a place so unlovely that Scorsese cast it as Sharon Stone’s rock bottom. Within a few years you’ve helped turn it into a place where L.A. hipsters escape L.A. You work with brilliant architects (YWS) and designers (Heather Hassan) and they do not disappoint. From the shell of Ogden House you have made the Cabana Suites. It is Palm Springs in 1942, it is the midcentury Vegas dream, it is the geometry that remains when the cultural barnacles are scraped away. But for you it is also Paris, and Harlem, and all the places where you wandered and learned and thought about the ways aesthetics make place and place inspires people and people build community.

Community. That’s where your dreams are now. There is another dead building alongside the El Cortez. It used to be a medical center and then it was nothing. A young couple with a dream, Jennifer and Michael Cornthwaite, believe that an art center should be there. But the Cornthwaites don’t own the building. Your hotel owns the building. There is a recession on. Something is better than nothing. There is now a practicality to small-scale dreams that fill dead space with life. You take on the most unsung role in urban revival—the landlord who looks at a prospective tenant’s crazy dream and says, “Yes.” You keep the old medical signs on the wall. The place is called Emergency Arts. Art gets made here, and sold, along with old vinyl Dylan albums and first-rate coffee.

You take your morning coffee, you carry it across the street, up the red-carpet staircase, into the El Cortez executive offices, past the portraits of the rogues (the associates of Benny Siegel) and royalty (Jackie Gaughan, 89, who is downstairs at this very moment, growing a stack of blue chips) who have run the place. You take your coffee into the boardroom. Your father is there. He greets you as a daughter, but also as an associate. He greets you as a creator of place where before there was only space, as the one who took on a project and turned it into a passion.

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