Good Night, Las Vegas

He came to build a hotel. Instead, he built a life.


By the time you read this, I will be somewhere in the middle of country, halfway back to the place I came from. So much, too much, is left behind. There is a blue tower on the Strip, a shape I drew and dreamed of, tantalizingly close to finished and bound to stay that way. There are the homes I lived in, my first homes as a husband, as a father. There is a city that enchanted me, and an economy that charmed itself to sleep. There are 1,623 neon nights in the rear-view mirror. I counted them. Objects are closer than they appear …

Winter 2006: A New England Departure

I am grinding away in Boston, working on designs for a conventional housing development, wondering what’s next. I sing in a band. I sail. I am a bachelor. My home base is an 800-square-foot apartment north of town. A call comes in with a seductive hook: “Can you move to Las Vegas?” The offer is hard to pass up. Soon I am preparing for my new gig as project architect on the design of Las Vegas Fontainebleau.

April 2006: Summerlin

I have rented 2,500 suburban square feet, but my life is in the city, a desert town gone wild, center-less, bustling about the thin, decadent line of the Strip. I learn that the world is divided into tourists and locals, and that I am to become one of the latter. I hear proverbs from seasoned architects and developers about what works and doesn’t work in Vaygus. They say it just like that, with a drawn-out long “A”. By year’s end, a paper design for the Fountainbleu has become a site under construction. My girlfriend has moved from Boston and is commuting from Los Angeles as a flight attendant for United Airlines.

My creative and social engines are blazing. I love the Wild West. I have gone from living five minutes from the Atlantic Ocean to five minutes from a “locals” casino. I become quite involved with roulette. The 24-hour lifestyle is intoxicating; I’ve come to Bono’s “City of Blinding Lights.” Neon heart, day-glow eyes. A city lit by fireflies.

April 2007: North Las Vegas

I am engaged: a short trip to the Valley of Fire, an emerald ring, life on a new trajectory. We plan the wedding for June, move into a new home in North Las Vegas. The economy is buzzing. The city is our home.

The Fontainebleau is growing in scope; it needs to compete with a growing array of new projects here. The resort is under construction, but the budget and focus are becoming less clear. We begin a cycle of diluting the purity of the exterior design to meet a tightening budget and an expanding, unfocused agenda for the interior design. What had been a transparent building, open to the street, is being influenced by older, “safer” models: Glass-filled facades are abandoned in favor of a more solid streetscape with controlled entrances. I am told nobody walks in Vegas, but I look outside and see thousands of pedestrians, all seeking a new experience.

My East Coast architectural values are falling prey to old-school methodology.

September 2008: Soho Lofts

The economy has taken a nosedive. The bank forecloses on our North Las Vegas landlord. We head downtown, to Soho Lofts.

The Fontainebleau is somehow finding its way through the economic thicket. My wife and I embrace downtown and the Arts District: The Strip will always define Vegas, but the surrounding context, and downtown in particular, offer the best hope for the city to create a parallel identity.

We connect with the spectacle of the city. We party. I exhibit my work in the Arts Factory. We host an absolutely wild ’70s- themed New Year’s party. Dino’s Friday night karaoke becomes a regular social event for me. I am living out a rock-star dream in a smoky dive-bar.

We spend six months in Soho. Another foreclosed-upon owner. Another forced move.

March 2009: Newport Lofts

The day we move from Soho to Newport Lofts across the street, we find out my wife is pregnant. We look across an apartment of half-packed boxes to a grand view of the Fontainebleau out the window. The wild nights of Soho are over; we plan for our child’s arrival, picturing stability in an increasingly unstable world.

My world is a blur of work tension and What To Expect When You’re Expecting books, a dizzying intersection of the relinquishment of my wilder side and the newfound sensibility of fatherhood.

The Fontainebleau goes on hold. I find work at a local firm. For the third time in 18 months, my wife and I have to move due to a foreclosed-upon landlord. We have become professionals at in-town relocation, burned by the hardest-hit housing market in the country. We head south to Loft 5.

December 2009: Loft 5

The beautiful Vivienne Grace arrives on Dec. 1. We are no longer so sure we will raise her here. I have heard that Las Vegas is a city of second chances. I wonder. We need a long-term plan. The glories of Las Vegas, so real for us just over a year ago, are fading.

I am hosting a radio talk show and continuing my stints as part-time karaoke star at Dino’s. I have a one-night show with my band at the Neon Venus. I wear my Vegas-bought mirror-ball disco pants.

Our time at Loft 5 is a year of short-term stability, a year of beautiful sunsets, life-changing baby smiles and personal introspection. It is a beginning. And it is an end.

October 2010: The Road

My wife and I are sitting in the restaurant atop the Stratosphere, spinning slowly at the heart of the city. I have requested a transfer to my firm’s Boston office. So it’s full circle, back to the north shore of Boston, to a town called Salem, Halloween-town, a place of extremes, at least by New England standards. I am looking out at the shimmering desert, maybe falling in love with this place again, savoring my second thoughts, watching Las Vegas slide by, watching it come back.