written by:
photos by:
February 26, 2009
Originally published in Prefab Now

They say what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but once you leave, you may have trouble banishing Sin City from your mind.

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  The view from the Ghost Bar at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas is tantalizing. Though it’s hard to resist the Strip’s allure, there’s more to Vegas than neon.
    The view from the Ghost Bar at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas is tantalizing. Though it’s hard to resist the Strip’s allure, there’s more to Vegas than neon.
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  The La Concha motel, completed in 1961 by Paul Revere Williams, the first African-American architect admitted to the American Institute of Architects, is one of the last remnants of Sinatra-era Vegas on the Strip.
    The La Concha motel, completed in 1961 by Paul Revere Williams, the first African-American architect admitted to the American Institute of Architects, is one of the last remnants of Sinatra-era Vegas on the Strip.
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  The Boneyard, where good signs go to die before being reborn. The La Concha motel will soon be resurrected as the Neon Museum, giving all the old neon new life.
    The Boneyard, where good signs go to die before being reborn. The La Concha motel will soon be resurrected as the Neon Museum, giving all the old neon new life.
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  Red Rock Resort and Casino is a haven away from the chaos of the Strip—and a welcome alternative to a certain other hotel off the Strip, popular with callow youth, that Fogel calls “The Loserdome.”
    Red Rock Resort and Casino is a haven away from the chaos of the Strip—and a welcome alternative to a certain other hotel off the Strip, popular with callow youth, that Fogel calls “The Loserdome.”
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  At Mix Lounge at THEhotel in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the chandelier is made up of 15,000 glittering Murano blown-glass spheres.
    At Mix Lounge at THEhotel in the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, the chandelier is made up of 15,000 glittering Murano blown-glass spheres.
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  The Hoover Dam, one of the country’s great engineering feats, is just a few miles from Vegas and warrants a visit.
    The Hoover Dam, one of the country’s great engineering feats, is just a few miles from Vegas and warrants a visit.
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  Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace signals that things are looking up in Vegas.
    Restaurant Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace signals that things are looking up in Vegas.
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  The Golden Steer shows that for all the change, some things just stay the same.
    The Golden Steer shows that for all the change, some things just stay the same.
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The view from the Ghost Bar at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas is tantalizing. Though it’s hard to resist the Strip’s allure, there’s more to Vegas than neon.
The view from the Ghost Bar at the Palms Hotel in Las Vegas is tantalizing. Though it’s hard to resist the Strip’s allure, there’s more to Vegas than neon.

Ever since the days of Bugsy Siegel, modern Las Vegas has suffered from the D-cup syndrome: No matter how intriguing its history, or exciting its plans and dreams, we can’t help but stare at those huge, gaudy casino-resort hotels on its famous Strip. Architects and academics use the always-bigger-and-new-improved public façade of Vegas as a tidy metaphor for the American aesthetic palate, the greed, gluttony, and simulacra that push the pleasure buttons of the masses. Only Disneyland merits the same gleeful tarring, but Vegas is a real city. And it’s getting more real by the day. Just ask Hugh Fogel.

“Las Vegas is always sunny and beautiful,” says Fogel, with a wry smile. Fogel is a Detroit transplant who owns the modern-design superstore Unicahome with his wife, Bonnie. He’s an upstanding member of the business community, a force for architectural and historic preservation, and a civic booster. But he’s also a smart guy, the kind of deep-thinking forty-something normally found sipping lattes in Los Angeles or haunting museums in New York. But Fogel chose Las Vegas. He evinces genuine fondness for this adolescent metropolis, and evangelistic awe at its untapped potential. He knows the “new” Vegas didn’t spring fully formed from the head of hotelier Steve Wynn; rather, its growth has been fueled by a mass migration of middle-class humanity to the Mojave Desert, who now need places to live, work, and play.

On a sizzling summer weekend when Bonnie was out of town, I spent a boys’ day and night out with Fogel, touring the future architectural landmarks and well-designed watering holes of his adopted home.

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