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.