For more than 30 years, the fiery water show has entranced the masses along the Strip, free to anyone who might be passing by.
But the days of The Mirage’s volcano are numbered as the transformative resort undergoes its own transformation as part of Hard Rock international’s $1.075 billion acquisition of the property.
Hard Rock International Chairman Jim Allen told Bloomberg in December that it would be torn down as part of the planned remodel. The company plans to completely rebrand the property as Hard Rock Las Vegas and create a “brand-new resort” that will include the brand’s signature guitar-shaped hotel. A rendering of what the revamped property would look like shows the new guitar hotel sitting in roughly the same location now occupied by the volcano.
The volcano is on its way to becoming the latest in a long line of Las Vegas relics that were once considered iconic only to be reduced to the archives, like the original marquees of The Sands, the sultan at The Dunes, or the Crystal Room at the Desert Inn, just to name a few.
“The volcano is incredibly iconic for its generation,” said Alan Feldman, a distinguished fellow at UNLV’s International Gaming Institute and former longtime gaming company executive. “I think it’s very important to remember that Las Vegas is a city that is built on change. And it has built its success on change and on reinventing itself.”
Just how much time the volcano has left isn’t clear yet.
MGM Resorts will retain The Mirage name and brand, and will license it to Hard Rock for up to three years while it finalizes its plans to rebrand the property.
Following the announcement of the sale in December, Allen said the company had no comment on the time frame for the resorts rebranding, renovations or the construction of the new hotel tower. The company said late last month that it had no new details to share.
The Mirage ushered in the new era of enormous integrated resorts when Steve Wynn opened the 3,000-plus room property in 1989, completely changing the way resort casinos would be designed and built in the city going forward.
The volcano stood as the beacon signifying the city’s shift.
At the time, there was no on-Strip outdoor attraction that even came close to The Mirage’s volcano. It would become an instant success, drawing huge crowds of pedestrians, and even its fair share of drivers along Las Vegas Boulevard who would stop their cars on the street just to watch the show, according to Feldman.
Few know the history of The Mirage better than Feldman. He moved to Las Vegas in 1989 for the opening of the resort as an outside public affairs adviser. He spent 11 years with the-then Mirage Resorts and another 18 with MGM Resorts after MGM merged with Mirage in 2000.
“The volcano really symbolized the new Las Vegas in 1989, and all through the ’90s,” Feldman said. “It was the symbol of Las Vegas turning a corner and becoming something much more than gambling, and becoming really much more than Sin City.”
The volcano show itself, though, was not actually part of the original design plans for the resort.
“The volcano was accidental,” Feldman said.
The developers of The Mirage had been the leaning heavily on the design of the entrance to Caesars Palace, one that required people to drive a little ways to reach the front entrance of the resort — a way of building up the guest’s anticipation. The volcano, Feldman said, was just supposed to be a dormant one, a piece of landscaping there to hide the entrance from the street.
That was until someone suggested making it an actual volcano experience.
“That all happened along the way. It was not part of the original design,” Feldman said.
It didn’t take long for the on-Strip attraction pioneered by the volcano to take off. Soon it would be joined by the Battle of Buccaneer Bay at the neighboring Treasure Island and the fountains at Bellagio.
That accidental volcano became one of the true staples of the Strip. Just before it turned 20, it got a major makeover with an all-new audio/visual spectacle that included brand-new fire effects. It went from the original 38 fire-shooting devices to 152 shooters that can blast fireballs 12 feet into the air, singeing the air just feet away from the attraction’s onlookers.
And it got an exclusive score composed by Grateful Dead drummer and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member Mickey Hart and Indian tabla sensation Zakir Hussain. The redesign, completed by WET Design, cost $25 million.
In a behind-the-scenes video showing the development of the score, Hart said he was looking to “translate that fire image to sound.” He said he immersed himself into the legends and myths that surround volcanoes, and studied the science behind how the natural wonders work. And of course, the sound.
“It was about powerful drums. It was about evoking the spirits,” Hart said. “It gives me the emotional impact that I would think you would have when you encountered a volcano.”
Push to save it
But as they have time and time before in Las Vegas, the winds of change are coming for The Mirage, and with it the volcano.
That change is not one that Elizabeth Cassidy wants to see.
Cassidy, visiting Las Vegas from Michigan last week, said she would be “very sad” to see the volcano go because it is one of the reasons she loves to come here. She has a hard time picturing Hard Rock’s plans when she looks up at the Strip skyline.
“I think it’s cool for the Hard Rock, but it’s hard for me to picture it replacing The Mirage,” Cassidy said. “I wish they’d keep the volcano.”
Convincing Hard Rock to keep the volcano is something Alden Gillespy is hoping to do.
Gillespy has been coming to Las Vegas for years after visiting for the first time as a teenager. He fell in love with what he describes as two major art installations on the Strip — the fountains at Bellagio and the volcano at The Mirage.
“I became mesmerized by them,” he said. “In a town where everything costs money, these were free.”
Shortly after the announcement that the property was being sold, Gillespy started a Change.org petition aimed at just that.
“To hear that it was going to be demolished, it kind of shocked me,” Gillespy said.
It’s gotten just over 3,600 signatures as of Wednesday out of listed goal of 5,000. Gillespy said he’s now aiming to get to 10,000 signers. Gillespy said he hopes to get the attention of the resort companies and at least start a conversation about the volcano.
Feldman said he’s sorry to see the volcano go, too. But he thinks people need to give Hard Rock a chance.
“I have to be honest,” he said. “A guitar-shaped hotel in the middle of the Strip? That sounds pretty darn cool.”