BASILE: Visiting Vegas (while steering clear of the tempting slots)

In Las Vegas, you can visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris, ride a roller coaster in New York City, experience an Egyptian Pyramid, ride a gondola in Venice, take part in the Freemont Street Experience downtown and shop and dine world class—all in one day. That’s no surprise.

But on a recent trip to Sin City, Katrina and I experienced another side of Vegas, which is little known but fits in with its over-the-top image.

Where else in the world would you find an automobile dealership with a complete service department and parts department, as well as a 30-car showroom, located inside a five-star hotel? The Penske Wynn Ferrari Maserati dealership is housed in the spectacular Wynn Resort Hotel on the Strip. And it’s not just for show. They actually sell and service cars and are open until 9 p.m. six days a week (6 p.m. on Sundays).

I paid the $30 entrance fee (yes, there’s an entrance fee) and toured the place, including the eight-bay service department, and quickly discovered this is not your father’s car dealership. Did the place you bought your first car have a gift shop? This one does, of course, with items for sale including jewelry with the signature Ferrari horse emblem, driving gloves and, naturally, men’s and women’s fashion clothing.

Oh, and the cars. You can get a spiffy red 2010 Ferrari 458 Italia for $249,900 or, if your luck wasn’t as good at the tables, you could opt for a modest 2008 Ferrari F430 for only $150,000. The showroom is a two-story affair with the first featuring floor-to-ceiling windows. Many of the shiny cars are on rotating platforms. I did not ask, but I suppose if you bought one of these cars, they would refund your $30 entrance price. I avoided purchasing new wheels.

For another unusual attraction, we visited the venerable Tropicana Hotel, which was one of the first on the Strip. Since this hotel was reputedly built and operated by the mob, it is appropriate that it now houses the new Mob Attraction exhibit. We spent an amazing two hours in this interesting, interactive museum of organized crime, which began with a room built to resemble a boat arriving from Sicily at Ellis Island. There, I was photographed and received my immigration papers, which felt both realistic and chilling.

In each of the first few rooms, characters appeared in an alley, the back room of a casino, a police station, and talked in sinister tones. I found myself talking with “Big Tony” at an Italian restaurant, where he gave me a bunch of “money” to bribe a cop I’d soon encounter.

Next there appeared movie icons in 3D hologram form, including actor James Caan. There were exhibits about prohibition, about how the mafia skimmed money off the casinos, and the history of certain events and people, including the infamous Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky and Tony Spilotro. There was even an exhibit about the woman who allegedly slept with a top gangster and John Kennedy during the same timeframe.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip was the structure we thought was a giant sculpture in the middle of the desert. Upon closer inspection, we discovered a bizarre two-building complex designed by the renowned architect, Frank Gehry.

Not a casino, it’s the Cleveland Clinic for Brain Health, a medical center dedicated to research on, and treatment of, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and other neurological diseases. It consists of a four-story structure, which holds medical offices, patient rooms and research space. The other structure, located across an open-air courtyard, is a soaring, single-room event space beneath a wildly undulating stainless-steel roof. It would be easy to conclude that the two buildings represent the classic left-brain, right-brain dichotomy: the office wing is rational and contained and the other free-flowing and fantastical.

Equally out of place, but on the opposite end of the spectrum, is The Little Church of the West, the only structure in Las Vegas to be listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places. A free-standing wedding chapel, it’s the oldest building on the Strip. Built in 1942 out of California redwood, it was meant to be a replica of a typical pioneer-town church. The scenic little church on a tree shaded, quiet couple of acres is where Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret recited their vows in the movie “Viva Las Vegas.”

Actual marriages in the church included Betty Grable and Harry James in 1943, Redd Foxx and Ka Ha Cho in 1991, Richard Gere and Cindy Crawford also in 1991, and Billy Bob Thornton and Angelina Jolie in 2000.

Oh, and Frank and Katrina Basile in 2004.

Yes, we were married there before taking off for our honeymoon in Antarctica. Back in 2004 when I asked Katrina if she would like to be married by Elvis, she said, without hesitation, “If Elvis shows up, I’m going to marry Elvis!”•


Basile is an author, professional speaker, philanthropist, community volunteer and retired executive of the Gene B. Glick Co. His column appears whenever there’s a fifth Monday in the month. Basile can be reached at [email protected]

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