Change is Constant: Saying Goodbye to the Riviera

In 2004 I visited Las Vegas for the first time and life changed.

My friend Alicia and I attended the National Organization for Women’s national conference with our Rochester chapter in July of that year. Of all places, it was held at the Riviera Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, a land of wanton irresponsibility and showgirl tuckus worship. We were very excited.

We listened to sex workers’ rights group members and Dar Williams. Alicia took me to the spas at Mandalay Bay and Caesars Palace (before its multi-million dollar renovation). I dragged my dear Alicia to Quark’s Bar and Star Trek:The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton (may their souls rest in peace), where we met snarky Klingons and drank blue liquids. This city held almost all of my favortie things, executed at such a high level of no-holds-barred-fuck-it-we’re-doing-this. I was in love.

As far as life changing goes: Vegas 2004 convinced me to enroll in massage therapy school the following year, and this career shift has played an integral part in where life has taken me, and in who I am today. Then came the big move to a warmer climate with job opportunities and stucco houses in 2007, free from snow and without regret.

On May 4th, 2015, the Riviera will close for good to make way for a Convention Center expansion. For old times sake, Paul and I paid our respects on April 21st. Here are some images (mostly) from that day, taken using my Polaroid 600…

A sign of the times.

A Sign of the Times

Showgirl assets.

Showgirl Assets

Showroom Neon

Facing the Future

Neon Its Head

Neon Its Head

On the Outside, Looking In

On the Outside, Looking In

Last Meal

Last Meal

The End of an Era

The End of an Era

Cashing Out

Cashing Out

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Death Goes Downtown

Pretty much anytime I travel nowadays, I pre-Google cemeteries that are located in the vicinity of or on the way to my final destination.┬áThat’s why it’s super weird (even to me) that until just the other day, I hadn’t explored downtown Las Vegas’s three cemeteries.

Come this April, I will have resided in Vegas for eight years. The shameful, solitary excuse I have for my negligence is straight-up snobbery; I grew up with the rolling hills, suffragette gravestones and Victorian creepiness of the breathtaking Mt. Hope Cemetery in Rochester, NY. No burial ground I’ve seen in real life has come close to inspiring me as much as my precious Mt. Hope has. Certainly the brown grass and 20th century headstones of Vegas’s finest funerary fields held no redeeming qualities for a slovenly, narrow-minded death tourist such as myself.

As I approach my 37th year on this planet, considering the recent expected and unexpected losses of favorite people in my life, I have finally come to appreciate nuance. Time. Beauty in the oft overlooked opportunity. (And alliteration, apparently.)

Let me show you what I discovered when I visited the Woodlawn and Palm Downtown cemeteries in February, 2015…

WOODLAWN CEMETERY

Founded in 1914, Woodlawn currently spans 40 acres at the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd. and Owens Ave. As of August, 2013, this downtown cemetery provided a final resting place for 28,288 of our dearly departed. It is owned by the City of Las Vegas, and is listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places.

Upon first glance, Woodlawn Cemetery appears to be rather small. Grass, mostly nondescript rectangular gravestones, teenagers cutting through the property on their way home from school.

A journey toward the “back” of the cemetery reveals another world entirely. Check out this drama!

Old trees line the central paved road that runs through Woodlawn.

Old trees line the central paved road that runs through Woodlawn.

One of the more unusual memorials at Woodlawn.

One of the more unusual memorials at Woodlawn.

One of the few gravestones at Woodlawn that probably wasn't positioned exactly where it used to be.

One of the few gravestones at Woodlawn that probably isn’t positioned exactly where it used to be.

The gray heart and angel stone located behind Mary's head is a very popular design here.

The gray heart and angel stone located behind Mary’s head is a very popular design at Woodlawn. I lost count of how many I saw, but they’re pretty tall and stand out among the shorter gravestones.

PALM DOWNTOWN MORTUARY AND CEMETERY

Palm Downtown opened their current location on Main St. in 1957. In 1958 they built Southern Nevada’s first mausoleum, naming it The Building of Eternity.

It just so happens that The Building of Eternity is one of my new favorite places in all of Las Vegas. The first time I visited (two weeks ago) I was in awe of its haunting beauty and peaceful atmosphere. I returned just a few days ago, notebook and pencil in hand. What follows are my observations from the cemetery on a Wednesday afternoon…

The parking lot is 80% filled with passenger vehicles, yet I only see two people walking among the grassy graves. Adrenaline. Excitement. I’m almost embarrassed to admit how much I’m looking forward to visiting this mausoleum for the second time.

I opt to wander the grounds for a bit first. A few smaller mausoleums flank the property, towering over small grave markers that suggest cremains. Valentine’s flowers and balloons dot the relatively small graveyard; an angel with weathered wings presides over a plot reserved for the youngest children. The smell of freshly cut green grass is the predominant perfume out here — a rarity in our desert.┬áThe aroma shifts as I approach each marble building, live vegetation replaced by faint must.

The Building of Eternity. The temperature seems to drop at least five degrees as soon as I walk through the open doors. Dim, damp and cool; the mustiness mingles with a bleachy scent, almost peppery or slightly herbal for a second here and there.

Two impressive stained glass windows brighten up both ends of the entryway. Straight ahead a treed courtyard awaits, surrounded by vaults. A single statue resides in this roofless structure. A long hallway to the left of the courtyard runs the length of the mausoleum, leading to two more large, open air courtyards. Grass, benches, small graves in the center of each, surrounded by walls made of marble tombs. A few are “reserved”, a few bear no markings. Looks like there’s room for one more.

A handful of polite flies buzz around, completely uninterested in the living. In the distance, the “beep beep” of heavy excavation equipment.

I think back to the day we put my husband’s brother in the ground, almost one year ago. In my normal routine I push these blips aside; to be transported there regularly is more than my human brain can handle. But here people expect you to be sad. I go there, I cry. I am alone.

When the time is right I head out the same way I came in. Fear and anxiety have left me; I feel spent, somber, satisfied. Numb but free.

This could be addictive.

The Building of Eternity, entryway

The Building of Eternity, entryway

The Building of Eternity, first courtyard

The Building of Eternity, first courtyard

The Building of Eternity, long hallway

The Building of Eternity, long hallway

Weathered Wings

Weathered Wings and Many Thanks.