Friday, April 5, 2013

Lost Vegas: The Imperial Palace Duesenberg Room

In 1998 I visited Las Vegas with my family. I was ten years old and the Imperial Palace Auto Collections was the coolest thing in town for a car-obsessed kid. It advertised itself as the world's largest privately owned collection, some eight hundred vehicles housed in two Imperial Palace hotel facilities in Las Vegas and Biloxi, Mississippi. The cars belonged to collector Ralph Engelstad, a very interesting individual who owned both resorts -- and until 1998 was a co-owner of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Engelstad passed away in 2002 after declaring plans to retire, which included selling off his properties, businesses and car collection. The Biloxi arm of the auto collection was sold in 1999.
As museums go, the presentation of the Auto Collections wasn't the most elegant. The collection is housed on the fifth floor of the resort hotel's parking garage and the space hasn't been updated in a long time. The centerpiece of the collection in that era was the Duesenberg Room, a space dedicated solely to a row of ten million-dollar 1920s and 1930s Duesenbergs. I was blown away.

In 2007 I visited Las Vegas again with Colin and checked out the Imperial Palace Auto Collections again. The space was full of amazing cars, but everything was now for sale. All the cars I remembered were gone. The Duesenberg Room was still there, with the outline of the former sign still visible beside the doorway. But the Duesenbergs were all gone. A lot of the magic had been extinguished.
As of 2013, the Imperial Palace itself is gone. The Asian-themed resort was heavily renovated and rebranded as The Quad Resort & Casino. The Auto Collections remain, apparently untouched in all its industrial carpet and fluorescent-lit glory. I regret that I didn't think to take more photos in the Duesenberg Room with my parents' old Olympus film camera when I had the chance back in 1998.

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