Phil Samano lives in Cleveland, but he and his family have been part-time Las Vegans since the early ’80s. Even before that, the 42-year-old teacher fell in love with Vegas as a kid in the ’70s. “I was fascinated. It was such a stark contrast to dark, gray Cleveland, like color television versus black and white.” He picked up whatever he could, from brochures and magazines to sugar packets and table tents from Vegas restaurants. Now his collection of more than 3,000 items is showing up online through his @ClassicLasVegas Twitter account, which he started about a year ago.
Instead of Google-able casino images, Samano’s stuff goes deeper inside old Vegas with shots of hotel rooms at the Sands and long-gone lounges or coffee shops. “I wanted to differentiate it by focusing on interiors, because those photos and details are not something you can find easily,” he says.
His tweets get lots of replies and retweets. A recent image of the bar at the former Hotel Continental elicited this gem: “Jimmy Kimmel has mentioned … that he lost his virginity in his car at Continental’s parking lot.” Samano isn’t surprised by the steady, nostalgic feedback. “Everyone that comes to Vegas has their own Vegas, a fondness for their first impressions. For me, the Vegas of the ’70s and ’80s is burned into my memory, and there are a lot of people that think those were the good old days.”
How long have you been visiting Las Vegas? I first came in ’73, but my family was coming in the ’60s and we’ve been part-time residents since the early ’80s. It’s kind of funny, because of the images on the Twitter account, I think there’s this perception that I’m this 70-year-old guy.
How did those early visits lead to creating this Twitter account? I was only a kid when I first came to Las Vegas, and of course I didn’t have much to do. I think even the idea of the arcade in casinos didn’t pick up until the late ’70s. But my parents took me everywhere, and I was just fascinated with the town. I started to collect everything, you name it. Over the years, a lot of these little things were thrown away as junk, but a lot wasn’t. And I’ve acquired other stuff. There were very few people that I ever shared these images and things with, and I just thought, why not? What else am I gonna do with it? I know there’s a big community out there that loves Las Vegas, and Twitter seemed to be the best way to do it and the least time consuming.
So many people seem to connect to the images and advertisements for restaurants and casinos that aren’t open anymore, places we forgot existed. Has the response surprised you? Not really. There are a few comments that do. One guy mentioned something on a post about the Trop, about a feature on the fountains there, what’s inside them and how they work. There are so many little weird things that only a local would know, or someone who had personal knowledge. You have to have a passion for it to find all these quirky stories and photos. One thing that did blow me away is that some of the followers are heavy hitters, you know, casino executives. Brendan Gaughan started following, and sometimes he’ll comment like, “I’m sitting here with MG (Michael Gaughan) and Jackie G (Jackie Gaughan) and we’re debating this picture.” That’s pretty cool.
Obviously, Vegas has changed a lot since the period you appreciate the most. How do you feel about Vegas today? I still love it. Is it different? Yeah. I think a lot of the change has to do with a certain class factor that may be gone. I’ve been to the nightclubs now, though I don’t frequent them, but I understand that’s where a lot of money is coming from. But the big thing I notice is the class is gone. You walk down the Strip now and see guys dressed up as Superman and that never would have happened back then. I think when The Real World came to the Palms and was on MTV, that was really a key moment that changed the town, because now it was a different party crowd—kids that just arrived at gambling age and drinking age. Now they are tearing up the town. I think Pure came in after that and it just snowballed from there.
Do you have some favorite spots that take you back to the era of the ’70s and ’80s? Sure, Michael’s at the South Point. Piero’s. The Golden Steer. That’s just a few. I do check [new] things out, though, when I’m there or my parents are there we go to the Strip primarily to dine. One of the cool things that I think is illustrated by the images on the Twitter account is that people see modern Vegas and all the grandiose ideas, and you can see a lot of them are just rehashed or made bigger. Casinos had dancing water fountains back in the day, Steve Wynn just does things on a bigger scale. They were really pioneers back in the day, the way they built hotels and casinos then.