History of the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas

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Architects and engineers have been able to defy the laws of gravity by building towers that literally reach for the stars. Centuries ago, they were built for religious and military purposes. Today, towers have taken on new roles—such as as hotels and tourist attractions. The Stratosphere Tower is one such example. Not only does it boast being the tallest freestanding tower in the U.S., but it also offers thrill rides, a lounge, a revolving gourmet restaurant, indoor and outdoor observation decks, and a wedding chapel.

Time Frame

The Stratosphere Tower was the brainchild of Bob Stupak. The longtime Las Vegas casino owner had operated Vegas World at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and St. Louis Avenue since 1979. In 1991, he announced plans to build a landmark tower and, although there was some controversy over its height, construction soon got under way. In 1993, the project caught fire. Luckily, it was mostly concrete and there was little that could burn. Stupak had been trying to persuade Grand Casinos, Inc. to enter the Las Vegas market by investing in his project for some time. By the end of 1993, the Minnesota-based corporation acquired 43 percent of Stratosphere Corporation. Company executives challenged themselves to not only finish the tower, but to also create a spectacular entertainment complex. On Feb. 1, 1995, Stupak’s Vegas World, which had been struggling, finally closed its doors, and on April 30, 1996, the Stratosphere Tower opened.

Thrill Rides

In 1996, the Stratosphere Tower boasted two thrill rides situated more than 100 stories above the desert valley. These were the High Roller, a roller coaster that made three circles around the tower's pod, and the Big Shot, a rocket-like experience that simulates the feeling of weightlessness. In 2003, X-Scream, a terrifying teeter-totter that pivots on the tower's edge, opened. In 2005, Insanity, The Ride began offering an adrenaline rush by spinning out over the edge of the tower at a speed of up to 40 mph. Unfortunately, the High Roller was shut down on Dec. 30, 2005 and dismantled in 2006.

Construction Challenges

The Stratosphere Tower cost $550 million to build. Ground-breaking was held on Nov. 5, 1991, and the crowing spire was lowered into place by helicopter on Nov. 4, 1995. During the four years that were needed to build it, several critical phases of construction took place. At the tower’s base, three rectangular legs had to be set on a 12-foot-thick concrete pad foundation. They were positioned like a tripod around a concrete hexagon center. The legs taper toward that center, coming together at the 255-foot level. From there, they turn outward rising an additional 535 feet and supporting the mushroom-like structure at the top, called the pod. The use of hydraulics, the science involved in setting the cement, played a significant role in that early formation as well. Power Team, a company specializing in structural engineering and hydraulics, had to develop a strategy to counteract the force of gravity which would naturally pull the legs inward as the cement was being poured. This was difficult, considering workers were hundreds of feet off the ground, and each leg weighed approximately four million pounds. Using a system of specially designed rams, pressure monitors and pumps, the desired curvature was formed. Another unique challenge in building the Stratosphere Tower was the handling of the construction cranes, especially those based 1,000 feet above Las Vegas Boulevard. Two cranes were fixed on top of the 12-story pod, which now houses all of the tower’s special attractions and facilities. The first crane, a 400-foot tower crane, was erected in the fall of 1994 and was in place for more than a year. It was used to move heavy materials like steel, sheeting and concrete. In November of 1995, the tower crane was replaced by a smaller roof-mounted crane. This 30-ton crane was used to raise roller coaster tracks, stairs, glass and other lightweight materials. In January of 1996, the roof-mount crane was dismantled and carried down the tower elevator piece by piece. Upon completion of the exterior structure, workers were busy inside the pod installing flooring, carpet, doors, fixtures and hand railings. Four high-speed, double-deck elevators were also constructed that could take people from the ground into the pod in only 30 seconds.

Significance

At 1,149 feet in height, the Stratosphere Tower is the tallest freestanding tower in the United States and the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River. It’s also taller than the Eiffel Tower, more than 400 feet taller than the Seattle Space Needle and at least three times taller than any building in Nevada.

Fun Facts

The Stratosphere Tower weighs approximately 100 million pounds. Its double-deck elevators travel at speeds of 1,800 feet per minute. Almost 290 miles of rebar were used during the construction of the tower—which is the approximate distance from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

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