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Historic Reno hotel toppled after lawsuits fail to save it

An historic hotel-casino that ushered in Nevada's modern era of gambling crumpled into a pile of bricks Sunday _ the end of a years-long battle between preservationists and those who want to remake the face of the city.

Thousands gathered downtown to pay last respects to the 12-story Mapes Hotel or, conversely, to cheer on as dynamite leveled the building. The implosion, challenged in lawsuits all the way to the Nevada Supreme Court, went off without any apparent problems.

"I hated to see the old lady go down," said Sherrie Clark of Reno, who watched with a cousin she used to accompany to shows at the Mapes.

The crowd stretched for blocks along Reno's main street. After more than a dozen loud dynamite blasts, the brick building fell slowly in a wave, sending a giant dust cloud blocks away.

Some were glad to see it go.

"It's way, way, way past due," said Ed Dybowski, a retired firefighter who attended shows at the Mapes during the 1950s.

"It is time to move on because downtown Reno is dying," said Pam McDowell of Reno.

Built in 1947, the art deco high-rise ushered in the modern era of gambling, the first in the country constructed to house a casino, hotel and live entertainment under one roof.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation listed the Mapes in 1998 as one of the 11 most endangered places in North America. The national trust had not lost a battle to protect a site on its list since the rankings began in 1989, although the fate of Detroit's Tiger Stadium remains uncertain.

"I don't know of a single city that regrets having held on to an important landmark," Richard Moe, president of the national trust, said Sunday.

"I know of many _ and Reno joined them today _ that regret having lost one. It is sad, tragic and so unnecessary," he said.

About 150 Mapes supporters gathered at a park minutes after the implosion for a wake, where bag pipes wailed Amazing Grace and old-timers shared their memories.

Demolition crews were selling souvenir bricks for $1 each.

During its heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, Mae West, the Marx Brothers and Sammy Davis Jr. performed in the window-walled Sky Room with its top-floor views of the Sierra Nevada.

"That place holds a lot of special memories for me," said Les Ede of Reno, who attended his high school graduation at the Mapes and saw Frank Sinatra perform there in the 1950s.

"The demolition leaves a bitter taste in my mouth," he said.

Earlier Sunday, a group of preservationists hanged Reno Mayor Jeff Griffin in effigy and promised a recall effort against him for refusing their requests to postpone the demolition.