[Transcript of interview with Brad Friedmutter by David G. Schwartz, September 12, 2016]. Friedmutter, Brad Interview, 2016 September 12. OH-02825. [Transcript.] Oral History Research Center, Special Collections & Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.
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An Interview with Brad Friedmutter An Oral History Conducted by David Schwartz The Building Las Vegas Oral History Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ©The Building Las Vegas Oral History Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2016 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Editor: Stefani Evans, Franklin Howard Transcribers: Kristin Hicks, Frances Smith Interviewers: Stefani Evans, Claytee D. White Project Manager: Stefani Evans 11 The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of the UNLV University Libraries. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank the University for the support given that allowed an idea and the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader’s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Building Las Vegas Oral History Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University Nevada, Las Vegas ill Preface Brad Friedmutter is the architect behind a number of Steve Wynn’s prominent casinos in Las Vegas, Nevada and Atlantic City, New Jersey. He obtained his degree in architecture in 1973 from the Cooper Union School of Architecture in lower Manhattan and worked on a number of smaller projects before connecting with Steve Wynn. After meeting the famous Vegas tycoon, Friedmutter built a number of well-known casinos, like the Golden Nugget and the Mirage. In this interview, he discusses the development of his numerous projects, explains his process for starting and completing architectural projects, and the future of urban planning and casino design. IV Table of Contents Interview with Brad Friedmutter September 12, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada Conducted by David Schwartz Preface iv Brad remembers his childhood; recalls his time at the Cooper Union School of Architecture; discusses architectural philosophy; worked his first job; describes architectural work before computers; designed his first casino for Harrah’s; recalls Henry Conversano; describes working for Steve Wynn and Homer Rissman; built the Palm Bay Club; recalls his first impressions of Steve Wynn, Roger Thomas, and Kenny Wynn; built the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City, New Jersey; designed hallways in the Spa Suite Tower; added rooms to the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas; built the Mirage; discussed the importance of landscaping in architectural design; completed the first job of the Friedmutter Group for Bally’s...................................................1-22 Brad compares building in Las Vegas to other American cities; built The Wild Wild West in Atlantic City; built Chairman Tower for Donald Trump; built casinos for indigenous nations; describes the life cycle of an architectural project; discusses the pitfalls of architectural projects; describes his ideal client; discusses the relationship between location and design; discusses how technology changed his work; discusses the future of urban planning and casino design.....................................................22-45 ORAL HISTORY RESEARCH CENTER AT UNI V Building Las Vegas Use Agreement Name ol Narrator: Name of Interviewer: fiCiySO UAgVTrffrTU QfojJL ___ We, the above named, give to the Oral History Research Center of l INLY, the recorded intervicw(s) initiated on f/P-fl b _ as an unrestricted gilt, to be used for such scholarly and educational purposes as shrill be determined, and transfer to the University o Nevada Las Vegas, legal title and all literary property rights including copyright. This gill does not preclude the right ol the interviewer, as a representative ofUNLV, to use the recordings and related materials lor scholarly pursuits. There will be no compensation for any interviews. I understand that from, published, Oral History' Res kilims of elcctroi/ic/ and digital nterview will be made available to researchers and may be quoted ributed, placed on the Internet or broadcast in any medium that the ch Center /nd UNLV Libraries deem appropriate including future edia. Signature of Narrator Date Q.ltw Signature of Interviewer Library Special Collections 4505 Maryland Parkway, Box 457010, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-7070 (702)895-2222 D: Today is September 12,2016, and I [David G. Schwartz] am with Brad Friedmutter in his offices here in Las Vegas and this is for the Building Las Vegas project. I would like to start by talking a little bit about your early life. Where are you from? I was bom in Brooklyn, New York and I grew up in Flushing, Queens. D: Where did you go to school? I attended John Bowne High School, and I was fortunate to get a scholarship to the Cooper Union School of Architecture in lower Manhattan, 1968-1973. D: Tell me a little bit about architecture school. What did you do there? I don't have much to compare it with because that is the one I knew. I was very fortunate that John Hejduk was the dean at the time and it was the whole New York Five. We had guest professors and speakers like Stanley Tigerman and Richard Meier that were practicing architects that came in. The whole thing about Cooper Union was not the technical side, it was the theory and philosophy, which is really a wonderful education. If you go to a school that is geared that way, it lays the ground work and the frame work to approach pretty much any situation in life beyond just architecture. It really addresses the basics that you leam in third grade of who, what, when, where, and why, and how you establish and approach challenges and projects, establish the givens, fix things, the variable things, how you put them together and how you work around them. At the time I was 18 years old, never had any technical schooling before that, it was all new to me. Interestingly enough my mother was a Director of Cultural Arts for the Board of Education for New York City. She was involved in the programming and of course the eternal quest for funds. Those were the first things to get done and that was when Mayor Koch was the mayor. I grew up with my mother in a very strong, political position in the education system, I guess the largest education system in the country, in music and art. I was very fortunate in that way. 1 D: What were the theories in architecture when you were in school? I remember the first year we spent an entire semester on the nine square grid and different ways to start with the grid, creating panels, flowing space. I remember that said if you took a little cup of milk and you took it on a board and you had these columns on a nine square grid and you tilt it and let the milk flow, how is it going to flow? If you added a panel and a partition, how would that change the flow? That whole theory as it developed over time was really instrumental. You would get into half panels. It is the whole concept of defining space using walls, proportion, light, materials and the interrelationship. Of course most of it was white. You could make any color you want as long as it was white. I was right out of high school and I did not go to a technical high school. Half of the students, there were 23 students in a class, at least half of them were already working. They were coming back to get their degree so they could formalize it and get a license. I was in classrooms with some very talented, knowledgeable, accomplished people, coming to refine their education. I didn't know nearly as much as they did. You rise to the level of your competition. D: After school where did you start working? In 1973 when I graduated there was a smaller recession than the one we are currently experiencing and I was in New York and I could not find a job in an architect's office and I was very disappointed. I said, "I graduated from one of the best architectural schools in the country and I can't get a job." I was very disillusioned and frustrated about that. Fortunately, because of the scholarship I had no student debt, which was a nice thing. My first job was not in architecture. It was in the stock room in Macy's on Queens Boulevard but I needed a job. Everyone I knew said it was a great time to go to Europe and see Europe. I couldn't afford to do that. I would have liked to do that and am still waiting to do that. I worked in Macy's stock room which was very, very interesting. Then the first job I got was from a friend of a friend of a friend and it was a contractor 2 that did their own architecture in the city. My boss was a MIT graduate who was a little older than me but it was a family business and that was my first job. I got to see firsthand the kind of nitty gritty of the reality of architecture. I went from the theory of architecture to very nitty gritty, working for a contractor in New York City, where they are doing jobs with unions and inspectors and field guys coming in later in the day asking for field drawings from my boss. I got to see the contractor side and the architecture side in reality. This was very real now. They weren't monumental projects but they were getting built. I had a lot of friends who were working for firms where they did projects that were in the concept phase and they never got built. I was very lucky in my early 20s, after school, to see things actually happening and to see it from both the construction and architecture side. D: What kind of projects were you building? They were commercial. Some of them were restorations. There are obviously a lot of old buildings in New York. Some of them were dismantling old brownstone, cast iron buildings, documenting all the pieces coming off, adding a floor, putting it to another floor. Then there were restaurants in buildings. It was all commercial stuff. They didn't do any new high rise construction. D: At this time did you have an idea what path you wanted to take in architecture? Not at all. I was totally lost and totally confused. I was in a recession wondering if I had made the right decision. I was making minimum wage, and if memory serves me correctly, minimum wage was about $1.85 in those days. I remember thinking, "Holy mackerel, what did I do?" I remember looking in the newspaper at sales jobs, saying, "Gee, maybe I can make more money in sales." I stuck with it and even the place I was working started losing work so I had to go on part-time work. I was working two to two and a half days a week. Work-wise there was nothing keeping me in New York. At the time I moved to the West Coast to the Bay area in quest of better times. 3 D: A little digression here. You read a book like The Fountainhead and you get this idea of the architect as this single minded visionary. How true do you think that is to the profession? There are some architects very true to that. I certainly had classmates that were like that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, everyone was either a radical or an idealist or something in between or something beyond that. At Cooper Union in those days computers were just starting and actually I did have some computer classes, but not anything like what we have today. You would sharpen your pencil, not with a pencil sharpener but on some sand paper. D: Why is that? To get that chisel point on the pencil. So when you drew you actually tore all the pencil. This is if you are not doing ink drawings. There were hours and hours and days and days of that type of discipline to learn the craft part of architecture. Of course there were people that were way better than I was. D: What were the radicals radical about? Remember, it was just at the end of Vietnam. There were two or three of my classmates that had served in Vietnam. They wanted to strike and some of them did. Really? Strike about what? I'm here to go to school and get an education. Some of them did strike. Oddly enough, at Cooper Union, which goes back to the 1860s, Abraham Lincoln spoke in the Great Hall. They had graduation in the Great Hall every single year. The year I graduated, 1973, was the one year it was under renovation, so it made us unique. There were some very outspoken who wanted to make a point, even if there was no point to be made. I saw all that. I just wanted to work. D: Was there any discussion of Learning from Las Vegas yet? 4 No. I didn't even know what Las Vegas was. As a matter of fact, I didn't even see a casino until my first job with Henry Conversano. I hadn't been to a casino before. I always hear people say, "When I was young my parents went to Las Vegas." I went to the Catskills. D: So let’s go to San Francisco. You are in San Francisco and what are you doing there? I remember trying to get a job as a waiter at the White Whale, which is a tourist restaurant, and I put down that I had a degree in architecture. They said, "Oh, you are just waiting to get a better job so you can't work here." I was over qualified. On the other hand they said, "Have you ever been a waiter before?" I said, "No." and they said, "Well, then you don't have enough experience." I was over qualified and I didn't have enough experience. I started to fine tune my interviewing skills. The first job I got was in Hayward, California, with Mervyn's Department Stores. At the time Mervyn's Department stores were on a growth pattern and they were eventually purchased by Dayton Hudson out of the Midwest. They were building medium-box-size stores for retail. I had a reverse commute from the city down to Hayward. It was very interesting because I got to meet a lot of people from New York because it was a retail organization and I got to meet buyers and all these people were from New York and they would go back and forth. I also got to meet construction people again and I was very comfortable with them and I got to meet other architects. The whole idea there was that was an in-house planning, as we get to Atlandia Design when I worked for Steve Wynn, not too unlike that. An owner's in-house division. When the projects got approved and financed and they hired outside architects, I interfaced with them and represented the owner. I did that for a while and then got an opportunity to work for BA Premises Corporation, which was Bank of America. That was in San Francisco on Samson Street. That was a similar type job but with branch banks. I was very good at meeting with local towns and people and working 5 with them and architectural review committees and this and that. In those days not too many people in coastal California or Tahoe area liked to do that, it was a very controversial thing. Then I worked for a place, to get some more straight actual drafting, called Store Planning Associates. They were on Gold Street in San Francisco. I learned some good retail design experience. They also did Mervyn's and Diamond's and Macy's. That was interior. I understood the whole idea of putting the necessities in places in the store to attract people and draw them beyond other things. It is not too unlike casinos. Instead of slot machines, it is a hanging rack or bin, and you are drawing people past it to go to things they need, socks and underwear and T-shirts (depending on the type of store, who the client was, the level of the detail finish, and the money that was spent for the space). There were some that said, "I don't want them looking up at a beautiful ceiling. I want them looking down at the goods on the table." Then there were others who said, "We want to create these great spaces that people want to come in and hang out in." It was very interesting because it was the same lessons I learned coming to Las Vegas. I said to myself that I still wasn't making any decent money here. It was very frustrating and I was working very hard. I couldn't see where a future was. I didn't think of myself as having my own firm at the time. I was going paycheck to paycheck. A friend of mine that I met at Bank of America said, "Basically we are doing preliminary development for the bank. I bet you that there are small developers out there that could use our services and maybe we can make some money that way and get in on development." We had zero funding, minus zero, we were in debt. We started it and called it Development Services in San Francisco. I don't think we ever made a penny and there were people who took advantage of our offerings, which we did with open eyes. Then we realized that wasn't going to work. 6 For several months I wasn't making any income so I had to get a regular job. I called some people I had met over the years and someone I had met at Store Planning Associates, her husband worked for a guy named Henry Conversano. This is when we enter into the casino world. I called him up and I did not have a resume and I did not have a portfolio because I was always in management, overseeing things. I was able to chat with him. It turns out he grew up not far from where I grew up in Queens. He was 20 years older than me. I was now a licensed architect and he was doing Harrah's Casinos in Lake Tahoe [Nevada] and in Atlantic City [New Jersey], in the late 1970s. I hadn't been back to visit my family and friends in New York in quite a while. He asked me if I was OK with traveling and I said yes and he asked if I was OK with traveling to New York and I said yes. He said, "Well, there is this thing called Atlantic City. They approved gaming and I work for Bill Harrah. We have a project back there and we do the interiors but I need somebody who is an architect to add credibility to my staff because the interior people they just draw cartoons and they don't know anything.” I was there to add credibility. I am just as capable of drawing cartoons as the next person. He hired me and literally the next day I go from unemployment to flying first class on TWA [Trans-World America], staying in New York City at the UN [United Nations] Plaza Hotel in a two-story suite. I am banging on the windows at everybody in Queens saying, "I am here. I am here. Look at me. Look at me now." We then drove down to Atlantic City and met with the Harrah's folks. It was the old Chalfonte site. It was going to be a very interesting project. They are going to tear down the Chalfonte, which was an historical thing for Atlantic City. They were trying to keep certain buildings and not keep certain buildings. I think sometimes hanging onto nostalgia hurt them ultimately, because they couldn't bring in a contemporary, competitive product. I understand, having worked in Manhattan restoring buildings the importance of it, but not in the entertainment 7 world, entertainment architecture. We worked with the Cambridge Seven Associates and we worked with Peter Chermayeff and we were going to do the interiors and they were going to do this whole thing hanging the Harrah's auto collection. D: How big was that going to be? It was big. I don't remember if they consolidated any lots, but I do remember because of the museum expertise of Cambridge Seven and Peter Chermayeffs, putting Harrah's auto collection and suspending it was going to be a big deal. This was very exciting. I am going from a week and a half before of "Oh, how am I going to pay this bill?" to now meeting these people in New York and New Jersey area. I was catapulted. I thought, "This is an exciting business." D: Would they hang it in the casino? Yes. Not unlike Circus Circus. There was going to be a giant space and they were going to suspend them and that was going to be the attraction, which was relevant to Harrah's. We worked with them. They were located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so I spent some time there, which was kind of fun. I am staying in a real hotel and able to do things and worked with those folks there for quite a while. I had two or three other people from Conversano with me and it was a lot of fun. We put this whole package together and I remember, being back in Oakland, which is where Conversano is, and we had models together and we had this whole presentation ready to go to Atlantic City and the project was cancelled. I don't recall the exact reasons. I thought, "Hmmm. OK." It can go from zero to a hundred in two seconds and from a hundred to zero in another two seconds. I thought that was the nature of this industry, but very exciting. I continued to work with Henry Conversano and then he said, "Come on, we are going to go down to Las Vegas. There is this guy, Steve Wynn." D: Before we get into that can you tell me a little bit about Henry Conversano and his office and what that was like? 8 He was a very cool dude. He was able to, literally, in a presentation, read the room. He was not scripted. He was able to read the room and read the mood. Someone would say something and he would be able to pull something out of his magic bag that was relevant to what was being said. I would just watch him and say, "How does he do this?" I'm sitting there and he would bounce things off of me and my thing was a little back and forth, repartee with him. I just hung on the edge of the seat because I wouldn't know where it was going, how it was going, or anything. It was always positive. He was able to control the situation, control the meetings and it was very interesting to watch and be a part of. In my career, of the big people that I was in front of and had the privilege of working closely with, was Henry Conversano and Steve Wynn, and they were my formative influences in this industry. I saw what was important and what was not important and how you work with a myriad of people. He was very, very good at it. D: Now we are getting to Steve Wynn. I was 28 and Steve was 10 years older than I am. It was a young Steve Wynn. I knew at the time that it was an exciting time. You wish you could kind of freeze it, but you can't. I tried to pay as much attention as I could. They created some great things together. There was a project, I think originally it was called the Palm Bay Club, which is where the Wet 'n Wild site was, which is where the Tumberry is now. We worked on it a bunch of years and Homer Rissman was the architect, Conversano did the interiors. We came down to Las Vegas. We had an office on Arville and that is where I met Roger Thomas; he was working for Steve at the time. We put this whole project together and Sierra Construction, which was Gus Rapone, Kitty Rodman, and Bill Koerwitz; they were the owners and they were going to build it. I had the pleasure of meeting them. When the budget was announced, if memory serves me correct, I believe it was $400,000,000. They said, 9 "Ah, it doesn't pan out in today's market." I'm thinking, "Here we go, zero to a hundred, hundred to zero." Now Golden Nugget in Atlantic City was kicking in. D: Was this around 1980ish? Yes. D: I want to back up a little bit. Tell me your interactions with Homer Rissman. Homer was a very interesting man. He always wore white and was well-likes. He had the formula of casinos, in those days, down pat. D: And what was that for that time? He used to talk about putting in a buffet with 99 cent shrimp and you have your casino and your slots. It is interesting because the formula then is not much different from the formula now, it is just scaled up. They had a sundry shop, they had a fur salon, and they had a jewelry store and maybe one or two other things that is the retail. They always had a gourmet steak house, they had an Italian restaurant, Chinese restaurant and a buffet and a 24-hour coffee shop. Those were the restaurants and the food was always very good and plentiful, but they didn't necessarily have celebrity chefs or brand names. There was a headliner lounge or show room and there was a king's row and those were held out for the best players so they always had a seat. It was pretty basic and straightforward. The hotels weren't gigantic, so they were easily managed. He was just a very, very nice guy. His offices were at the Hilton. D: What do you think his place is in the architectural history of Las Vegas? I don't know the complete list of his works but definitely being from here, he was not from LA [Los Angeles, California] or other cities, certainly created a sense of dealing with the nature of that client at that time. It is different than it is today. D: How do you think he compares with Martin Stern? 10 I never met Martin Stem but I did know Joel Bergman, of course. I can't really say how that was. I just know that Homer was very steady. You have to be able to take the venting of casino ownership management. He was able to do that very well. D: What are they venting about? They are spending a lot of money and they are on the cusp of something new and they would vent to people that would listen to the venting. If someone crumbles then they will not vent to them anymore. If someone pushes back too much then they don't want to vent to them. I would say it was the combination of the excitement, the uncertainty, and the fear. They are spending a lot of money and in those days I am not sure there was as much of a guarantee that if you build it they will come. There was a great scene in Bugsy where they are talking about the wall looking out at the pool. Whoever the writer spoke to about that, Del Webb is there, and the whole thing. It is made up but not so made up. What is the important thing? There is also the scene in the movie Casino about the blueberries. D: Which really happened. Is that a true story? D: I heard the guy who at the time was his body guard that that absolutely happened. When I watched the movie I say, but of course that should happen. That is that caring about the customer that all owners and upper management have and that consistency and that taking the meritocracy away and the not caring. Some people look at that and say that is overbearing and controlling, but I look at it and think that is what makes it great. That is why these properties and this city is so unique. D: Can you tell me about the Palm Bay Club? 11 Palm Bay Club, I don't know if that was the last name, but it was almost set up like a pinwheel or wagon wheel. The casino was in the center and there were going to be a series of straight slab hotels like spokes of a wheel coming together. It was fun being part of that whole thing, getting the press release out. I am not exactly sure the main reasons why since I wasn't privy to why it didn't happen. You look at the location and it was kind of on the northern side of the Strip. I don't know if that had anything to do with it or not. D: Do you remember meeting Steve Wynn? Yes. D: What kind of impression did he make? Being from back East, I felt very comfortable being around him. I felt, and I hope he shares it, an instant chemistry with him. I understood him. I understood why he said the things he said, why he wanted to do those things and I liked what I heard. I felt very at ease, but not being cavalier, and knowing you have to do your job. It is very simple, just do the job you are hired to do. D: How about Roger Thomas? I met him at the same time and I didn't know anything about him prior to this. Later I found out about the large family he comes from. His brothers, one is in banking, one is in real estate, and one is a doctor and Roger is in design. He and I got along very, very well. At the same time I also met Steve's brother Kenny and Jane Radoff. I actually met Joel Bergman a little later. D: What was Kenny like? Kenny is a very complex guy that I consider a good friend. He is very, very smart. Everyone knows he speaks multiple languages. He was basically there as a family member to keep an eye on things, especially with something as important as construction. That was his role. You are in a pressure cooker of things. Some of the people that might have vented to Homer, and I am sure to Martin 12 Stem, and I am sure to Joel. There is a lot of venting going on. You have to be able to be in that environment. You need to enjoy it, even though it may not be fun. When you stop enjoying it, if that day ever comes, then you know it is time to leave. D: Back to Atlantic City and the Golden Nugget, tell me a little bit about that. Conversano designed all of it. In the lobby they had animated birds in gilded cages. Steve brought the services of a guy named Roily Crump from Disney on board. Roily, because of his Disney expertise, he did It's A Small World, I got to work with him. My recollection is that I became liaison between him and Steve. They did the animated birds and it was a big hit. The Golden Nugget was kind of at the far end of the Boardwalk and they said it was at the wrong location. I remember Steve giving a quote acknowledging that. He said, "The location isn't where you are on the Boardwalk, the location is that you are in Atlantic City." Of course in those days there was no other competition. Las Vegas and the lines of people at buffet, and using meeting rooms to set up temporary food outlets. It was an amazing scene at the time. Someone would have to look at that and say this is not sustainable. In retrospect. At the time we were saying, "Wow. We hope this lasts forever." We know that history says that didn't happen. I originally worked with Conversano on some of the penthouse suites, which were highly themed. D: What were some of the themes? They would have an Asian theme, different coloration, and different themes. I worked with the mill work contractors and getting the stuff transported out there. Not that budget wasn't the issue, it wasn't the primary issue. The feeling in those days was that there were people to stay in these things. The faster they could build them, the faster they could be stayed in, then the faster they could get paid off. Although quite a bit of attention was paid on the cost, it wasn't the primary 13 decision factor. You look at the work Roger did after I left there and look at all the Wynn properties, it was similar to that, to some degree or another. D: What was that like, getting that opened? It was fun. I remember one of the things that happened. The mill work was made in Burbank, California and the truck taking one of the penthouse things was all pre-fabricated and it crashed, and all the stuff was spread on the highway and had to be remade. Those are the kind of things that nobody can predict, but they already had all the measurements. They made it very, very quick. I wasn't involved in operations at all, purely in this end of it. Once you get the job done you move on. D: What was the next job? The next job after Atlantic City was the Spa Suite Tower. Then I was hired away from Conversano by Wynn. D: Can you tell me a little bit about that? Sure. It is something I fear today with my employees. I was working there so he got to know me and I got to know him and Kenny and they got to see what I could do, what my limitations were, and what my potentials were. I was in Las Vegas and he said, "Do you like Las Vegas?" I said, "Yes, I love Las Vegas. Las Vegas is very cool. You guys are spending a lot of time and money and doing great projects and I could have an easier life style here in Las Vegas than in New York or San Francisco and it is nice here." He said, "Would you like to work for me?" I said, "Yes.” I technically worked for Kenny, and I was vice president of design and construction for Atlandia Design. We began another project in Atlantic City and I was going back to Atlantic City. They had this small place on Brigantine Beach [New Jersey], I was in this little beach house in the winter time with electric baseboard heating. Atlantic City is now growing and busy. Because things happened there so fast, offices were in old motels and apartment buildings that were quasi