Dome of the Sea restaurant at the Las Vegas Dunes

There have been many outrageously themed motels, hotels and restaurants constructed in Las Vegas these past 75 years but few have been as over-the-top fabulous as the Dome of the Sea.  Of everything ever to appear on the strip it was my favorite, with the Landmark and Sands Hotels coming close behind.

The Dome of the Sea, constructed in 1964, protruded emphatically from the south end of architect Milton M. Schwartz’s 21-story ultra-Modern north tower that rose from the desert in 1961.  Schwartz was especially proud of the building, saying of the restaurant’s unusual form in a 2005 interview, “The Dome of the Sea was something I had always wanted to design. It was a circular building and it looked like it came from outer space. It just felt like it fit on the desert to me.”  Amen.

The Dunes in 1964. Dome of the Sea is at bottom left.

The Dunes circa 1964

The salaciousness of this illustration is freakishly refreshing.

According to Schwartz, “The restaurant was called the Dome of the Sea because it was meant to be a seafood restaurant. I had chosen a woman with long, golden blonde hair. She was five-foot-six and played a harp, a golden harp, and I placed her in a seashell in the center of the restaurant that rolled around on a figure eight track in the water. She would play the harp in this seafood restaurant in the water. Not in the water—but she sat in the seashell and the seashell-shaped seat. The people were mesmerized by the music and the ambiance of the restaurant; it was very beautiful.”

CLICK TO ENLARGE THE MIND-BOGGLING PHOTO BELOW:

1960s era Postcard

This menu is one of the most beautiful in my collection.  You can sort of tell from the photo that the actual menu cover is made of a meshed plastic that gives the appearance of shimmering water.

Glorious Menu Cover

On the menu was my favorite dish from the world of continental-style fine dining: Lobster Thermidor.

1965 Menu

The Dunes in the mid-1970s

After the Dunes closed in early 1993 its contents were auctioned off.  Later that year, new owner Steve Wynn imploded the Dunes property to make way for his ostentatious Bellagio.  I couldn’t (and still can’t) bear to watch the demolition footage.  I was told that the soaring Dunes sign was still operating – with the progressive red neon outline of an Arabic tower continuing its ascent – a few moments after it began toppling to the street.

Dome of the Sea in the Swingin' 70s

Friends and I were able to say goodbye to the space age Landmark Hotel before its implosion in 1995 and the Rat Pack-era Sands Hotel prior to its demise the following year.  Indeed, in just four years my Vegas of the 1980s – the decade that I first relished its mid-century treasures – was gone.  It was quite awhile before I could go back to savor the last staggering vestiges of the old Vegas such as the El Cortez, the Golden Steer restaurant, and Binion’s Horseshoe (foreshortened to merely “Binion’s” after Harrah’s Corp. bought the “Horseshoe” name from the Binion family).  I will continue to visit these places until they, too, are swept away for the latest ‘big thing.’

But, ahhhhh, to know what it once was…

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About Peter Moruzzi

Historian Peter Moruzzi is passionate about the middle decades of the 20th century: its nightlife, classic dining, and architecture. Born in Concord, Massachusetts and raised in Hawaii, Moruzzi graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and later attended the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. In 1999, he founded the Palm Springs Modern Committee (PS ModCom) an architectural preservation group. In 2006, Moruzzi produced "Desert Holiday," a jaunty documentary chronicling the history of the Coachella Valley as seen through vintage postcards. He is also the author of "Havana Before Castro: When Cuba Was a Tropical Playground" and "Palm Springs Holiday: A Vintage Tour From Palm Springs to the Salton Sea." Moruzzi's latest book is titled "Classic Dining: Discovering America's Finest Mid-Century Restaurants" with photography by Sven A. Kirsten. Peter Moruzzi resides with his partner in the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles and in Palm Springs.
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18 Responses to Dome of the Sea restaurant at the Las Vegas Dunes

  1. Hi! My Dad was the big-band orchestra leader at The Dunes and then at The Thunderbird from about 1970 – 1977. He accompanied so many greats, like Sarah Vaugh, Mel Torme and Edie Adams to name a few. If you ever come across pictures of the marquis with his name on them, I would LOVE to see them. Great site. Brings back a lot of memories!

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    • Be sure to visit the photo archives at UNLV Special Collections and the Nevada State Museum at Las Vegas (the latter has the fabulous Las Vegas News Bureau publicity photographs that include quite a few hotel marquees).

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  2. Hi! My Dad was the big-band orchestra conductor at The Dunes from roughly 1970 – 73. Then he was at the Thunderbird probably from 73 – 76-ish. I am trying to reconstruct his professional life, since he passed when I was pretty young. If you come across pictures of either marquis when his name (Joe Berlingeri) is featured, I would LOVE to see them!!!

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  3. Lisa Bianco says:

    My parents took me to Vegas in 73 when I was five. I remember the Dome of the Sea fondly. I told my parents that I wanted to have my wedding at the Dome of the Sea. One of my memories is falling asleep in the resturant while eating Lobster Savanah. The time difference was just too much for me. My Dad still has one of the menus from there.

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  4. Sandy, I’m honored that you found my blog and commented favorably on my Dunes/Dome of the Sea post. Your father was an especially talented architect whose designs epitomized the excitement and glamour of the mid-century modern era. Milton M. Schwartz will not be forgotten. You’ll also be pleased to know that my new book, “Classic Dining: Discovering America’s Finest Mid-Century Restaurants” that will be published this July and includes a section about The Dunes and Dome of the Sea!

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    • Sandy Schwartz says:

      Peter – I’ll be looking for your book! Thank you for all your wonderful accolades of my dad and his work. I have very much been enjoying your work as well!

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  5. Dr. Myron G. Phillips, DVM says:

    On March 5th 1976 my wife and I had our wedding day dinner at the Dome of the Sea. I will never forget that night and how elegant this restaurant was. I am so sorry to see it has gone. If it is ever duplicated at another hotel (and it should!), we would probably make a special trip to Las Vegas just to eat there. I agree that the Dunes was a great place. Too bad we have to always get rid of the old to accommodate the new.

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    • Sandy says:

      Dr. Phillips – I am Milton Schwartz’s daughter and I am so flattered by your comments as I know he would be. He loved designing the Dunes, the Dome of the Sea, and the Sultan’s Table. He told us many stories about his experiences there, particularly since the entire project took nearly 10 years for him to complete. He would would be so tickled and appreciative of your complementary response, which certainly warms my heart and brings back so many wonderful memories of him. Thank you!

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    • Indeed! The Dome of the Sea was a magical place. I miss it terribly.

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      • Dr. Myron G. Phillips, DVM says:

        So many restaurants now are “loud music oriented” and makes the dining experience stressful. The lady playing the harp was magnificent. I’ve never been to another restaurant with as much class. What happened to class?

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        • “Class” as you and I define it is rare in restaurants these days. However, there are survivors. My upcoming book “Classic Dining: Discovering America’s Finest Mid-Century Restaurants” finds them.

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        • I fondly remember the Dome Of The Sea restaurant and miss it terribly. I can still see the fish “swimming” on the walls! What an amazing idea to have a beautiful “mermaid” in a moving boat on a pond playing a beautiful song on the harp! Thank you Peter for sharing your fond memories with us. I love Las Vegas but as you say, everything keeps changing. The menu was fun to look at as well- especially the prices! I will look foreward to your book. thank you.

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  6. Pingback: Supercool 1962 Las Vegas Dunes Concept Rendering | Peter Moruzzi's America After Dark

  7. DeSoto says:

    I find it amusing, as the previous comment has stated, that the waiter standing at left is actually one of the most prominent elements in this photo – even more noticeable than the golden-haired harpist herself. His folded-arm stance implies disapproval. How could the photographer have chosen to pose him in this well-lit position, and with such an attitude? Meanwhile the actual diners – few as they are – are mere silhouettes in the dark.

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  8. Kurt Wahlner says:

    Love the big postcard of Dome of the Sea. It has all the color and photographic texture of the original “Ocean’s 11.” The place is a little empty, sort of “It’s a quarter to three. . .” That waiter on the left looks like he is about to slap that harpist with a “Aww, willya knock it offawready? It’s 3 AM!”

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