“Playing Paradise: The California Hotel and Hawaiian Tourist Imaginaries”
Dana Herrera, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anthropology, and Cynthia Van Gilder, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anthropology, St. Mary’s College of California
Unbeknownst to most visitors, Las Vegas is home to a unique niche tourism: it is overwhelmingly the vacation destination of choice for residents of the state of Hawaii, even affectionately termed the “Ninth Island.” It is estimated that 1 in 10 Hawaiians visit Las Vegas at least once per year, primarily selecting The California Hotel, nicknamed, “The Cal,” as their preferred sleeping, gambling, eating, and socializing venue. Located near Fremont Street, the exterior of The Cal still reflects its original identity as a California-themed establishment, however, the interior reflects its forty-year history of transformation into a Hawaiian home-away-from-home, with island themed décor, banquet rooms labeled in the Hawaiian language, and multiple eateries offering Hawaiian favorites.
In this presentation, Herrera and Van Gilder look at the “tourist imaginary” created at The Cal through an examination of the hotel’s history and built environment. Their recent research in Special Collections & Archives provides a context for understanding the relationship between the Boyd Gaming Corporation, which developed and owns The California Hotel, and its Hawaiian gaming clientele.