DEADWOOD, S.D. — Once touted as the “Highlight of Deadwood,” the Kevin Costner-owned Midnight Star closed its doors for good Tuesday, silencing the ringing slot machines and leaving the tallest building on historic Main Street vacant and locked after a 26-year run.
When the spacious entertainment venue opened in spring 1991, less than two years after legalized gaming came to this wild and woolly Black Hills town, the Midnight Star commanded celebrity attention.
Replete with a sports bar and gaming hall crowned by Jakes, arguably the finest dining experience South Dakota had to offer, the establishment was the place to be seen — and to see what evolved to commemorate a quarter-century of the Oscar Award-winning actor and director’s movie memorabilia that adorned the walls.
“When I opened the Midnight Star in 1989 (sic), it was because of my deep love for Deadwood and the Black Hills of South Dakota and their historical importance in our country’s story,” Costner said in an email sent to the Journal on Tuesday night. “I hoped that resurrecting and restoring the famed Phoenix Block Building would allow it, as the Midnight Star, to also become a part of the famed Deadwood story. And from the casino to Diamond Lil’s, I was enormously proud of what the Midnight Star became.”
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Under the daily guidance of Costner partners Francis and Carla Caneva, the venture initially struck gold with a stunning retail outlet, friendly blackjack dealers, bartenders and wait staff, loose slots and a gilded top-shelf restaurant served with star-filled skylights, a talented local pianist, and attention to detail from an expansive wine list and buffalo filets all the way down to the whipped strawberry butter.
But when the tables turned and the proliferation of gaming splashed across the U.S. in the 1990s and 2000s, leaving virtually everyone save those in Hawaii and Utah with casinos within 100 miles, the light dimmed on the Midnight Star. Coupled with age, increased competition, a legal battle that removed the Canevas from the scene and a series of management changes, the Midnight Star’s spotlight diffused and it became a shadow of its former self.
In July 2013, Costner put 1,000 acres he owned near Deadwood on the market with an asking price of $14 million. The properties included the site of the highly touted but unsuccessful Dunbar Resort, a $100 million project that would have included a spacious Western-themed lodge, a steam-fired passenger train and a championship alpine golf course.
In March 2016, Deadwood Resort LLC, an affiliate of Ramkota Companies, paid an estimated $7.5 million for 103 acres of that property near the Lodge at Deadwood, where it plans to build a major new family-style resort. That same month, Costner closed his etched-glassed, hand-rubbed, polished-brass brilliance known as Jakes.
While Costner’s divestiture of Black Hills holdings continues, no planned sale of the Midnight Star has been announced.
But nowhere was that downsizing more apparent than Monday night in the place that Costner built, as company representatives and soon-to-be former Midnight Star employees helped take down and carton off the tributes to Costner’s success — from “Dances With Wolves” costumes and Japanese film posters, to Whitney Houston’s concert regalia worn in “The Bodyguard” and the calf-length duster the actor donned in “The Hatfields and McCoys.”
On Tuesday morning, a computer printout taped on the door stated, “The Midnight Star will be closed today,” followed by a message that gave a phone number and indicated, “We will get back to you.”
But Costner said Tuesday night, there will be no return engagement.
“So it is with a heavy heart that I have to say that today the lights of the Midnight Star will go out for the last time,” his email statement read. “But we had a great 28-year (sic) run, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. I will be eternally grateful for the dedication and hard work of all of the management and staff at the Midnight Star.”
Meanwhile, about 40 full- and part-time employees of the Midnight Star are looking for work, and the company that supplied and serviced the casino’s slot machines is planning to move the devices to other gaming halls in town next week.
When contacted Tuesday afternoon, Craig Sparrow, deputy executive secretary of the South Dakota Commission on Gaming, declined to say whether his state agency had been informed of the closure.
“I got no comment about nothing,” Sparrow said, before referring questions to Commission Executive Secretary Larry Eliason, who was unavailable.
So for now, the future of what was once the finest gaming hall and restaurant in the Wild West town of Deadwood has, sadly, faded to black.