The Las Vegas Strip expands

Historical Review Las Vegas (Part 4)

With the Flamingo, which was completed in 1947, there were now 3 top casinos on the newly created Las Vegas Boulevard. In addition - as already reported - the Last Frontier and the El Rancho Hotel and Casino. Now the real race for the money began!

The next big hotel on the Strip was the Thunderbird, which opened in 1948. Also a casino in the Wild West theme, financed by money from organized crime, which later, in 1955, would lead to the revocation of the license. It was opened again afterwards, but the reputation was ruined. The Thunderbird ultimately went to Del Webb Corporation for just under $ 10 million. In 1972 it was sold to Caesars Palace. The later owner of the Dunes Hotel, which is now the site of the gigantic super casino Bellagio, bought the Thunderbird in 1977, enlarged it and changed the name to Silverbird. In 1981 the casino passed to Ed Torres, who in turn changed the name to El Rancho. The original El Rancho was just 2 blocks down across the street, and the two casinos were unrelated.

In the 1950s, with the real construction boom, a decade of developments began on Las Vegas Boulevard. One of the reasons for this was the growing popularity of the automobile and the sharp increase in the population of California, which increased the demand for more leisure and recreational opportunities. More hotels and more casinos were needed to please the tourists and adventurers, the majority of whom came from Los Angeles for weekend vacations in Las Vegas.

One of the new top addresses was the Desert Inn, which was built in the late 1940s. The D.I. Las Vegas should be the most beautiful hotel. It was the lifelong dream of Wilbur Clark, a former Bell Man and bar owner from California. Clark already owned shares in the original El Rancho and later opened the Players Club, a small casino on Highway 91, and then the Monte Carlo Club, a downtown casino. He quickly became wealthy through these smaller casinos and later bought the property across the street from Last Frontier, and construction work on the Desert Inn project began in 1946. Incidentally, the name was copied from the Desert Inn Hotel in Palm Springs, which was always Wilbur Clark's model hotel and which he admired.

Unfortunately, the "Desert Inn" project suffered the same problems as the other hotels: Financing was at risk. The costs soared and Clark ran out of money to finish the casino. Therefore, the construction activities were temporarily interrupted between 1947 and 1948. A year later, in 1949, the financing question was resolved. Funds were made available from the east coast, which had a similar origin as the funding for the Flamingo Hotel under Benjamin Siegel.

The Desert Inn opened on April 24, 1950. At the expense of the casino, reporters from all over the country were flown in at massive financial expense to write reports on the sensational opening ceremony. This time the success hit like a bomb. In the first week, the D.I. a net profit of $ 750,000, including almost $ 100,000 from bar sales. After that, profits fell slightly, but did not stay below $ 200,000 a month - after a year the casino was already around $ 2 million in profit.

A little to the north was the Sahara Hotel and Casino. Originally operated under the name Club Bingo under the control of Milton Pell with an African interior. The casino was one of the first typical themed casinos, with the famous Congo Room and Caravan Room Restaurant. The Sahara was opened in 1952 and enlarged and expanded at regular intervals. By 1966 it was to be the casino with the tallest hotel tower. Famous bands were also repeatedly flown in, so the Beatles gave two appearances in the Sahara Hotel in 1964.

The Sands Hotel and Casino opened around the same time, just 3 months after the Sahara opened. The Sands Hotel was owned by Jake Friedman, a Texas millionaire who came to Las Vegas to open a luxury hotel. Friedman bought the LuRue restaurant on Highway 91 (later Las Vegas Boulevard) and began building the Sands Hotel there. Originally the Sands was supposed to get the name Holiday Inn. Legend has it that Friedman entered the construction site for his new hotel and was terribly upset about the sand that got into his shoes. On the spur of the moment, he decided to simply name the construction site “The Sand”. The client instructed Friedman and said that, if anything, you have to use the plural, ie “The Sands”. Friedman liked this name so much that he decided to call the hotel "The Sands".
The Sands was made operational in a record construction time of only 9 months. The slogan was: The Sands - A Place in the Sun. The hotel consisted of two five-story towers with originally 200 rooms, which were laid out in an arch around a crescent-like pool. An additional attraction was the hotel's own show, “The Copa”, which the Copa Girls, supposedly the most beautiful women in the world, had on their show. This also began the age of super shows. All the dancers wanted to be on this show, and for decades The Copa was the best show in Las Vegas.

Slowly but surely, the film industry began to prick up its ears. And so the sensational hotel backdrops became the setting for many films. Hollywood superstars like Grace Kelly and Cary Grant shot the 1955 Hitchcock thriller “To catch a thief” with scenes in the Sahara Hotel. Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin or Jerry Lewis, all famous names brought to Las Vegas casinos for filming.

One of the few casino projects that risked venturing off the Strip or Downtown was The Showboat. Based on marketing analyzes, it was assumed that Las Vegas would grow in a south-easterly direction. Convinced by these prognoses, William J. Moore, manager of the Last Frontier Hotel, and his partners decided to build the somewhat daring project, about 3 kilometers southeast of downtown, Las Vegas. At that time, the city limits were such that hotels like the Sands, Sahara, Flamingo, Desert Inn, etc., were no longer part of Las Vegas. The Showboat, however, was still built within this boundary, making it the official first casino resort in Las Vegas.

The Showboat opened on September 3, 1954, and this casino was based on the paddle steamers typical of the 19th century on the Mississippi and other rivers. The interior decoration of the casino was based on a novel by Mark Twain.

The Showboat could only survive through a targeted and very aggressive marketing strategy. The casino organized bus tours for tourists from California and, as an additional attraction, a bowling facility with 24 lanes was opened in 1959. This facility was expanded until the late 1990s, and so in the end 110 lanes were available in two rooms.

It takes more than just a few slot machines or a dice table to lure locals into the casino. Casinos that wanted to operate outside of the tourist strip “Las Vegas Strip” had to understand this quickly and act accordingly.

We will write in later reports about the importance of these locals casinos and some other hotels, as well as the influence of the finance companies. We will also bring you closer to personalities such as Steve Wynn or Bob Stupak. So stick with it.

"* Here you will find an overview of all parts of our Las Vegas retrospect that have appeared so far. *": Https: //www.isa-guide.de/isa-casinos/las-vegas/geschichte