Las Vegas is celebrating its 100th birthday this year.
What would it take to attract people to a barren, dusty, brown part of the country? A land auction began, in May 1905 a parcel of Clark’s Las Vegas Town site could be purchased for $200.00, these were exceptionally far-sighted people if you ask me. First of all, can you imagine being in Las Vegas in the early 1900s without air conditioning? This was not a discovery of these “resistant” pioneers. Just a year later Miller’s Hotel was built and the fever was running because, after all, people now had a place to stay. Miller’s was on the corner of Fremont and Main. Today, renamed The Golden Gate Hotel, in deference to the earthquake that nearly destroyed San Francisco in 1906, it still sits on the corner of Fremont and Main and they still serve their signature “99-cent shrimp cocktail,” which is a gamble a lot. better than it was in those days.
Las Vegas was incorporated in 1911, gambling, drinking and prostitution were made illegal…but divorce wasn’t and in the 1920’s tourist ranches started popping up around Reno the rich and famous could take up residence for six weeks and “disengage” from whatever partner they may have had. This was the ad that began to put Nevada in the spotlight.
Another big draw came when gambling was legalized in the early 1930s. The government began work on Hoover Dan, bringing thousands of workers to the area. Just think of being stuck in the middle of the desert with nothing to do with your money, so bars and casinos have been thoughtfully provided.
In the early 1940s, what would become known as “The Strip” was a 3-mile stretch of Highway 91, on the new highway to and from California. El Rancho was the first casino to open in 1941 on what would later become known as “The Strip.” Its address was Highway 91, Las Vegas Nevada with its “Opera House” theater restaurant and “Monte Carlo” casino…and also in 1941, El Cortez opened in what is now downtown Las Vegas. The Cortez advertised that they were “big enough to serve you, small enough to love.” How’s that for an advertising slogan? They also touted a cafe, casino, cocktail lounge and bar, and full dinners from $2.95. Meanwhile, back on “The Strip,” New Frontier opened in 1942 and The Flamingo, Bugsy Siegel’s dream, opened in 1946. Las Vegas it was on his way.
The next major milestone for Nevada was the atomic bomb test, which brought scores of tourists to Las Vegas in the 1950s. They also discovered Las Vegas, along with the mushroom clouds. Vegas Vic, the neon cowboy on Fremont Street simply waved them inside.
The 1960s were the glamorous days in Vegas, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis and the Rat Pack ruled supreme. The days of cigarettes and martinis (not today’s glorified watered-down ones), but the real thing, where even a drop of vermouth might be too much! All dressed in beautiful clothes; it was the order of the day, no jeans, no shorts, just elegance and sophistication. Neither children! Sinning was in full swing, maybe not quite as it would become in the 1970s, but maybe more exciting than even today. The lounge lizards were in attendance too, nothing could beat sitting in the lounges after the last main show and watching Louis Prima, Keeley Smith or Sam Buterra. It was truly a special moment in Las Vegas history. Before mega hotels or resorts, before corporations. Great deals on food and rooms.
The 1970s marked the beginning of the “new era” of Las Vegas. Circus Circus opened in 1968, built a 15-story, 400-room hotel tower and 850-seat showroom that opened in 1972. The 1,500-room International Hotel opened in 1971, only to be sold to Hilton. It reopened in 1973 as the MGM Grand Hotel. The MGM Grand had a newly constructed 26-story tower that housed 2,084 rooms and with 2.5 million square feet and a 2,000-seat showroom it set the new standard in the definition of a mega-resort. Nothing was as exciting as arriving under the marquee with thousands of lights on. Corporate money had entered the picture. The ’70s also marked the beginning of Elvis’s days and his long-term performances.
In the 1980s, a new name burst onto the scene in the guise of Steve Wynn, ushering in a wave of luxury hotels and casinos the likes of which the world had never seen. The Mirage opened in 1989 and Steve Wynn’s name went down in history.
Baby Boomers with kids in tow in the 1990s thought it would be a lot of fun to take their kids to Las Vegas. Hotels responded and built “kid-friendly” attractions. Wet n Wild water slides, cartoon characters, huge swimming pools, and video arcades ushered in the “age of kids.” Hello, what was everyone thinking? If you’re pushing baby strollers, you sure aren’t gambling and it’s changed the atmosphere from exciting and different to the old hometown. The Bellagio Hotel (another Steve Wynn masterpiece) opened in 1998 (with the distinction of being the most expensive hotel, at the time) barring anyone under the age of 18 who weren’t registered hotel guests. The Stratosphere hotel (tallest building west of the Mississippi) opened in 1996. 1997 brought New York, New York with its roller coaster. Mandalay Bay opened in 1999 with 3,300 rooms. In 1999, phase one of the Venetian Resort-Hotel-Casino opened with 3,036 suites. And in 1999 he opened the Paris Las Vegas Casino.
Rod Stewart, Bette Middler and Tina Turner, Las Vegas “Boy Wonder” Wayne Newton and other notable stars ushered in the millennium.
With the long-awaited opening of Wynn Las Vegas, Steve Wynn scores again with a new level of opulence. This may not be the biggest hotel in town, but it’s the only one with a full-service Ferrari and Maserati dealership and its own museum. and art collection. Wynn also boasts a 100-foot mountain overlooking a 3-acre lake, what must Howard Hughes be thinking?
The turn of the century has brought Las Vegas back to its senses, once again sin is present, the main attraction is alive and well! Who knows what the next hundred years will bring?
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