Considering the history of Las Vegas, the creation of the Las Vegas Strip is especially fascinating. Long before the corporate types took over America’s version of The Great Adult Playground, there were wizards at work several decades ago who were true visionaries.
The line “Build it and they will come” may not have been specifically intended for the old-timers of the Las Vegas Strip, but it might as well have been placed on an old billboard at State Line south of Las Vegas.
For whatever reason – long before the discovery of mind-altering drugs – The Las Vegas Strip attracted money-types who actually thought purchasing barren land could result in a profit. While the one definite enticement was that there was water deep down in the soil – and gambling combined with water and land that many felt should have been given back to the Indians.
The Flamingo Hotel recently celebrated its 80th birthday and the creation of wise guy Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, the history of the resort is one of those old-time Las Vegas memories that will live on forever. Opened on Dec. 26, 1946, the Flamingo was the cat’s meow of the Strip as evidenced by the impressive automobiles that packed in the parking lot.
A Jewish mobster known as one of the most “infamous and feared gangsters of his day,” Siegel opened the joint at a total cost of $6 million although the opening was anything but smooth. Situated on 40 acres, the facility wasn’t complete and Siegel figured he’d finish the job by raising revenue at the grand opening illustrating the belief that the energetic Siegel had in the Strip.
Legendary singer and comedian Jimmy Durante spearheaded the entertainment that featured music by renowned band leader Xavier Cugat and Siegel’s Hollywood list of followers included folks like actors George Raft, George Sanders, Sonny Tufts and George Jessel.
Unfortunately for Siegel and his investors, the grand opening and the shortage of money to finish the job ran hand-in-hand. Many won good money gambling but considering that the Flamingo had not yet created the hotel rooms, the customers who won the money simply moved on to properties that had a place to stay.
Adding insult to the awful grand opening was the fact that the casino lost some $300,000 during the first week and the investors like Hollywood Reporter Billy Wilkerson certainly weren’t happy considering that Siegel’s partners ponied up an investment of $1 million.
Meanwhile, the Flamingo closed before reopening March 1, 1947 with the new name ‘The Fabulous Flamingo.”
Wilkerson ran out of money on the project he had hoped the project would turn into the Sunset Strip of the Las Vegas Strip. However, with World War II already in high-gear, the cost of materials increased dramatically and the hotel-casino that was intended to include luxurious rooms, a golf course nightclub and upscale restaurant was spinning out of control.
Siegel started looking for new investors before generating a profit of $166,000 by selling The El Cortez hotel on Fremont Street. He then took over the construction but was eventually forced out of the project before being killed apparently by members of organized crime June 20, 1947 in his Beverly Hills mansion.
Bugsy’s Cabaret at the Flamingo still represents the history of Siegel for what was nothing less than a tumultuous opening of a hotel-casino that remains one of Southern Nevada’s most colorful pieces of history.
The Flamingo is understandably a very busy hotel casino with a full slate of entertainment that includes a long list of talent ranging from the long—standing Legends in Concert to Donny and Marie to the legendary Olivia Newton-John, who has sold more than 100 million albums.
In fact, Las Vegas Review-Journal entertainment columnist Mike Weatherford refers to Newton-John as “the very definition of crowd-pleaser” in what is undoubtedly the ideal compliment.
Indeed, the Flamingo may have sputtered during its early days, but judging by the crowd on a Sunday afternoon, it’s rocking nowadays.
Now operated by Harrah’s Entertainment, the Flamingo Las Vegas has 3,626 rooms along with a 77,000 square-foot casino. +