For as long as Las Vegas has existed, it has had a long line of interesting personalities. Right smack in the desert, the city has prospered because of people who have seen promise in the area when many others lost faith in the Las Vegas Valley.
From entertainers to developers and laborers, Southern Nevada has attracted its share of characters. Some of those with tremendous foresight are the same people who might have looked like simpletons but possessed a talent that enabled them to see gold in an area many others avoided.
Indeed, some of the so-called bigshots came to town smoking cigars and driving Cadillacs and many of those people left town in the back of a Greyhound bus. However, many of those who arrived silently with a top hat and a lazy smile while wearing tennis shoes had the least to say and the most to gain.
Count the self-made Howard Robard Hughes, Jr. among those who journeyed to Southern Nevada without fanfare before making his mark. In today’s world of high-paid publicists touting promises and big results, Hughes’ life was largely private with results that became very public.
Illustrating the man’s incredible foresight, Hughes purchased 25,000 acres in northwest Las Vegas in what would become Summerlin that he named after his grandmother Jean Amelia Summerlin.
Hughes arrived in Las Vegas as a passenger on a Union Pacific train during the night of Nov. 27, 1966. He could not get a room in the hotel, so he took up residence on the top floor of the Desert Inn on the Las Vegas Strip and the last thing he needed or wanted was a grand entry complete with floodlights, fireworks and an onslaught of media.
A recluse, Hughes was not only interesting, but also eccentric. He started rolling the dice in a city known for turning many winners into losers in a very short time.
It often seems that the quietest investors in Las Vegas are the ones never seen. In fact, some successful leaders want no part of television cameras or radio interviews and the majority would just as soon let others get the attention.
Hughes was a celebrity, but he almost seemed to despise the idea. Formerly a movie producer and aviator, he had the money to do what he wanted in a city eager to take his last dime. Hughes’ fortune was derived from inherited money which was bolstered by his own major investments.
Besides, land was cheap in those days and Hughes had plenty of money to capitalize on an area long before Corporate America found its way into everything from casinos to homebuilding and the car business.
Hughes reportedly became friends with Del Webb, whose vast ownings included the New York Yankees and whose accomplishments included construction of several hotels including the Sahara Hotel Casino on the north end of the Las Vegas Strip. Webb, a soft-spoken legend, was highly respected and Hughes liked what Webb had accomplished.
A genius who was not happy with the availability of late night television programs, Hughes bought KLAS TV-8, which still sits on grounds east of the Las Vegas Strip between Convention Center Drive to the north and Desert Inn Road to the south.
In fact, Hughes had a 1,200 square-foot single story house that is still on the grounds of KLAS. He bought the station because he did not like what was on television in those days. Used for meet and greet gatherings over the years, some visitors and former employees of KLAS said the house is haunted.
A college dropout at Rice University before moving to Los Angeles to begin making films, Hughes certainly was not afraid to take chances. In fact, work in the movie industry resulted in his being nominated for an Academy Award. He spent an estimated $3.8 million for a flying film entitled Hell’s Angels in 1930 and evidence that he knew what he was doing was the fact that he earned an Academy Award with the films “Everybody’s Acting” and “Two Arabian Knights.”
Hughes quietly purchased the Desert Inn in 1967 and the eighth floor of the hotel casino became headquarters for Hughes’ empire. By the end of 1968, he also purchased the Castaways, Landmark Hotel and Casino, the Sands and the New Frontier hotel-casinos.
Hughes reportedly purchased the Silver Slipper because the hotel-casino marque kept him up at night while trying to sleep in his suite at the Desert Inn. The Slipper and its Western theme had become a popular spot in the Las Vegas Strip where it also hosted action-packed boxing matches each Wednesday night in the Silver Slipper Ballroom.
He also purchased picturesque Spring Mountain Ranch in the mountains west of Las Vegas.
Among the more interesting Hughes stories involved Gabbs, Nev. miner Melvin Dummar, who said he found Hughes lying on a dirt road about 150 miles north of Las Vegas on Dec. 29, 1967.
As Dummar tells the story, Hughes flew to the Cotton Tail Ranch brothel in a plane piloted by noted Las Vegan Bob Deiro. When Deiro asked about the whereabouts of Hughes, he was informed that his client left more than an hour earlier.
“I had just gotten out of the hospital in Gabbs after being in a motorcycle accident,” said the 71 year-old Dummar, who was driving to Cypress, Calif. to see his ex-wife. “To put it bluntly, I pulled off on this dirt road to take a leak and saw this body lying there.
“Hughes was about 100 yards off the highway. His face was bloody and I thought I had just found a dead body. I thought I might go back to Goldfield and get the sheriff. Then, I saw that he was starting to move, so I put him in my car and took him to Vegas.”
Dummar said the 62-year-old Hughes wanted no police involvement or a doctor, so Dummar dropped him in the back of Sands Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip.
“He asked me if I had any money,” Dummar said. “I took some change out and handed it to him.”
Hughes died in 1976. The court ruled the will invalid during a hearing in a Las Vegas courtroom. The Hughes attorneys argued that Hughes never left the Desert Inn and therefore could not have been lying on a dirt road north of Las Vegas when Dummar found him.
However, a pair of books written by St. George, Utah resident and celebrated former FBI agent Gary Magnesen show that Dummar’s claim was legitimate. The books “Stolen Justice” and “The Investigation” delve into Dummar’s story with facts not allowed in the trial, according to Dummar.
Magnesen’s books revealed details about the document known as “the Mormon Will.” Dummar said he should have received 1/16th of Hughes’ estate that would have amounted to about $150 million.
“The only thing I got out of it all was that I have been treated like a criminal for the past 40 years,” said Dummar, who now lives in Pahrump where he of owns Dummar’s Premium Food. “There were many others in the will, but I didn’t get anything. I have just been harassed.” +