What's There Now:
3000 Las Vegas Blvd S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
Royal Nevada opens on April 19, 1955
Hotel closes on January 1 due to money problems
Hotel reopens in March
Hotel closes again for good
Hotel is purchased by and absorbed into the footprint of the neighboring Stardust
Crown in Neon Boneyard
The Royal Nevada is one of the least known of the major resorts that was built on The Strip, which could be surprising considering the fact that it welcomed visitors for more than 50 years. The trouble was only four of it was as The Royal Nevada and the rest was as part of another hotel.
The idea for the Royal was born in the early 1950s, and like most of the other big resorts of that era was most likely driven by organized crime. A group of Miami and Chicago "businessmen" led by Frank Fishman put up the bulk of the money for the development of the hotel. Where they got the cash and what type of "business" they were in, was shady enough that Fishman was unable to get a gambling license to run the casino of the $5 million resort he was building.
Construction started in 1953 on a plot of land on the north end of The Strip. It's neighbors at the time were The Frontier, directly next door to the south, the Desert Inn across the street and a little to the south, and El Rancho and The Sahara a little ways to the north. The Riviera was under construction almost directly across the street as was The Dunes a little to the south and a race was on to see which would open first.
Just three months before the scheduled opening, in February of 1955, Frank Fishman and many of the other less-than-savory characters were dropped from the ownership ranks of the hotel. A bunch of new people stepped in, all still most likely involved in one way or another with the mob, but with clean enough hands that the state gaming commission granted the gambling license.
The Royal Nevada sits in the record books for a couple of interesting "firsts" in Las Vegas history. Co-owner Robert May Simon was the first woman to get a gaming license in the state of Nevada and architect Paul Revere Williams was the first African-American to have a hand in the design of a resort on the Las Vegas Strip. Interestingly, Simon would not be officially allowed to enter the hotel he designed due to segregation in the city, which didn't end until 1960.
Parenthetically, Williams also designed the La Concha Inn and its iconic clamshell lobby is now the welcome center for the Neon Museum in Downtown Las Vegas.
The hotel was dubbed the Showplace of Showtown, USA and focused on entertainment as its calling card with a major showroom and several nightclub style lounges. It had a desert theme with a neon enhanced "dancing waters" fountain in front and a massive crown sitting above the main entrance. There were more than 100 rooms in low-rise motel style units, several restaurants, and what was billed as the Strip's largest hotel gift shop.
There were four hotels that opened in the spring of 1955 and The Royal Nevada was the first, cutting its metaphorical ribbon and welcoming guests on April 19th. The very next day, on April 20th, the high-rise, more modern Riviera opened and stole the spotlight with a headlining stint by Liberace, who was at the time the highest paid entertainer in the world. The Dunes opened a month later on May 23rd and the Moulin Rouge opened a day after that on May 24th.
Keep in mind that this was after several years of major expansion in Las Vegas. In just the few years prior, major properties like The Sahara, The Sands, and The Desert Inn had all opened and the national economy was struggling to adjust to the downslide after a post-World War II boom. All of the four 1955 hotels struggled financially shortly after they opened and the Royal Nevada changed hands at least twice within the first six months of opening. Competing with the better funded and more high profile resorts elsewhere on The Strip, it was unable to draw the kind of big name entertainment it had hoped and that meant people didn't were drawn elsewhere.
The property closed on January 1, 1956 because the owners couldn't afford to pay the licensing fees necessary to keep it open into the new year. According to legend, the owners had various staff members show up on New Year's Day to cart all of the food to various charitable organizations so it wouldn't go to waste in the now closed kitchens.
The hotel reopened in March of 1956 and went through at least two more sets of owners before it finally closed again in 1958, the same year that The Stardust opened right next door. Infamous mob figures like Moe Dalitz ran the Stardust, which was, at the time, the largest casino and the largest hotel in Las Vegas.
At some point in 1959, the owners of The Stardust bought the shuttered Royal Nevada and annexed it into their property. The casino was turned into convention center space and the rooms and pool were incorporated into the main resort.
Although The Stardust was remodeled and redesigned many times over the next nearly five decades, the original bones of the Royal Nevada remained a part of it throughout. The original Royal Nevada rooms were rented out as bargain basement, no frills accommodations that were one of the very first that I ever stayed in when I visited Las Vegas in the 1980s.
The Stardust closed in 2006 and was imploded in 2007 to make way for the multi-billion Echelon project that never got built. As of this writing, the land will be redeveloped into the multi-billion Resorts World Las Vegas project, due to open in 2016.