El Rancho (1941-1960)
El Rancho (1941-1960)
Location: North Strip
2500 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
What’s There Now: Empty Lot
El Rancho opens on April 3
Property is purchased by Wilbur Clark
Wilbur Clark sells the hotel to pay for development of The Desert Inn
Casino and the rest of the main buildings catch fire; burn to the ground
Last of the cottage style bungalows demolished, leaving a vacant lot that remains today
The beginning of The Strip begins with El Rancho, the first resort on what would become one of the most famous pieces of real estate in the world.
By the late 1930s Las Vegas was booming but the action was taking place along Glitter Gulch, Downtown’s Fremont Street. This is where Vegas got its start and where the bulk of the casinos, bars, and entertainment could be found.
Outside of the city limits (which ended at what is now Sahara Ave) was mostly desert and a lonely highway, US 91, which wound its way from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. There were a couple of small gambling parlors and nightclubs out there but for most part it was nothing but dirt and scrub brush.
That all changed in 1938 when Thomas Hull drove from his home in LA to Vegas and his car broke down just outside city limits. As he sat there in the hot Nevada sun, waiting for a tow, Hull looked out at the empty desert and envisioned a cool, blue pool that he could dive into.
The thing that made that moment important is because of who Hull was – a hotelier who built and managed major properties in California including the famed Hollywood Roosevelt. This was a man who could do more than just dream of a pool in the middle of the desert, he could build one.
His vision came true on April 3, 1941, when El Rancho opened. Built at a then princely sum of $425,000, the hotel had 63 rooms, a casino, what is believed to be the first all-you-can-eat buffet (cost: $1), a showroom, and a pool, of course, located right out along the highway.
The entire property had a western theme that included riding stables and the rooms done as cabins, each with their own kitchen, a porch, and a lawn.
The hotel was a hit, luring all types of people from the average Joe to celebrities. It expanded in 1942 bringing its room total to over 100.
Hull sold El Rancho in late 1942 and it bounced around between different owners until 1945 when it was purchased by Wilbur Clark, the man who would go on to create the famed Desert Inn. He sold El Rancho in 1946 to raise money for his new baby and the hotel entered years of flux with different owners, many of whom sued each other to gain control. It all ended up in the early 1950s with the property being awarded to Bendan Katleman, the nephew of one of the owners from the mid-40s. Interestingly despite all the wrangling, El Rancho is believed to be one of the few early Las Vegas properties to never have been under the control of the mafia.
Katleman remained in control all the way until June 17, 1960 when a fire broke out in the main building housing the casino, the restaurants, and the showroom. Within minutes the wood frame structure was fully engulfed and burned to the ground – a complete loss. The rooms, which as noted above were in separate bungalows, were not affected.
The cause of the fire was never fully determined although it is believed to have started in a dressing room. Rumors that the mafia, unhappy that they were shut out of El Rancho’s profits, started the blaze have mostly been discounted.
The bungalows operated as a motel without the main building for a period in the 1960s but eventually shut down and were either torn down or carted away to other locations. The last of the remaining structures was demolished in 1978, creating a vacant lot that remained vacant for decades.
The lot has been the subject of many grand plans throughout the years including ideas to build a Titanic themed resort and a massive CityCenter-like complex, but none have come to pass. Now the plan is to convert it to a Rock City branded festival ground for concerts and the like. It will be the host for the Rock in Rio US festival, slated for May of 2015.