The Stardust (1958-2007)
Location: North Strip
3000 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
What’s There Now: Resorts World Las Vegas (2018)
Developer Tony Conero dies
Construction stops while lawsuits are settled
Hotel finally opens in July 2
Hotel finally opens in July 2
Neighboring Royal Nevada Hotel is absorbed into the property
Nine-story tower added
Howard Hughes tries to buy the hotel but is denied because of anti-trust laws
Hotel is sold to an LA company
Hotel is sold again to Argent Corp, who was accused of skimming millions in casino profits
Hotel is bought by Sam Boyd
$300 million renovation adds a 32-story room tower and renovates the hotel
The Stardust is imploded
Throughout the history of Vegas there have been several major hotel projects that have had starts, stops, and bumps in the road toward them becoming reality but few were as drama filled as the twisted journey it took to get The Stardust opened.
The Atomic Age themed hotel was dreamt up by Tony Cornero, a colorful character who had run a string of barely legal and flat-out illegal operations in California including a bootlegging enterprise that ended with him in prison. He flirted with Vegas in 1931 shortly after gambling was legalized by opening The Green Meadows, a small casino/nightclub along Highway 91 (now The Strip) and it was a success – so much of a success that the mafia came calling and asking for a cut and when he turned them down they burned the club to the ground.
Cornero returned to LA where he launched two large casino ships, which were anchored off the coast in what he believed were international waters and therefore immune to the laws of the state that forbade gambling. California disagreed and sent the Coast Guard to shut them down but Cornero turned water hoses on the approaching officials and held them at bay for more than a week. He eventually gave up and the ships were closed.
He took his profits and went back to Vegas, taking over the Apache hotel in Downtown and renaming the casino on the ground level the SS Rex after one of his gambling ships. Citing his unsavory past, the state refused to give him a gambling license and he was forced to close the property (it went on to become Binion’s).
More bad luck followed when he moved back to LA and was shot four times by Mexican gangsters who were trying to stop him from horning in on the illegal gambling and booze trade south of the border. As soon as he recovered, he went back to Vegas and bought 40 acres of land and announced his intention to build the world’s largest hotel – The Stardust.
He filed with the SEC and began selling shares of stock in the project in order to finance the construction, which began in 1954. He ran into more trouble when the state once again refused to give him a gambling license and so he did what many other mafia figures did to get around the restrictions by turning control of the property over to a front man, Milton Page who had run the Boulder and Pioneer Clubs in Downtown Vegas.
Meanwhile, with money running out on the project that was estimated to be costing upwards of $7 million, Cornero when courting the very mob bosses that had a hand in burning down his first casino years earlier. Notorious organized crime figures Moe Dalitz and Meyer Lansky both invested but the cash either wasn’t enough or, more likely, was going into various pockets instead of into the construction of the resort.
On July 31, 1955, Cornero met with investors and told them that he would need nearly another million dollars to finish off the hotel. That night he was playing craps at the Desert Inn and he dropped dead of a massive heart attack.
There has been a longstanding belief that Cornero was poisoned by the mob who had gotten tired of the money pit that the Stardust was becoming, but this was never proved. The glass he had been drinking out of that night was washed before authorities could examine it and no autopsy was ever performed.
Regardless of how it happened, Cornero’s death threw the Stardust into a whirlpool of confusion, accusations, and lawsuits that lasted for nearly three years with all of the various people who had sunk money into the project trying to claim their stake. It was mostly settled when Dalitz stepped in and took over, installed several new front men who also ran The Desert Inn for Dalitz, and got the construction completed.
The Stardust opened on July 2, 1958 with over 1,000 rooms, making it the largest hotel in the world at the time. The casino, restaurants, and 700-seat showroom were located near the front along The Strip, behind a long astronomy themed facade featuring stars, planets, and more fashioned out of more than 7,100 feet of neon tubing and 11,000 light bulbs. The rooms were located in rows of two-story motel buildings that stretched out behind the casino and were offered at a mere $6 per day when the hotel first opened.
Entertainment came in the form of a massive pool, a drive-in movie theater, and a rodeo arena along with the topless revue Lido de Paris.
Despite struggling under massive debt and fighting against the 50s over-building boom that saw no fewer than ten major resorts open on The Strip, The Stardust had become Moe Dalitz’ baby and he pushed it forward in surprising ways. The neighboring Royal Nevada, which had opened in 1955 and closed in bankruptcy in 1957, was purchased and incorporated into the Stardust, adding more rooms and a convention facility in the space that had once been the Royal’s casino. The bones of that resort would remain a part of the Stardust until the day it was demolished.
The hotel was expanded in 1964 when a nine-story tower was added, bringing the total room inventory to just shy of 1,500. The front of the hotel and its iconic starburst signage was also redesigned and expanded. A 71-hole golf course was added in the 1960s as well.
By the mid-1960s, the United States government was on a push to try to get the mob out of Vegas and had been encouraging Howard Hughes to buy up properties in an effort to legitimize them. He came after The Stardust in 1966 but got denied because of antitrust laws – he already owned The Desert Inn, The Frontier, The Sands, and more.
The rodeo grounds were expanded in 1967 and the roadways around it were used for a Formula One Grand Prix event. Mario Andretti received a “Driver of the Year” trophy at the event.
The hotel was sold in 1969 to a Los Angeles based company that was also part owner of the Aladdin. It was affiliated with a St. Louis company that was widely believed to be yet another front for organized crime. Eventually by the mid-1970s it was owned by the Argent Corporation, the same company that owned the Hacienda and The Fremont and it got dragged into raids by federal agents alleging profit skimming. This became the basis for the movie Casino and led to the Nevada Gaming Commission leveling a $3 million fine against the property in 1984, the largest in history at the time.
The Stardust was purchased in 1985 by Sam Boyd, the Vegas hotelier who had owned or managed hotels like The Sahara and The Mint and was, by this time, owner of The California in Downtown Las Vegas and Sam’s Town on the east side of town.
Over the next few years, Boyd oversaw a $300 million renovation and expansion of the hotel that added a new hotel tower, a revised showroom, more restaurants and convention space, and a new facade that got rid of the last vestiges of the atomic era theme.
The resort faded in the 1990s and into the 2000s, becoming a budget property for gamblers who were lured by its low rates on rooms at the back of the property that dated all the way back to its opening in 1958.
The hotel closed on November 1, 2006 to make way for Boyd Gaming’s grand plan of a resort called Echelon – a $5 billion complex of more than 5,000 rooms, a huge casino, a mall, multiple showrooms, a couple of dozen restaurants, and more.
The main tower of the Stardust was imploded on March 13, 2007.
Construction on Echelon began later that year but when the economy took a dive in 2008, Boyd Gaming shut the project down and the steel and concrete skeletons of the partially built building stood there untouched for years.
The property was purchased in 2014 by Malaysia’s Genting Group, who are creating plans to build a multi-billion Resorts World Las Vegas on the land that will incorporate much of the original Echelon construction. Construction is supposed to start in late 2015 and be complete by late 2017 or early 2018.