Location: Center Strip
3555 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
What’s There Now: Flamingo Las Vegas
Closed: Still In Operation
The Flamingo opens on December 26
Hotel closes in early January to finish construction
Hotel reopens as The Fabulous Flamingo on March 1
Bugsy Siegel is gunned down in Los Angeles on June 20
$1 million remodeling
Hotel purchased by Kirk Kerkorian
28-story room tower and showroom added
Half interest of the hotel is sold to Barron Hilton
Hotel is renamed the Flamingo Hilton
New hotel tower is added
New hotel tower is added
Last of the original resort is torn down to make way for new construction
Hotel renamed The Flamingo Las Vegas
Margaritaville restaurant added
Hotel purchased by Harrah’s, later Caesars, Entertainment
There are two common myths surrounding the legendary Flamingo Las Vegas. No matter what you have heard it was not the first hotel on what would eventually become The Strip and it was not the brainchild of Bugsy Siegel. In reality it was Billy Wilkerson, the owner of the Hollywood Reporter and several Los Angeles nightclubs, who bought the land and started construction years after hotels like El Rancho and The Frontier were up and running.
Unfortunately Wilkerson ran out of money during construction and opened the door for Siegel and his mafia connections to take over. Siegel dumped cash into the resort at a stunning speed. By the time it opened on December 26, 1946 over $6 million had been sunk into the project. By way of comparison, El Rancho cost $425,000 to build only five years earlier.
Problems began almost immediately. The hotel was not complete when it opened and only the casino and some of the entertainment facilities were available while construction continued elsewhere. A second weekend “grand opening” on December 28th added some celebrity names to the attendee list but with no guests staying there the property hemorrhaged money. The Flamingo shut down after only two weeks in business.
Siegel scrambled to get the rest of the funds necessary to finish the property and reassure his nervous bosses that everything was under control.
The hotel had its third (and last) “opening” on March 1, 1947 with the name The Fabulous Flamingo. It had 105 rooms, a showroom, restaurants, and casino, and acres of lushly landscaped lawns around a center courtyard pool. Atop the three-story room buildings was a suite for Siegel that included a ladders to an escape tunnel under the hotel and steel lined walls to make it bullet proof.
Bugsy could’ve used that on June 20, 1947 when he was gunned down in Los Angeles. Even though the hotel was turning a profit by then, Siegel had burned too many bridges in his relentless zeal to get the Flamingo up and running. After his death, the hotel was taken over by several mob figures and front men designed to put a good face on the organization for law enforcement and regulatory types.
The Flamingo was a hit. It was much more upscale than El Rancho and The Frontier, with an atmosphere that was more akin to a resort than an overgrown motel and without the kitschy Western theme that both of its competitors sported.
Other hotels like The Sands followed suit not long after, pushing The Flamingo to make upgrades. A 1953 remodeling is believed to have cost $1 million.
The hotel was sold several times over the next few years to various groups of investors but it is widely believed that most of them were still connected in one way or another to the mob. The Flamingo was expanded and renovated numerous times as well and by 1958 the hotel had over 300 rooms.
In 1963 it got its “close-up” as the primary filming location for the Elvis Presley, Ann-Margaret movie “Viva Las Vegas.” Most of the exteriors were shot around the Flamingo pool.
Eventual MGM investor Kirk Kerkorian bought the property in 1967 and then immediately set about on a major renovation and expansion of the hotel. A 28-story room tower added 1,250 rooms and the casino and front entrance were expanded. A bigger showroom, still in use today, was added in 1968.
Kerkorian sold half of the Flamingo to Barron Hilton in 1970. the property officially became the Flamingo Hilton in 1971, a name it would carry for almost 30 years.
More rooms and major expansions happened in 1975 and again in 1990, driving the room inventory up over 3,000
The last of the original resort was torn down for new construction in 1993.
In 1994 the Hilton Grand Vacations towers were added at the back of the property.
In 1998, the Hilton corporation spun off its gambling focused properties including The Flamingo, Bally’s, and the Las Vegas Hilton under a new umbrella called Park Place Entertainment. They removed the Hilton part of the name in 1999 and the hotel went back to being The Flamingo (or Flamingo Las Vegas).
A major remodeling of the front of the hotel in 2003 revamped the facade and added a flagship Margaritaville restaurant and bar.
In 2011, the casino addition was added at the front of the property that carried the Margaritaville name.