Location: North Strip
3120 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
What’s There Now: Empty Lot
Club Pair O’Dice opens as a private club with illegal gambling and liquor sales
Club reopens on July 4 with now legal gambling
Property bought by Texas movie theater owner R.E. Griffith
Hotel Last Frontier opens on October 30
R.E. Griffith Dies
Last Frontier Village opens
Golden Slipper/Silver Slipper casino opens in Last Frontier Village
Property sold to a group of investors that owned the Golden Nugget
Hotel renamed New Frontier and major expansion starts
Little Church of the West moved to the south side of the property
Casino closes due to management issues; hotel remains open
Property sold to Warren Bayley, owner of the Hacienda
Casino reopens in 1959
Hotel purchased by Bankers Life insurance company
Hotel ownership transfers to an investment group that includes Steve Wynn
After allegations of mafia involvment, Howard Hughes buys the hotel for $14 million
Major new expansion opens and the hotel is renamed The Frontier
Howard Hughes dies; ownership transfers to Summa Corporation
Southern portion of the property is sold to interests who want to build the Fashion Show Mall; Little church of the West moved off the property
Beyond Belief starring Siegfried & Roy debuts
Hotel is purchased by Margaret Elardi
16-story Atruim Tower opens
550 hotel workers go on strike
Hotel purchased by Wichita businessman Phil Ruffin for $167 million
Ruffin settles the strike, ending the second longest labor dispute in US history after 6 1/2 years
Hotel is renamed The New Frontier
Hotel is sold to Elad Group for $1.2 billion
The New Frontier closes on July 16
The hotel is imploded on November 13
The Frontier was one of the longest continually operating hotel casinos on the Las Vegas Strip, lasting for over 60 years from its debut in 1941. But in a way, its history actually started more than a decade earlier.
Out in the middle of the desert along a desolate stretch of Highway 91, miles from the glittering lights of Fremont Street, a small private nightclub called Club Pair O’Dice first opened its doors in 1930. It had a restaurant, a stage for live bands, a dance floor, a bar, and a small casino with a few gaming tables. Those last two features are noteworthy because at the time both were illegal – the sale of alcohol was banned under prohibition and gambling had been illegal in Nevada for twenty years.
But by 1930, both activities were rampant throughout Las Vegas, usually barely concealed from law officials who knew it was happening and either didn’t care or were finding a way to profit from it themselves.
When gambling was legalized in Nevada in 1931, the club had a grand re-opening on July 4th as a public nightclub. Two years later, when prohibition ended, they brought alcohol sales out into the open.
The establishment had many names over the next decade including Club Ambassador and the 91 Club.
Texas businessman R.E. Griffith bought the land in 1941 after seeing the El Rancho, the new resort casino that had opened up the street that year. Griffith, who made a fortune owning and operating movie theaters throughout the Midwest and South, wanted to build a rival to El Rancho and did so by creating a near copy of it.
Both hotels had western themes, both had big pools that faced the highway (designed to lure weary travelers off the road), both had casinos, bars, lounges, a buffet, restaurants, and a showroom.
But Griffith’s hotel took the western theme even further by making the property look like an Old West town, with a rambling facade of buildings evoking a pioneer settlement. It even had a rodeo arena (that later became a race track) and partnerships with local dude ranches so the guests could go horseback riding. A western themed wedding chapel called The Little Church of the West was located on north side of the property.
The original building that housed Club 91 was incorporated into the new construction.
He named it Hotel Last Frontier. Its 105 rooms opened to the public on October 30, 1942.
Griffith died in 1943 and ownership of the hotel transferred to his nephew, William Moore who helped design the property. Moore brought in more investors and began expanding the property.
In 1947 the Last Frontier Village was added on the north side of the property. It featured a street scene partially made up of authentic pioneer era buildings that were moved on to the property, a steam train, Conestoga wagons, vintage autos, and a collection of artifacts in a museum. A children’s play area featured miniature train rides and a carousel while a playhouse featured daily shows.
It’s primary purpose at first was to create a tourist attraction with stores and the like but in 1950 they added gaming with the Golden Slipper Gambling Hall. That later became the Silver Slipper, famed for its giant rotating neon sign in the shape of a high-heel shoe.
Under the new ownership, the hotel was renamed the New Frontier in 1953 and a major renovation and expansion got underway. This was in response to the Desert Inn, which was doing gangbuster business right across the street since it opened three years earlier. They basically built an entirely new hotel just north of the existing one, in between it and the Frontier Village. It had a more modern take on the western theme, mixing frontier era cues with jet age styling. The construction was so extensive that in 1954 it required moving the Little Church of the West to the south side of the property.
The new section of the resort had new rooms, showrooms, restaurants, bars, and additional casino space.
Over the years, multiple people invested in the hotel and the ownership became a tangled web. This came to a head when a series of lawsuits between the presumed owners and investigations by the gaming officials eventually resulted in the casino portion of the property shutting down in late 1957. By the fall of 1958, desperate for a resolution, the various owners agreed to sell the property to a smaller group that was led by Warren Bayley, who owned the Hacienda hotel down the street.
The casino finally reopened in April of 1959.
One of The New Frontier’s “star moments” happened at the Little Church of the West when Elvis and Ann-Margret married there in 1963 for a scene in “Viva Las Vegas.”
The hotel changed hands two more times in 1965, first being sold to an insurance company Bankers Life. In 1967 it transferred to a new group of owners that included none other than Steve Wynn.
Under Wynn’s direction, the original part of the hotel was demolished and construction began on a new 650 room expansion. The newer New Frontier portion of the property remained.
Shortly after the group that included Wynn took over, allegations of mob influence were cast toward the other owners. Wynn denied knowledge that any of his partners had mafia ties. Eager to rid the city of organized crime, the federal government is believed to have convinced Howard Hughes – who often stayed at The Frontier when he visited Las Vegas – to buy the property. He dropped $14 million on the place in September of 1967 and promptly changed the name to simply The Frontier.
The new portion of the resort opened in 1968 and included what was billed as the largest pool deck in the world.
After Hughes’ death in 1976 the hotel was overseen by his company, The Summa Corporation.
The southern part of the land was sold in 1979 to a group of investors who wanted to build the Fashion Show Mall. The project threatened The Little Church of the West but it was rescued by the owner of the Hacienda who had it moved to the grounds of that hotel. Parenthetically, it was moved in 1996 when the Hacienda closed to its current location across the street from Mandalay Bay.
In 1981 a new show debuted called Beyond Belief. It featured the Las Vegas debut of a magic duo who called themselves Siegfried & Roy.
The hotel changed hands again in 1988 when it was purchased by Margaret Elardi, former co-owner of the Pioneer Club in Downtown Las Vegas, and one of the only women to have owned a Las Vegas casino.
Elardi went on a cost-cutting rampage, closing and tearing down the Frontier Village, shuttering the showroom and making Siegfried and Roy disappear, and removing any extra frills in an effort to go after the low-budget gambler. The only major addition that happened under her guidance was the addition of the 16-story Atrium tower, which debuted in 1989. The only reason that made it through is because it was already under construction when she bought the hotel.
Her biggest claim to infamy, however, was attempting to bust the unions that were firmly entrenched at the hotel. Elardi went on a campaign of slashing wages, reducing or eliminating benefits, and stripping pension plans. 550 workers from four different unions walked off the job in September 1991 and started what would wind up being the second longest strike in US history, lasting more than 6 1/2 years. The hotel and casino remained open and the picket lines and union information booths in front of the property became as an accepted part of the scenery as the neon signs that lined The Strip.
The only thing that ended the strike was another transfer of ownership when Wichita hotelier and businessman Phil Ruffin bought the property for $167 million. His first order of business was to settle the labor dispute and put all of the employees back to work.
His next step was to dump another $20 million into a renovation of the hotel, which had become a low-rent dump in the last decade under Elardi’s ownership. Rooms and the casino were renovated, new entertainment and restaurants – including a branch of the famed Gilley’s nightclub – were added, and the entire property was renamed for a fourth time, going back to its 1950s era moniker The New Frontier.
In 2000, Ruffin announced plans to close the hotel and build a San Francisco themed resort called City by the Bay. Money issues and a lawsuit from a competitor saying that Ruffin stole the idea conspired to keep the thing from every getting built.
Other redevelopment ideas were floated including a 2006 plan to build a new resort called Montreaux, based on the Switzerland city and home to the Montreaux jazz festival, and a partnership with Donald Trump, who was building a condominium hotel on the back of the Frontier property.
But instead of redoing the property himself, Ruffin wound up selling it in 2007 to and Israeli based company Elad Group for $1.2 billion. It is, to date, the most expensive land sale (in terms of dollars per acre) in Las Vegas history.
Elad planned to build a $5 billion version of New York’s famed Plaza hotel, another property they owned. The plan was to have more than 5,000 rooms in several towers, the biggest casino in Las Vegas, a huge mall, and more.
The New Frontier closed on July 16, 2007 and was imploded on November 13, 2007.
A ceremonial groundbreaking The Plaza was held in early 2008 but shortly afterward the global economy went into a tailspin and construction never started. After years of insisting they would still build the project when the economy improved Elad finally admitted in 2012 that it was dead and they were looking for buyers for the land.
In 2014, Australian billionaire James Packer bought the land for $280 million and planned to build a mega-resort on the property but that fell apart and the land was put up for sale. Steve Wynn of Wynn Las Vegas right across the street snapped up the property in late 2017 but has not detailed what he plans to do with it yet.