Desert Inn (1950-2000)
Desert Inn (1950-2000)
Location: North Strip
3145 Las Vegas Blvd. S.
Las Vegas, NV 89109
What’s There Now: Wynn Las Vegas
Construction the Desert Inn begins
Construction is halted when money runs out
Infamous mobster Mo Dalitz invests in the property and construction starts up again
The Desert Inn opens on April 24
18-hole golf course is added
St. Andrews hotel tower opens and much of the hotel is remodeled
Wilbur Clark sells his interest in the hotel to Mo Dalitz
Wilbur Clark dies
Howard Hughes checks in
Howard Hughes buys the hotel in March
Howard Hughes dies
August room tower opens and the hotel is remodeled
“Vega$” TV show, some of which was filmed at the DI, premieres
Hotel is purchased by Kirk Kerkorian and renamed the MGM Desert Inn
Hotel is purchased by ITT Sheraton and renamed The Desert Inn
A $200 million renovation is completed, adding more rooms and completely revamping the look and feel of the property
Starwood Hotels buys ITT Sheraton; puts the DI up for sale
South African gaming company Sun International agrees to buy the Desert Inn
Cynthia Jay-Brennan wins $35 million slot machine jackpot at the Desert Inn in January
Sun drops its bid to buy the hotel
Hotel celebrates its 50th anniversary
Steve Wynn buys The Desert Inn for $275 million
The Desert Inn closes on August 28, 2000
The Desert Inn was one of the most fabled Las Vegas casino-hotels in the city’s history, acting as an epicenter of sorts for The Strip for decades.
It all started in 1945 when The Strip was not really The Strip at all. The only major resorts at that time were El Rancho and The Frontier and the rest of the sparsely populated street was taken up with some small nightclub casinos.
Wilbur Clark wanted to change that. An investor in El Rancho and Downtown’s Monte Carlo Club, he envisioned a series of resorts, one more opulent than the next, lining Las Vegas Boulevard. He decided to start his empire with a first-class hotel and casino where his Players Club gambling lounge was located across from The Frontier.
Clark sold his interest in El Rancho and the Monte Carlo Club to finance a new resort and construction began in 1946. It halted in 1947 when Clark ran out of money and the site remained derelict into 1948.
In stepped the mob. Mo Dalitz, one of the leaders of the Midwest based Cleveland Syndicate, lent Clark the money he needed to finish the property – some $3.6 million – giving him 74% interest but leaving Clark at least nominally in charge.
Dalitz would later go on to build The Stardust and is one of the key mafia figures credited with the creation of The Las Vegas Strip.
The Desert Inn opened during a lavish two day event on April 24 and 25, 1950. The final bill on the place was $6.5 million, much of which has been financed by organized crime.
The resort featured 300 rooms, a 2,400 square-foot casino (the biggest in Nevada at the time), a lushly landscaped courtyard with an Olympic sized swimming pool in the shape of the number 8, and a 3-story tower in front that was claimed as the tallest building in Las Vegas. A nightclub sat atop the tower providing the best views of the surrounding area at the time.
The Painted Desert Room was the hotel’s 450-seat restaurant and showroom and over the next decade it would become one of the premiere entertainment destinations in the city. Take a look at some of the souvenir menus posted in the gallery section on this page to get a taste for the talent that graced its stage.
Near the pool was a predecessor of the Bellagio Fountains. Known as the Desert Inn Dancing Waters, the twice nightly free show involved jets of water colored by lights and timed to various pieces of music.
The Desert Inn was an immediate hit, gaining favor with celebrities and the average tourist alike. It vaulted into the top position as the must-visit Las Vegas resort ahead of its competitors like The Frontier and The Flamingo.
In 1952 the hotel added an 18-hole golf course, the only one on the Las Vegas Strip at the time. It became a regular stop on the professional golf circuit.
Over the next decade, bits and pieces of the hotel changed but the first major expansion came in 1963 with the addition of the nine-story St. Andrews Tower. The project included a remodeling of much of the hotel with new decor, new landscaping, updated entertainment and dining venues, and more.
Wilbur Clark sold his stake in the hotel to Mo Dalitz and other “investors” in 1963. He died in 1965 and more than 1,000 people, including celebrities and politicians, attended his funeral.
One of the Desert Inn’s most famous guests checked in late in 1966. Famed aviator and wealthy businessman Howard Hughes moved in to one of the palatial suites atop the St. Andrews Tower. In December, after being there for more than a month, the hotel asked Hughes to vacate the suite for some high rollers that were scheduled to arrive. Hughes refused and instead bought the hotel. The deal was closed in March of 1967.
It was the first hotel that Hughes would buy, spurred (it was rumored) by federal crime fighting officials who were looking for a way to get the mafia out of Las Vegas. His Sin City assets would eventually include The Frontier, The Sands, and The Castaways among others.
Hughes died in 1976 but his corporation retained control of the hotel for years to come.
The next major renovation of the property happened in 1977 with the opening of the 500 room Augusta Tower and a remodeling of various areas of the property. The all-glass facade was cutting edge for the time.
The DI was made even more famous by the TV show “Vega$,” which used the hotel as its home location. Robert Urich, Tony Curtis, and guest stars were seen filming the show at the DI on a regular basis during the show’s run from 1978 to 1981.
Billionaire investor and MGM majority stakeholder Kirk Kerkorian bought the hotel in 1987 and changed the name to the MGM Desert Inn.
ITT Sheraton bought the hotel from Kerkorian in 1993 and the name went back to just The Desert Inn. The hotel became a sister to Caesars Palace, which was also owned by ITT Sheraton at the time.
A $200 million renovation and expansion was completed in December of 1997. It involved reducing the number of rooms in the existing towers and adding a third hotel tower, the Palm. The exterior was updated to a Palm Beach look and feel, all of the interior spaces were remodeled, and grounds were completely redone.
In 1998 Starwood Hotels bought ITT Sheraton and, by extension, the Desert Inn. Because the hotel was losing money they put it up for sale.
In 1999, South African gaming company Sun International, headed by Sol Kerzner, agreed to buy the property for $275 million.
A Monte Carlo hotel cocktail waitress Cynthia Jay-Brennan won $35 million on the Megabucks slot machine at the Desert Inn on January 23, 2000. It was, at the time, the largest single slot machine jackpot in history.
Sadly, only two months later, Jay was critically injured in a car accident. The vehicle being driven by her sister Lela was stopped at a light when it was rear-ended by a drunk driver. Lela was killed and Cynthia was paralyzed from the neck down. Las Vegas resident Clark Morse, who prosecutors say had a blood alcohol content of more than twice the legal limit at the time of the accident, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and other crimes and was sentenced to 28 years in prison.
In March of 2000, Sun International pulled out of the deal citing recession concerns.
Three days after the hotel celebrated its 50th Anniversary, in April of 2000, Steve Wynn bought the Desert Inn. Just a few months earlier he had completed the sale of his Bellagio, Mirage, and Treasure Island hotels to the MGM Grand company.
The hotel closed on August 28, 2000. It was torn down and imploded in stages during late 2000 and 2001 to make way for Wynn Las Vegas, which opened in 2005, and Encore Las Vegas, which debuted in 2008.