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Turning Back the Clock: Desert Inn

January 11, 2012 at 12:34 PM | by | Comments (7)

We love Las Vegas and part of that is loving Las Vegas’ history. So while we enjoy telling you what we love about Vegas and keeping you up-to-date on what's going on, we would like to take some time to look back at Vegas past. Today, we continue a monthly series on shuttered (but not forgotten) Las Vegas hotels and casinos. We hope you enjoy the stroll down memory lane.

The Desert Inn was the brainchild of Wilbur Clark in the 1950s. He was a partial owner of El Rancho Vegas and sold his interest in the resort to build his own. He bought the original 16 acres that the resort stood on in 1946 for a price of $75,000. He began construction immediately but quickly ran out of money. As banks weren’t inclined to loan money to casinos during that time period, the only loan he could get was from the Teamsters Pension Fund, with the assistance of the Cleveland Mob’s Moe Dalitz.

Moe Dalitz and his group secured $3.6 million for the resort and were given 74% ownership. Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn opened in April 1950 at a final cost of $6.5 million. In 1951, the Desert Inn broke ground on their golf course and, when it opened, the Desert Inn was the only Las Vegas resort to offer a full 18-hole course on the property.

In 1963, the Desert Inn began its first expansion with the opening of the nine-story St Andrews tower. It was built directly north of the main casino and the “Cloud and Cactus Sign” that had once topped the three-story Sky Room was lifted to top the new tower.

On August 27, 1965 at the age of 56, Wilbur Clark passed away after suffering a heart attack. In late 1966, Howard Hughes came to Las Vegas and rented out the entire ninth floor of the St Andrews tower for himself and his entourage. As the holidays approached, he was asked to leave as many high rollers were expecting to have the top-floor suites. Instead of leaving, he negotiated to buy the hotel and the purchase became official in April 1967.

In 1976, just before he died, Howard Hughes approved an expansion of the Desert Inn. As a result, the 14-story Augusta tower was built and the resort was completely re-skinned with glass.

Howard Hughes’s Summa Corporation sold the Desert Inn to Kirk Kerkorian, who renamed it the MGM Desert Inn. MGM would only own the property for seven years when it was sold again in to ITT-Sheraton in 1993. ITT-Sheraton thought about building a new resort on the land, going so far as to release renderings of a potential Planet Hollywood Hotel and Resort. These plans didn’t happen and the Desert Inn underwent a $200 million renovation in 1997, including the new Palm tower.

But the renovation could not save the property. It was still losing money and when Starwood Resorts purchased ITT-Sheraton, they immediately put the property up for sale. Sun International agreed to buy the property, but later backed out. That's when Steve Wynn bought the Desert Inn for $270 Million in 2000. Wynn originally promised to bring new life to the Desert Inn but later decided to close the resort to build a brand new hotel.

The Augusta tower was imploded on October 23, 2001 and the Palm and St Andrews towers were originally used as offices for Wynn Resorts as well as a place to display the Wynn Art Collection. The Palms and St Andrews towers were later imploded on November 16, 1994. The Palm tower was only seven years old.

Wynn and Encore now sit on the land where Desert Inn once stood. The Desert Inn’s legacy is readily apparent, however, as Wynn still has the 18-hole golf course on the property.

(Photos: Las Vegas Sun, classiclasvegas.squarespace.com, and Vintage Vegas, kocojim and Vintage Roadtrip on Flickr)

Comments (7)

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From Jenni W. on Facebook

"Miss the DI! Love looking through old Vegas pics!"

From Peggy W. on Facebook

"its like drivin through state line and not seein Nevada landing.....miss it also"

From Christene W. on Facebook

"Hotels in Vegas last just about as long as the career of a topless dancer."

From Nikki M. on Facebook

"Miss it terribly, it was glorious! If you look in my Facebook album titled "Dad and some interesting folks" you'll see my Dad with Evel Knievel at the Desert Inn golf course and a couple other cool pics! Wish that pesky Steve Wynn had never imploded it :( "

From Mickey N. on Facebook

"the only place where you would see blackjack tables with high limit chips like 100k and 20k right in front of you!!! very classy place not many of them slot machines."

From Julie M. on Facebook

"We spent our honeymoon there and a few anniversaries. We were by no means big gamblers but we were never treated any differently that the heavy gamblers. I met so many "famous" people there after their shows. I will always have fond memories of DI."

One thing missing from this story...

No mention of the time capsules buried on the property? ;)

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