Flamingo Las Vegas – History

A Hollywood Beginning

The Flamingo site occupies 40 acres (16 ha) originally owned by one of Las Vegas’ first settlers, Charles “Pops” Squires. Mr. Squires paid $8.75 an acre for the land. In 1944, Margaret Folsom bought the tract for $7,500 from Squires, and she then later sold it to Billy Wilkerson. Billy Wilkerson was the owner of the Hollywood Reporter as well as some very popular nightclubs in the Sunset Strip: Cafe Trocadero, Ciro’s and La Rue’s.

In 1945, Wilkerson purchased 33 acres (13 ha) on the west side of U.S. Route 91, about one mile (1.6 km) south of the Hotel Last Frontier in preparation for his vision. Wilkerson then hired George Vernon Russell to design a hotel that was more in the European style and something other than the “sawdust joints” on Fremont Street. He planned a hotel with luxurious rooms, a spa, health club, showroom, golf course, nightclub and an upscale restaurant. Due to high wartime materials costs, Wilkerson ran into financial problems almost at once, finding himself $400,000 short and hunting for new financing.

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Bugsy Siegel

[singlepic id=406 w=240 h=240 float=left]In late 1945, mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and his “partners” came to Las Vegas, after the fledgling resort city piqued Siegel’s interest due to its legalized gambling and its off-track betting. Siegel at the time held a large interest in Trans America Wire, a racing publication. Siegel began when he purchased The El Cortez on Fremont Street for $600,000 and later sold it for a $166,000 profit. At the same time, Siegel and his organized crime associates learned Wilkerson had run out of money on his project. They used the profits from the El Cortez sale to influence Wilkerson to accept new partners. Siegel and such partners as Moe Sedway, Gus Greenbaum and Meyer Lansky invested $1 million in the new property, allowing Wilkerson to keep a one-third ownership stake and operational control. Siegel took over the final phases of construction and convinced more of his underworld associates to invest in the project. The problem was, Siegel had no experience in construction or design, causing costs to mount from constant changes and gouging from construction firms and suppliers — including, it was reputed, workers who delivered by day, stole by night, and resold the next day. Siegel may actually have bought some of the same materials twice thanks to this kind of scheming.

Siegel lost patience with the rising costs, and his notorious outbursts unnerved his construction foreman. Reputedly, Siegel told him, “Don’t worry — we only kill each other.”

The Murder of Siegel

Siegel’s trouble with the Flamingo began, according to CrimeLibrary.com, when, a year after the official groundbreaking, the resort had produced no revenue and drained the resources of his mob investors. Then Meyer Lansky charged — at a major mob meeting in Cuba — that either Siegel or Hill was skimming from the resort’s building budget, a charge amplified when Hill was revealed to have taken $2.5 million and gone to Switzerland, where the skimmed money was believed going.

[singlepic id=405 w=320 h=240 float=left]”There was no doubt in Meyer’s mind,” Luciano recalled in his memoir, “that Bugsy had skimmed this dough from his building budget, and he was sure that Siegel was preparing to skip as well as skim, in case the roof was gonna fall in on him.” Luciano and the other mob leaders in Cuba asked Lansky what to do. Torn because of long ties to Siegel, whom he considered like a brother, Lansky nevertheless agreed that someone stealing from his friends had to go — at first. Lansky persuaded the others to wait for the Flamingo’s casino opening: if it was a success, Siegel could be persuaded in other ways to repay. Luciano persuaded the others to agree.

The splashy opening — stars present included Cuban band leader Xavier Cugat (whose band provided the music), George Jessel, George Raft, Rose Marie, and Jimmy Durante as entertainment, with guests including Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Cesar Romero, Joan Crawford, and others — was a flop. Lansky managed to persuade the mob chiefs to reprieve Siegel once more and allow the Flamingo more time. But by January 1947 Siegel had to order the resort closed until the hotel could be finished.

The Flamingo re-opened in March despite the hotel not being complete, and this time, the results proved different. By May, the resort reported a $250,000 profit, allowing Lansky to point out that Siegel was right about Las Vegas after all. But it wasn’t quite enough to save Siegel. On 20 June 1947, relaxing in the Hollywood bungalow he shared with Hill, who was away at the time, Siegel was shot to death.

A memorial plaque exists on the Flamingo site near the outdoor wedding chapel.

After Siegel’s death

Casino management changed the hotel name to The Fabulous Flamingo on March 1, 1947, and in time the Flamingo presented lavish shows and accommodations for its time, becoming well known for comfortable, air conditioned rooms, gardens, and swimming pools. Often credited for popularizing the “complete experience” as opposed to merely gambling, the Flamingo staff became known for wearing tuxedos on the job, and in 1950 the resort’s Champagne Tower opened.

Kirk Kerkorian acquired the property in 1967, making it part of Kerkorian’s International Leisure Company, but the Hilton Corporation bought the resort in 1972, renaming it the Flamingo Hilton in 1974. The last of the original Flamingo Hotel structure was torn down on December 14, 1993 and the hotel’s garden was built on the site.

The Flamingo’s four hotel towers were built (or expanded) in 1967, 1975, 1977, 1982, 1990, and 1995.

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In the 1998 spin off of Hilton’s gaming operations, ownership was changed to Park Place Entertainment which was renamed to Caesars Entertainment Inc in 2004.

In September 1999 the Flamingo Hilton and its sister properties in Laughlin and Reno ended their long standing relationship with Hilton Hotels. The Hilton name was removed and the property was renamed Flamingo Las Vegas.

To enhance the hotel’s Caribbean theme, a Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant was opened in 2004.

In 2005 Harrah’s Entertainment purchased Caesars Entertainment Inc and the property became part of Harrah’s Entertainment company, which changed its name to Caesars Entertainment Corp in 2010.

Toni Braxton replaced Gladys Knight as the Flamingo’s new headlining act on August 3, 2006. The show, Toni Braxton: Revealed, ran through April 7, 2008. Although scheduled to run until August 2008, the show closed early due to Braxton’s health problems.

On September 9, 2008, Donny and Marie Osmond began a six month run as the new headlining act at the Flamingo. On October 27, 2008, the Flamingo announced that Donny and Marie’s contract had been extended until October 2012.

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This article uses material from the Wikipedia article “Flamingo Las Vegas”, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.