The property at 3145 Las Vegas Boulevard South was the fifth resort ever to be built alongside a two-lane highway in Nevada. That highway would soon become known at the Las Vegas Strip. After that, which was April 24, 1950, the Desert Inn Hotel and Casino would go on to host performances by all the worlds’ celebrities, from Frank Sinatra to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and from Senator John F. Kennedy to Mafia boss Moe Dalitz.
The Desert Inn was where the billionaire Howard Hughes secluded himself from the world for four years. It was where the TV detective series, Vegas, was based. The famous Crystal Showroom was the venue where stars were born. The golf course hosted the PGA Tour Tournament of Champions for many years. The Desert Inn was one of the original and legendary casino resorts on the Las Vegas Strip, endowed with all the fable, controversy and scandal that personified the development of this area over the years.
Wilbur Clarke’s Desert Inn
The Desert Inn was the brainchild and lifelong project of Wilbur Clarke. He initially ran out of money while building the resort, and possibly gave the mafia a foothold in Las Vegas by borrowing the funds necessary to finish the building from them, Moe Dalitz to be exact. When they had completed it, the Desert Inn consisted of 300 rooms, a Sky Room restaurant, and a 2400 square foot casino area. In due course the 9-storey St. Andrews Tower, the 14-storey Augusta Tower, the 7-storey Wimbledon Tower and finally the Palms Tower were added. Interestingly, the fashion for fountains at the entrance to the hotel was started by the Desert Inn.
The initial image of the Desert Inn was that of a south-western spa. Described as half ranch house and half nightclub, the iconic logo of the cactus has been immortalised in countless movies and photographs. The logo portrays a saguaro cactus, which is a species found in Arizona actually and not Nevada. In the early days the Desert Inn gained quite a lead on its competitors with the clever branding of the resort as ‘Wilbur Clarke’s Desert Inn’, a name that resonated with the high rollers and celebrities of the time.
Casino Play the Key Revenue Earner
The casino at the Desert Inn started out as one of the largest in Nevada, and successive renovations to the resort included the addition of more and more upgraded slot machines. The casino was always very popular with high rollers. The Desert Inn set a record in 2000 when a 35 million dollar Megabucks jackpot record was won at the casino.
The End of an Iconic Hotel
The Desert Inn would go on to establish 50 years of Las Vegas legacy. The 50th Anniversary celebrations at the resort last a full week, including a celebrity golf tournament and the burying of a celebratory time capsule. Guests included the who’s who of Hollywood. Three days later the resort was purchased by Steve Wynn, who closed the resort four months later. The mega-resorts now occupying the strip had become impossible to compete with, and in order to make 3145 Las Vegas Boulevard South a profitable address again it would have to be demolished and rebuilt. Today, the Wynn stands where the Desert Inn once did.