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The Stardust Hotel History: The Early Years

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Having overcome so much, the Stardust finally opened at noon on July 2, 1958.  It offered the Lido de Paris spectacular in the Continental Theater showroom.  It had seating for 700 and the most advanced stage (to date), technologically, on the Strip.  It was said to be the most elaborate stage, second only to Radio City Music Hall.

There was the Chemin-de-Fer Room, Keno, the Ticker Tape Lounge, Casino Bar, the Palm Room Restaurant, Pool Pavilion Cafe, as well as Banquet Rooms and private dining rooms.  It is said that the Stardust introduced Keno to the Strip.

Local firms that worked on the hotel included YESCO, Nevada Electric Company, Southern Nevada Plumbing and Heating, Larkin Plumbing (still in business!), Wilgar Brothers Glass, Western Steel and the Stage Sound and Equipment Company. 

The Interiors were designed by Al Parvin and Company, by now old hands at casino interior design.

In the showroom, John Augustine was the Orchestra Leader. He had come from Los Angeles and the Earl Carrol Theater.  The stage manager was Bill De Angelis.  He was in charge of the rigging of the stage and he had worked at nite clubs all over the country.  His staff consisted of 20 stage hands and seven wardrobe women with Emily Warren as the Head Mistress.

The Stardust also boasted of having the largest private telephone switchboard in Nevada. 

The wonderful neon sign had taken 84 gallons of automobile paint to cover and had over 32,000 feet of wiring, 7,100 feet of neon tubing and 11,000 lamps. 

In the back of the property was a rodeo arena called Horseman's Park.  It consisted of bleachers, 300 stalls, corrals, a lighting system and a judging stand.  It was donated to Dixie College in St. George, Utah in 1972.

The Stardust also offered auto racing.  The Stardust Raceway was a short distance from the hotel, in today what is known as Spring Valley township.  It was a Grand Prix course, Indianapolis-type raceway where cars raced over the circuit.  Unfortunately, it was short lived as it was never a money maker.

Another off-property site was the Stardust Golf Course in the township of Paradise.  Today it is the National Golf Course with the homes around the course designed by the mid-century architecture firm of Palmer and Krisel.

The President of the resort was Jerry Rolston, a prominent Beverly Hills lawyer   There was a gaming school designed to teach casino employees the various aspects and rules of Nevada gaming.

The inaugural show of the Lido de Paris starred Jacqueline Du Bief and featured an ice show, a Neapolitan street scene, a Promenade of European Beauties and a fireworks display from the top of a replica of the Eiffel Tower.  Las Vegas show-goers had not seen anything like at it at the time.  Though the show was created by producers Pierre-Louis Guerin and Rene Fraday at the Lido Club in Paris, the man in charge of the staging and production of the show was the unquestioned master of the stage spectacular, Donn Arden.

Arden had been creating stage fantasies since he was 15.  He loved spectacle, drama and tragedy.  He first staged the sinking of the Titanic for the Lido as well as the San Francisco earthquake, the explosion of the Hindendburg, an explosion of Mt. Fuji and a dam bursting.  He was the first producer in town to take the nudity of Minsky's Burlesque and incorporate into a dramatic setting.  Up till then, Americans had been used to seeing nudity in burlesque and in the bump and grind joints that were scattered about the country.  But Donn Arden took nudity to a whole new level and art form by introducing it as part of a dramatic stage spectacle.  Critics noted that Americans finally seemed to be catching up with their French brethren. C'est Magnifique indeed.

He relied upon the Bluebell dancers and their matron and muse, Margaret Kelly who was known the world over as Madame Bluebell.  Like Arden, she came from Paris at the invitation of hotel management to help create the Lido de Paris for the resort.  She required her dancers to have extensive ballet training, they had to be 5'8 or taller and they had to be long-legged and beautiful.

"Finding girls who fulfill these pre-requisites is extremely difficult." she once said.  "Since non of the famous ballet companies hire tall girls, statuesque dancers do not usually continue their ballet training past their teens."  She had a school in London and one in Paris where European teen-aged girls flocked to in hopes of being selected to study under her critical eye.

The Unions were strict about the number of European performers and dancers who could be allowed to dance in a show. 

The costumes were all made in Paris and rented at a cost of $600,000 to avoid "the 40% duty that would be imposed if they were bought outright and shipped to Las Vegas."  George Stamos, 1979. 

The Starlight Lounge was soon the new "in" spot.  It sat 400 patrons and offered continuous entertainment from dusk to dawn.  Playing the stage in those early years were Esquivel (yes, seriously), the Kim Sisters, Don Cornell, Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys (in between arguments with Jack Entratter at the Sands) and probably the most famous, the Irish Show Band.  The most consistent crowd pleaser was Lelani Kele's Hawaiian Revue. 

In August 1958, John and Rella Factor requested the Federal Court to give them a break on payment of the Stardust's huge debt.  Under the court approved plan, the Factor's put over $4 million into the operation of the resort.  The Factor's were paying $75,000 a month in payments.  They wanted the courts to lower the payment to $25,000 a month for the next 12 months.  The hotel was still over $100,000 in debt due to Cornero's playing and loose with investors money.

A month later, it was formally announced that Moe Dalitz would take over the entire resort from all its present owners It was also announced that United Hotels Corporation was negotiating to lease the ill-fated Royal Nevada and use the space for convention facilities.  With the garden-style rooms from the Royal Nevada, it brought the room total for the Stardust up to 1,300 and two pools.

According to Wilbur Clark, more than 800,000 people saw the Lido de Paris that first year.  Other hotels were paying attention and soon they, too, had showroom spectaculars.  But for many years to come, the Lido outshone them all.   

The 1960s were on the horizon and the new owners had big plans.  A polynesian restaurant would become one of the most beloved watering holes in town and its large Tiki God would add to the architectural vernacular of the day.  The Lido showed no signs of diminishing appeal and the future looked bright.

The Stardust was ready to take its place among the successful resorts of the Strip. 

Special thanks to RoamingVegas for letting us use this image. 

 

UP NEXT:

MORE STARDUST HOTEL HISTORY:

1960S, LIDO DE PARIS, THE MOB AND MORE!!! 

 

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