Caesars Palace opened on Aug.5th, 1966. It was a grand opening that was befitting a "modern emperor of Rome" wrote George Stamos. It was an extravagant beginning that would remain unsurpassed for over thirty years. According to records, 1,800 guests were invited including the top names in show business and the political arena. Over two tons of filet mignon were served along with 300 pounds of crabmeat, 30,000 fresh eggs, 50,000 glasses of champagne, the largest (for the time) Alaskan King Crab ever served and the largest order of Ukrainian caviar ever bought by a private organization.The tab was said to be in excess of $1 million dollars.
Opening in the luxurious Circus Maximus Showroom was crooner Andy Williams and Broadway star, Elaine Dunn of "Bye Bye, Birdie" fame. Dunn headlined a revue produced by veteran Bill Moore called "Rome Swings". According to writer George Stamos, it "was one of the most lavish (revues) in the city's history.".
In preparation for this opening, Sarno went looking for the cream of the crop employees to run his dream come true. Just as carefully as he selected the artwork and building materials, he selected the men and women who would deal with the day-to-day operations of his hotel.
Nathan Jacobson was a Baltimore insurance executive. Sarno hired him to be president of the hotel. Jacobson was known for his business acumen and knowledge. Sarno made his partner, Stanley Mallin, vice-president. U.S. General Harry Wald was also made a vice president. He had been associated with Sarno and Mallin in the Palo Alto Cabanas.
Wald told writer George Stamos, "When Caesars first opened some of the gaming fraternity didn't give us much of a chance, partly because of the unusualness of the aesthetics But we just opened the door and never looked back.".
Gloria Brown was a feisty young woman when Wald hired her as office manager. She quickly learned that trouble-shooting was part of her job description.
"It was absolute chaos back then. We worked out of the original construction shack, which has since been converted into our personnel office. At any given hour there wasn't a second when the phone was not ringing. There were at least 50 people waiting for appointments around the clock. It actually came to be fun after I got caught up in the excitement of it all." (Interview with writer, George Stamos).
Many of the employees that started with Caesars still attest to its feeling of family among the workers. The attitude may have looked relaxed but everything was done with an eye on giving the customer the ultimate experience while staying in the hotel.
The resort's Entertainment Director was Dave Victorson who was known for having a keen eye for talent and was known as a fair man among the entertainers clamoring to be associated with the next big hotel on the Strip.
In the lounge the madcap Ritz Brothers, Harry and Jimmy, opened Nero's Nook. The lounge sat 250 people, was terraced and shaped like an amphitheater complete with reflecting pool in front of the stage.
Harry Ritz recalled the excitement."You absolutely couldn't get in to see us during that opening week. It was the biggest opening event I have ever seen. We did everything on stage that you could think. We were originally signed for 28 weeks and stayed for over two years. At the time we were the highest paid lounge act ever. We received $12,500 per week, two suites at the hotel and other complimentary items.".
The Circus Maximus showroom was modeled after the Coliseum in Rome and the walls were originally painted blue to capture an evening mood. The elite of the entertainment business fought to play Caesars and its 800-seat showroom.
The hotel sat on 34 acres back then and included the 14 story tower and 700 rooms. The tower rooms housed some of the most lavish suites found on the Strip at that time. Some were two-stories with jacuzzi tubs and had floor to ceiling windows that offered a view of the famed boulevard.
There were 18 huge fountains in the center and to the sides of the 135-foot drive up to the front doors of the hotel. Imported Italian Cypress lined the drive up. The fountains sprayed over 350,000 gallons per minute at 10,000 gallons per second. There was more than $150,000 worth of statuary imported from Peter Bagganti of Florence, Italy. Brazilian rosewood and gold leafing were throughout the lobby and the reception area. The entry foyer had white marble panels surrounded by black mosaic tile. The casino, dubbed Caesars Forum, had the world's largest crystal ceiling fixture made of the finest German crystal.
The hotel's large rear pool was designed after the baths of ancient Pompeii.
The casino manager was Jerry Zarowitz whose liberal methods of giving credit would come back to haunt the hotel in times to come. His staff included Eugene "Babe" Koren, Jake Newman, Albert Faccinto, William "Red" Kilm and George Deverell. Casino Cage manager was John Dunn. Joe Styne, a noted Broadway composer, was brought in to produce musicals for the showroom.
But it was Nate Hart and his eye for culinary experience that gave the resort its highest compliments. Everyone raved about the high quality of the food and the lavish settings. Hart was, at one time in his career, a consultant to the Japanese government and had helped plan their exhibit at the New York World's Fair. He was brought on to assist Caesars in creating their unique food services.
As noted previously, there were only two restaurants: the Noshorium Coffee Shop and the Bacchanal Room.
The Bacchanal Room was indeed special and a room born of its time. Diners could relax in imperial splendor and be served grapes from the hands of goddesses. These goddesses brought wine served from shoulder carafes and would give male diners neck and shoulder massages if they were requested.
The convention facility which included 25,000 square feet of meeting and exhibition space was said to be booked two years out. That came about because of Charlie Monahan. Monahan had been hired by Caesars in February 1965 to sell the still-being-built hotel to conventions exhibitors and convention associations.
"I had worked in Atlantic City and in Miami at the Traymore Hotel before coming to Las Vegas. I remember telling Nate Jacobson that he couldn't afford me but he could, as it turned out. In the early days there was very little shade around Caesars. In fact, we were working out of a rented trailer. One day we were showing an association executive around the construction site and discovered it was his birthday. So we gave him a little champagne party and he eventually booked his convention with us.". (Interview with George Stamos).
The first convention to be held at the hotel was in September, a month after opening. The National Milk Producers held their regional convention there. Many of the executives booked the hotel in advance despite the fact that it was still under construction.
By the time the hotel opened, Monahan says that he and his staff had booked $42.2 million in convention dates.
Opening night in the Circus Maximus showroom is now the story of legends. The audience was filled with the elite of Hollywood's silver screen and television as well as many from the political limelight. The audience had been late getting seated due to all the dignitaries so dinner had been late being served.
Wine and spirits flowed very liberally as the showroom staff worked hard to get dinner served and the plates cleared away so that the show could begin.
By the time the desert plates were being taken away it was well after 9:00 pm and the audience had been there, some for over three hours. By the time Andy Williams took the stage few were feeling any pain.
Williams, to his credit, played to a slightly inebriated sold-out crowd and the audience response was so good that Williams headlined at the hotel for the next twelve years.
He would share the bill with a roster of eclectic stars including Wally Cox, Woody Allen, Broadway musicals, Carol Burnett and ultimately Frank Sinatra.
But that is getting ahead of the story.
Some of the $150,000 statuary
When in Rome
Original Porte Cochere
Special Thanks to Dennis McBride, Curator of History at the Nevada State Museum, Las Vegas
and As We Knew It (the brochure) for letting us these images.