Like many a visionary before him, Warren "Doc" Bayley dreamed big. As a travel writer, he had stayed in hotels and motels around the country and knew a thing or three about accommodations.
"I made up my mind that some day I would build a motel in which all the good points of the best hostelries throughout the country would be incorporated and the bad points would be eliminated." Bayley once said.
As Chairman of the Board of Standard Motels, Bayley had opened a string of Hacienda Hotels from Fresno to Indio, California. The hotels had been funded through a massive public ownership of stock.
In 1955, Bayley sent a prospectus to the stockholders of Standard Motels, Inc. outlining the plans for a new hotel to be built in Las Vegas. The new hotel would be owned by a Texas oil millionaire who headed a company called National Corporation. The hotel would be the furthest property out on the Strip and the first one motorists from Southern California would encounter as they entered the Strip. The hotel would be called the Lady Luck.
The prospectus explained that the Hacienda group would sub-lease the property for an initial payment of $660,000 and they would operate the food and bar services, run the hotel while a separate group would run the casino.
Unfortunately, this was at the same time that the Las Vegas Strip was struggling. Three hotels had opened, the Royal Nevada, the Riviera and the Dunes within months of one another. Life Magazine published a cover story wondering if Las Vegas was over built. Overnight, Hacienda stock plummeted.
The bad news continued. The National Corp. and its operating company, the Lady Luck, Inc., postponed the completion of the hotel. Bayley had originally hoped to open in December, 1955. That date was now pushed back to April, 1956. Before it could open, the Lady Luck, Inc. failed. Bayley's Hacienda Corp. took control of the ownership of the almost completed hotel and pressed ahead with plans to open.
When the Hacienda finally opened in June, 1956 it did not yet have a casino. The hotel had 266 rooms and 60 acres of land. It had cost $5 million.
Bayley knew that they needed to open the casino as quickly as possible. The Hacienda was located a mile south of the Flamingo and the newly opened Dunes. Without a casino, they wouldn't attract any gamblers. Bayley had wanted Jake Kozloff, who was a veteran gamer and former operator of the Hotel Last Frontier, to run the casino a the Hacienda. Unfortunately, the Nevada Tax Board (forerunner to the Nevada Gaming Control Board) denied Kozloff's application. Chairman Robbins Cahill cited evidence that Kozloff had ties to organized crime. Bayley fought for Kozloff.
In the meantime, the hotel opened and struggled to stay afloat. They managed to stay open mainly due to a junketeer, Henry Price. Price flew tourists into town to stay at the Showboat and the Thunderbird. But on the weekends, there were not enough rooms to accommodate those gamblers. Price approached Bayley about using the Hacienda for the overflow crowd. Bayley said yes.
But, the Hacienda still struggled. In September the dining room was closed and the bar was reduced to one shift. Bayley was still losing his fight with the Tax Board. Reluctantly, he removed Kozloff's name from the gaming license. He replaced it with Karl Meier who had worked with the Fremont's Ed Levinson. The license was almost immediately approved and the casino opened on October 12, 1956.
Back in those days as the holidays approached, tourism on the Strip declined and it was no different in 1956. Adding to the hotel's woes, Kozloff sued Bayley in court demanding a substantial payment for problems he had had with the Tax Board. Bayley managed to raise the money by exchanging casino chips for cash as an IOU at the Desert Inn. This saved the hotel from falling into receivership. Kozloff ultimately lost the suit and the money was returned to Bayley.
Bayley never gave up on his hotel and through this rough patch, his towering presence was always there. He persevered and pulled the hotel out of bad times by "sheer guts" according to those who were close to him.
According to Alan Hess, the Hacienda's showroom and restaurants were modest by Strip standards of the day. Bayley installed swimming pools and landscaping in between the front casino building and the low-rise garden-style rooms in the back.
The Hacienda was known among gamblers as "Hayseed Heaven" due mainly to its local ownership. The general manager was Jim Wilkinson who Bayley had brought from Fresno. Wilkinson had been in the hotel business since 1920. Richard Taylor was also brought in from Fresno to be the Resident Manager. Melba Moore was brought in from Bakersfield to be the Operations and Food Manager.
When Wilkson was promoted to the head office of the Hacienda chain and relocated to Inglewood, California, Bayley tapped Richard Taylor to take his place. Despite some internal controversy, Bayley prevailed and Taylor became the youngest hotel executive in the country.
Given its remote location compared to the other hotels, the Hacienda had to have a hook and that hook was family-oriented. With the exception of the Frontier Hotel and its Last Frontier Village, Las Vegas of the 1950s was known mainly as an adult playground and the other hotels had some facilities for those traveling with their families but mainly catered to couples traveling without their children.
The Hacienda went after the family market. To keep the children occupied while their parents gambled, Bayley added kid-friendly activities like the $17,000 quarter-midget racetrack. Two national races were held there before it became a go-kart track for kids. There was also a miniature golf course and a swimming pool.
In 1957, Henry Price went to work for the Hacienda. In an all-night jam session of throwing out ideas, Price hit on the idea of the "Hacienda Holiday". It was a package plan that offered guests deluxe room accommodations for $16 a night, complimentary food, a cheap bottle of California sparkling wine and $10 worth of chips upon their arrival. Bayley had service station attendants pass out pre-printed coupons to their patrons. He paid the attendants with vouchers redeemable only at the Hacienda.
Billboards along the highway from Victorville to Baker were rented promoting the idea and the phones started ringing. Another Price idea was to buy a DC-4. Bayley bought the plane, outfitted it with $95,000 worth of furnishings, including a piano bar. The only plane flying to have one.
The plane flew a nightly schedule out of the Burbank/Glendale airport and included entertainment, a strip tease artist and a fashion show. The DC-4 flights were so popular that Bayley soon owned a fleet of thirty planes, including several Constellations. There was a package promotion for New Yorkers, Chicagoans, as well as those from San Francisco that included six days, five nights, four meals plus membership in the hotel's golf club all for $188 (airfare included).
By 1962, Bayley was flying 150,000 people into Las Vegas to stay at the Hacienda Hotel.
Big-name entertainment wasn't a staple at the Hacienda. However, its Jewelbox Lounge offered some of the best music in town with Johnny Olin and the Rockin' Rockets (featuring saxophonist Jay Orlando), the Ink Spots and the Jerry Sun Show kept the lounge filled nightly.
Bayley bought a helicopter and hired pilot Bill Hall to take guests on tours of Hoover Dam, the Grand Canyon and nearby Mt. Charleston. The Hacienda was the first hotel to offer such tours. Charter bus tours brought Southern California patrons to the hotel to the hotel on weekends. The "Managers Champagne Party" and the "Civil War Brunch" were wildly popular.
There was a 18-hole, lighted golf course as well. Publicist Harvey Diederich and Las Vegas News Bureau photographer, Don English worked together quite often on publicizing the hotel. They asked a young showgirl to come out to the golf course in her baby doll pajamas. She agreed to the idea and they shot a picture of her on the course with a club in hand. "Miss Tee-Time" went out on the wire and around the world promoting the Hacienda Hotel.
But the most successful promotion the hotel did was the brainchild of Manager, Richard Taylor. Denied a permit to put up a billboard at the intersection where Bakersfield traffic merged with the Los Angeles highway near Barstow, Taylor noted that traffic was being re-routed out of Victorville due to to bridge construction. Cars had to come to a complete stop before making the turn to head to Las Vegas. Taylor hired a young boy to pass out flyers at the corner promoting the Hacienda. The idea took off and people began to come in to register with the flyer in hand. Bayley quickly replaced the young boy with attractive young girls. Over the course of two years, it was estimated that the flyers contributed to an extra 100 rooms a day being filled.
In 1957, attorney David Zenoff presented plans to the Clark County Planning Commission for an additional 344 rooms, the remodeling for a 30,000 square foot banquet room and a convention hall. The $3 million proposal was approved.
In 1958, the Hacienda made headlines again with its sponsorship of the world's endurance flight record. The current record was 50 days. With proceeds going to the Damon Runyan Cancer Fund, Bayley sponsored the flight with pilots Bob Timm and Chuck Kaskela. The pilots were shooting for 60 days aloft in their 172 Cessna. According to George Stamos and Richard Taylor, the pilots refueled twice daily and water, food and clothes were passed to them from moving ground vehicles at the gas stops. The endurance flight lasted from December 4, 1958 until February 7, 1959. The plane today hangs over the mezzanine at McCarran Airport as part of the Howard Cannon Aviation Museum.
Bayley took over the Frontier property and Richard Taylor was transferred for a time to that property.
In December 1964, the hotel suffered a major blow when Doc Bayley died suddenly. Bayley was reported to be at his desk at the Hacienda when he collapsed and died of a heart attack. This account stood as fact for another twenty plus years. It is however, a myth. According to Richard Taylor and others, Bailey was dining with a young lady at the Aku Aku Restaurant at the Stardust Hotel when he began to feel ill. He asked to be driven back to the Hacienda. En route he collapsed and was rushed to Sunrise Hospital where he was pronounced dead upon arrival.
The hotel staff was in shock as well as the rest of the community. Bayley's wife, Judy, took control of the hotel. She moved into the hotel and hired her hairdresser from Los Angeles, Joan Raishbrook, to be her personal assistant. Bayley's lawyer, Cal Magleby was her business partner. They fired Harvey Diederich and replaced him with Las Vegas Sun reporter, Frank Maggio.
Maggio recounted those dark days in the wake of Doc's death: "The Hacienda was deeply in debt. Doc had gambling markers up and down the Strip and had not taken care of business. Judy had never been in the business world but she had a mind of her own. She was a tall, redheaded Texan who pulled the hotel up by its bootstraps. She knew more about the worth and value of publicity than any one I have ever met." Interview with George Stamos, 1979.
Judy believed that she was the best asset that the Hacienda had and if she was publicized then the hotel was publicized. In the eight years she served as the Chairman of the Board, she was photographed 3,237 times by Maggio and almost all these photos, according to Maggio, were published. She became known as the "First Lady of Gambling", joining Mayme Stoecker as one of the rare women to run a hotel and a casino. Claudine Williams would join that rare list as well.
Hank Henry was hired by Judy Bayley and his inaugural celebrity show went until 5:00 the next morning reminding old-timers of the all-night parties at the Silver Slipper when Sinatra and pals would show up to see Henry.
Professional boxing matches were held every Tuesday in the Palomino Room. The other nights, the Breck Wall revue- Botttoms Up! occupied the space.
In 1967, Judy Bayley approached YESCO about designing a sign for the Hacienda. An accomplished horsewoman, Bayley wanted her prized horse, J.B., to be the model. Brian "Buzz" Leming got the job of designing the famed horse and rider signage for the hotel and the matching sign that was placed at McCarran Airport.
Another publicity maker for the hotel fit in with Judy Bayley's love of horses. "The Hacienda Trailrides" were seen by some as the social event of the year. The first trailride was held in December, 1968 to commerate Pearl Harbor. Proceeds went to benefit the local Veterans of Foreign Wars. Well-known locals such as attorney Mike Hines, State Parks Adminstator Eric Cronkhite and the Albright brothers all took part. The trailride began at the Valley of Fire State Park and ended in Overton.
Four Trailrides were held over the next four years leaving from Tule Springs (now Floyd Lamb State Park) and even from the Hacienda itself before they were discontinued in the wake of Bayley's death.
Like other resorts of its day, the Hacienda was a mini-city underneath it all. There was a full-service beauty salon, a golf course, restaurants, continuous entertainment, retail shops and a Boutique Booze Shop. For the kids there was miniature golf, ping-pong and the go-cart tract. Baby-sitting arrangements could be made and the hotel allowed pets as long as they were registered when their owners checked in.
The Manager's Champagne Party was held nightly from 5:00-6:00 pm and offered free Champagne. The Midget Race Track every Saturday and Sunday was open for all children between the ages of 5 and 15. Under strict supervision, it cost a quarter. The 19th Hole promotion invited guests to compete for the giant jackpot on the 19th hole, where a hole in one cold net you a cool 5,000.
In March 1970, the Hacienda had its March Mardi Gras promotion. For $5.00, guests received a deluxe air-conditioned room with free TV, $1.00 free play with chips, two gourmet brunches, green fee for the par-3 course and an invitation to the free Champagne party as well as miniature golf.
In December 1971, Judy Bayley died of cancer. Towards the end, she changed her will disinheriting her family and a few key employees. She left her estate to her attorney Magleby and her personal assistant, Raishbrook. The family contested the will but the court ruled it was legitimate.
The hotel was in bad financial straits and the two new owners sold it almost immediately. Allen Glick of the Argent Corp. bought the Hacienda. Glick and Argent owned the Stardust and the Fremont Hotel. By 1977, Glick was in trouble with the Feds for skimming and organized crime connections at the Stardust.
Show Producer Bob Moore brought in an ice show called "Fantasy on Ice" that turned out to be quite popular. That gave way to "Spice on Ice" which featured up and coming star, Susan Anton.
In a prescient move, in 1973, orchestra leader Paul Lowden was granted a 15% interest in the Hacienda.
In 1974, the familiar red and green neon facade of the hotel gave way to tan and brown as part of a $7 million renovation. Glick and Argent purchased 80 acres south of the resort as well for the expansion. The renovations included a new casino, restaurants, a remodeled showroom and a redesigned pool area. In addition, a $25 million, 11-story 300 room highrise tower was planned. Convention facilities, accommodating 5,000 people, would be built on the recently acquired 80 acres.
Probes by the Justice Department into the Argent Corp. forced the delay of the highrise tower. When the Feds and the Gaming Commission shut down the Stardust due to skimming, they forced Glick and the Argent Corp. to divest of its Las Vegas holdings.
Paul Lowden and his wife, Sue, bought the hotel for $21 million. They had just recently purchased the Sahara Hotel from Del Webb.
In 1980, the long-anticipated highrise tower finally opened. The Little Church of the West had been moved down to the property to keep it from being destroyed in one of the many renovations to the Frontier Hotel.
In the aftermath of the MGM Grand Hotel and the Hilton fires in 1980, the Hacienda, like other hotels in town, were force to upgrade their smoke detection system to include sprinklers in every room, public address speakers in each room and smoke detectors. The cost was said to be upwards of $250,000.
"Spice on Ice" gave way to "Fire on Ice" and Redd Foxx, known for his groundbreaking blue humor anchored the late show in the lounge. Foxx soon ran afoul of the IRS who alleged that Foxx owed almost $1 million in back taxes. His shows at the Hacienda helped him pay down that debt while keeping the audiences in stitches.
By 1991, the hotel had expanded again and now had 1,140 rooms. But the Las Vegas Strip was on the brink of a new era of mega-resorts that would transform the landscape of the famous by-way over the next ten years.
The Hacienda tried to keep up. They added a 21,000 Matador Arena where a televised monthly boxing match took place. They hired magician Lance Burton away from the Folies Bergere at the Tropicana.
In 1994, Burton received the Mantle of Magic award for his philanthropic work with young magicians.
In 1995, the Lowdens cashed in their chips and sold the Hacienda to Circus Circus enterprises for $80 million. The Luxor had been completed next door and the Hacienda looked almost tiny in size, a reminder of a by-gone era that was, too quickly, passing into history.
In 1996, Lance Burton left the Hacienda for the Monte Carlo where he still performs in his signature showroom.
On December 1, 1996 the Hacienda closed its doors. Circus Circus opened the hotel to charities such as Opportunity Village so that they could take items such as furniture and dinnerware to be auctioned off at a later date.
On December 4th, the Little Church of the West, one of the few remaining wedding chapels that recalled another, simpler time, was moved across the street to the east side of the Strip near Russell Road. The wedding chapel reopened on December 11, 1996.
On New Years Eve, 1996, the venerable Hacienda, who had survived so long and so much, was imploded amid a party atmosphere. The demolition was aired in a 90 minute live telecast covered by international media. But the Hacienda had the last laugh. She went down with a fight refusing to completely pancake into history. The next day a wrecking crew was brought in to finish the work.
The Horse and Rider sign that had been erected at McCarran Airport is now riding high over downtown where Las Vegas Blvd South intersects Fremont Street as part of the Neon Museum. YESCO paid for the restoration of the sign and sign designer Brian "Buzz" Leming loves to take visiting friends and family to see his work.
Mandalay Bay, a mega-resort for the 21 Century Las Vegas visitor now stands on the property where the Hacienda once was.
Lady Luck Las Vegas
The Hacienda 1956 with the Harvey Diederich family in foreground
Good luck telegram to Dick Taylor
Fly the Friendly Skies of Hacienda
Aerial of the Hacienda circa 1973
Refusing to go gently into history
Special thanks to RoadsidePictures, Eric Lynxwiler and Richard Taylor for letting us use these images
Miami comes to Vegas!