The Fabulous Flamingo Hotel History from the 1960s - 1980s

In 1960, the Parvin-Dohrman Company that owned the Flamingo, decided to it was time for a change.  They put the hotel up for sale.  It was bought by a syndicate of owners headed by Miami Beach hotelier Morris LandsburghLandsburgh reportedly was friends with Meyer Lansky. Lansky received a $200,000 finders fee for putting the deal together.
 
During the sale, five men held on to their minority interests in the resort.  The five men all had mid-western roots gaming roots.  They were Edward J. Barrick and his partner Sam Ziegmann, John "Jackie" Gaughan, Morris Baker and Chester Simms.  Their total interest was said to be valued at $306,250.  The Nevada Gaming Control Board allowed them to continue as licensees.
 
In April 1961, the Flamingo opened its new Convention Hall.  The opening was a charity benefit for the March of DimesSteve Allen was the Master of Ceremonies and his wife, Jayne Meadows, kept the evening lively.
 
In May, the Musicians Union held a Jazz Festival at the resort.  Some of the greatest names in Jazz performed, including Lionel Hampton, Charlie Teagarden, Vido Musso with Phil Harris as the Master of Ceremony.
 
Landsburgh had pioneered the idea of "Cavalcade of Stars" in Miami, It brought top name entertainment to his hotels in Miami and had increased room occupancy as well.  While it was expensive, he thought the idea would work well in Las Vegas.
 
The Flamingo was gaining a reputation as place to hear good jazz.  Sarah Vaughan, Lionel Hampton, Della Reese and Harry James were routinely playing the lounge.  
 
In 1962. the hotel advertised that 600 hotel rooms now had suites featuring  French Provincial, Gay 90s, Japanese Modern or an  Old West motif.  Most hotels would have just stuck with one motif.  But not the Fabulous Flamingo.  It makes your head swim just trying to imagine what those different rooms looked like.
 
KRAM-Radio had recently gone on the air and broadcast a late night program called "Night People" six nights a week from the grounds of the Flamingo.
 
The upgrade of rooms must have been successful because in October, 1962, Landsburgh presided over the ground breaking ceremonies for an additional 200 rooms.  We only hope they stuck with one motif.
 
The late Robert Goulet, fresh from his run on Broadway as Sir Lancelot in "Camelot" made his Las Vegas debut at the Flamingo in January, 1963.
 
That summer the hotel was featured in a new Elvis Presley movie filming in town "Viva Las Vegas".  The exterior shots of the hotel now provide a time capsule of sorts when viewing the film.  "Viva Las Vegas"  filmed not only at the Flamingo but the Convention Center Rotunda as well as Downtown on Fremont Street. 
Fats Domino joined the line-up at the Driftwood Lounge.  He was soon packing crowds in.  Elvis Presley was spotted many times by locals enjoying the show.
 
Live Albums recorded at Strip resorts were becoming best sellers.  Bobby Darin recorded "The Curtain Falls- Live at the Flamingo".  Bill Cosby recorded "Why is there Air" as well.   Tom Jones had a best selling album recorded at the Flamingo, "Tom Jones Live in Las Vegas".  The orchestra was conducted by Johnnie Spence.
 
In the mid-1960s, the Flamingo came under investigation by the Nevada Gaming Control Board over the licensing of foreign investors.  Ukio Kubota, president of the then Fujiya Nevada Corporation applied for the purchase of the hotel through the issuing of $3 million worth of common stock.  Kenjo Osano was the Japanese industrialist behind the money.  The rule at that time was that a licensee had to be an American citizen.  Rumors were rampant that Landsburgh and the majority stockholders were looking to sell the hotel because the Federal Government was investigating his New York gambling charters and rumors of skimming at the Flamingo as well as involvement by Meyer Lansky
 
In 1967, the Sheraton Company announced they would lease the property once the sale was approved.  However, in March of that year, the sale was canceled due to the failure of the new investors to get approval for licensing.
 
Kirk Kerkorian, who had been part of the Post-War Las Vegas tourist trade with his chartered high-stakes gaming flights as well as commercial aviation.  In 1945, he bought a Cessna single engine plane for $5000.   He used the plane to train pilots and ferry high rollers to and from Las Vegas for high-stakes gaming.  Two years later he bought Trans International Air Service that consisted of three planes.   In 1959, he changed the name to Trans International Airlines and became involved in passenger service on a whole new level. In 1962, he added a DC-8 jet and became the first to provide non-scheduled passenger jet service. 
 
Along the way, Kerkorian also made investments and bought land in Las Vegas as hotel-casinos were developing there in the 1950s and 1960s. His first investment was modest—$50,000 for a share of the Dunes Hotel in 1955. He lost his investment and resolved never again to invest in someone else’s casino operation. In 1962, he bought eighty acres along the south Strip for $960,000!
 
Starting in the mid-1960s, Kerkorian rented his Strip land for $4 million to Jay Sarno for what would become Caesars Palace.  He got half of his 1967 investments back in 1968 when he sold his Strip land to Sarno for $5 million. 
 
In 1967, he surprised everyone by placing a bid for the Flamingo Hotel.  His bid of $13 million for the hotel was quickly approved.  In addition, he spent $5 million to acquire sixty-five acres on Paradise Road, about a half-mile east of the Strip, for what would become the International.
 
But before the International, Kerkorian wanted to use the Flamingo as his training hotel to work out the problems with running a large resort hotel.  He budgeted $2.5 million for renovation.  The renovations included the destruction of the famed neon champagne tower.  There are still those in Las Vegas who miss that tower and its effervescent neon bubbles glowing skyward in the night.  Kerkorian added a 300 seat theater with a new state of the art sound system.  He expanded the casino and hired architect, Martin Stern, JrStern added a two-story porte cochere.  A glass enclosed restaurant on the upper floor overlooked the Strip.  The Flamingo became the first hotel that slowly advanced its property line to the sidewalk pioneering the destruction of the Strip as an automobile driven by-way and heralding the forthcoming of walking the Strip.
 
The Las Vegas Strip was filled with top of the line entertainment back then.  "You didn't come to Vegas to break in your act" says Bob Anderson, "You came to Vegas to perform your act.".  The marquees were filled with some of the greatest names in entertainment history.  To get an idea of the cost of a show, consider this:  The 1967 New Years Eve dinner show at the Flamingo cost $30 per person.  This was considered a high dollar amount back then.  Wayne and Jerry Newton were the headliners with Jackie Kahan as the opening act.  Dinner was served at 9:00 and the show would start at 10:30.  The $30 included dinner, the show, an attractive gift for each female guest and a champagne breakfast in the hotel's McCarren Room.  Today that ticket would cost much, much more.
 
In 1968, Kerkorian remodeled the famed Driftwood Lounge and it became the Flamingo Show Lounge.  It was said to be largest lounge in Las Vegas
 
They also commissioned a new sign for the front of the hotel.  The sign was a combination of neon and incandescent light.  It was controlled by a state of the art computer, the first one to do so.  It looked like "a flamingo's feathers fluttering in the breeze'.  It was reported to cost $500,000.   It was placed almost to the sidewalk and at night filled the sky with pink and white neon.
 
In 1969, though they no longer owned the hotel, Landsburgh, Lansky and several others were brought up on skimming charges by the Feds.  They were accused of skimming over $36,000,000 from the hotel between 1960 and 1967.
 
By 1970, Kerkorian had decided his staff was ready to open their hotel.  He signed an agreement with Baron Hilton for both his properties, the Flamingo and the InternationalBaron Hilton had long been a hotelier but this was his family's first venture into owning hotels, Las Vegas style.  Rumors of the sale pegged the price at anywhere from $15 million to $37 million cashKerkorian remained the International's biggest stock holder but he was already dreaming bigger and grander dreams of his next hotel.  Kerkorian was said to have large debt obligations due to the loans he obtained in 1968 and 1969 to gain control of Western Airlines and MGM Studios.  He received $5.5 million from the dividends of International Leisure stock which he used to lower his debt.
 
In 1971 the hotel officially became the Flamingo Hilton. Later that year the Sky Room became the Speakeasy.  Publicist Jim Seagrave (now with Boyd Entertainment) remembers sending out invitations for  the grand opening of the Speakeasy.  Playing on former owner Siegel's "affiliations", the invitations invited VIPs to the opening courtesy of "Big Nick".
 
Speaking of Siegel, his safe was discovered in the old Oregon Suite and it was decided that it should be opened and emptied.  Much like Geraldo Rivera's stunt with Al Capone's safe, much was made in the media about the opening of Siegel's safe.  And like Capone's safe, there was nothing to report when it was finally opened.
 
In 1973, local judge Roger Foley ruled that Meyer Lansky be tried separately on skimming charges.  Landsburgh had pled guilty to on two counts of skimming.  The other defendants in the case had all opted to stand trial.  Lanksy was the only defendant who failed to appear in court.  Foley ordered him to stand trial separately. 
 
In 1974, a terrific thunderstorm hit the Las Vegas Valley.  In a short amount of time a record rainfall turned into a flash flood warning.  At that time, Caesars Palace sat in the old Flamingo Wash.  There were no storm drain provisions or safety measures.  The southwest area was primarily desert without much in the way developement.  The torrent of water came rushing down the Flamingo Wash.  It roared through the parking lot at Caesars.  Public announcements were made for guests to move their cars immediately.  Most of the annoucements went unheeded.  The wall of water continued through the Caesars parking lot pushing cars into the low pony wall or over turning them all together.  The water jumped the curb and continued across Las Vegas Blvd where it rushed into the casino of the Flamingo Hotel.  Patrons were seen standing in ankle deep water continuing to gamble.
 
In 1975, the Hilton Corporation remodeled the Flamingo.  They added a new tower, built a new porte cochere, this one pushing right out to the sidewalk.  They added a new neon sign designed by Raul Rodriquez.  It was three-dimensional flower of pink neon waving in the breeze.  It made the statement that the Flamingo was leaving its roots behind and moving towards the future.  The sign, manufactured by Heath and Company, was a break from the simpler Marquee signs of the day. 
 
By the end of the 1970s, the Flamingo Hilton boasted 2,250 rooms.  It still had its lush gardens and its swanky swimming pool now boasted a towering water fountain and a 12 seat jacuzzi. The last remenants of the Siegel era, the Oregon Suite still rimmed the back of the pool area. 
 
However, in 1993, feeling the need to stay competitive in the new Vegas Strip, the Hilton Corporation tore down the Oregon Suite and the remaining 489 "Garden Rooms"-the old fashioned motel style rooms that had been a fixture of the original hotel. 
 
A year later, the Hilton Corporation constructed two 612 room towers costing $104 million.  The tower contained 201 time share suites.  The Hilton Grand Vacations became the first time shares built on a major resort property.  As of 2002, the Flamingo occupied 27 acres featuring 3,518 rooms, 77,000 square feet of casino space, ten restaurants and 66,000 square feet of convention space, an 800 seat showroom, spa, health club and wedding chapel.
 
A plaque was installed in the gardens memorializing Benjamin Siegel and his accomplishments.  There is no plaque for Billy Wilkerson.
 
The Fabulous Flamingo is now owned by Harrah's
 
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Brochure from the early 1960s 
 
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Ad for the Fabulous Flamingo 
 
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The Fabulous Flamingo circa the early 1970s 
 
 
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 The Fabulous Flamingo in the 1960s
 
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The iconic Champagne Tower and signage 
 
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Kirk Kerkorian sealing the deal 
 
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The Flash Flood of 1974 
 
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The Fabulous Flamingo Brochure circa 1980s 
 
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 The Fabulous Flamingo circa the 1980s
 
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The famed pool and Siegel's Oregon Suite 
 
 
Special thanks to Roadsidepictures , Eric Lynxwiler, UNLV Special Collections and Myrna Kingham for the images.
 
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