ML - Vegas Magazine

2013 - Issue 5 - September

Vegas Magazine - Niche Media - There is a place beyond the crowds, beyond the ropes, where dreams are realized and success is celebrated. You are invited.

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Page 25 of 163

F ront Runners The Eagle Has Landed The Thunderbird made its splash the same year as McCarran Airport. A s the first seeds of the Las Vegas Strip were sprouting, its fourth property changed everything. Construction on the Thunderbird Hotel began in October 1947; its owners were Clifford Jones, Nevada's lieutenant governor at the time, and Marion Hicks, who had built El Cortez six years earlier. Named for the mythical bird of Native American legend—the "sacred bearer of happiness unlimited"—the Thunderbird opened its doors on September 2, 1948, with A-list headliner Nat King Cole. The craps tables were reportedly on fire that night, as Jones and Hicks' friendly rivals, casino owners Jake Katleman and Farmer Paige, gambled their way to a whopping $161,000—a number so unprecedented that Jones and Hicks didn't have that much money to pay out. To fix the potential disaster, Hicks, through a mutual friend, asked a favor of mobster Meyer Lansky, who agreed to pay the debt in exchange for a stake in the new hotel (Lansky already had ties to the Flamingo). The Thunderbird was so successful that its original 76 rooms weren't enough and 170 more were added. By 1953, the owners had built a 110room motel, the Algiers, to accommodate the overflow. The Thunderbird boasted many Strip firsts: Hicks, with El Cortez and Thunderbird, became the first local casino mogul; it was the first Vegas hotel with a porte cochere; the first with a bowling alley; and it hosted the first Broadway musical to visit the Strip, Flower Drum Song. After numerous renovations, expansions, name changes, and owners, the property was acquired by Ed Torres, who in 1982 renamed it for the first casino on Highway 91, El Rancho, which had burned down in 1960. Today the steel bones of the unfinished Fontainebleau occupy the space that once held the Strip's favorite hangout. V PHOTOGRAPHY COURTESY OF THE LAS VEGAS CONVENTION AND VISITORS AUTHORITY OWNED BY THE STRIP'S FIRST CASINO MOGUL AND HOST TO ITS FIRST BROADWAY MUSICAL, THE THUNDERBIRD HOTEL PAVED THE WAY FOR TODAY'S VEGAS MEGARESORTS. BY ANDREA CORRAL 24 VEGASMAGAZINE.COM 024_V_FOB_FR_Thunderbird_Sept13.indd 24 8/6/13 10:27 AM

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