Flamingo Las Vegas
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Flamingo Las Vegas at night featuring Toni Braxton, Jan. 2007
|Address||3555 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
|Opening date||December 26, 1946|
|Number of rooms||3,626|
|Total gaming space||77,000 sq ft (7,200 m2)|
|Permanent shows||Donny and Marie
|Signature attractions||Wildlife Habitat|
|Notable restaurants||Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville
Center Cut Steakhouse
|Owner||Flamingo Las Vegas Operating Company LLC (part of Caesars Entertainment)|
|Previous names||The Flamingo (1950-1952)
The Fabulous Flamingo (1952-1974)
Flamingo Hilton (1974-1999)
|Renovated in||2004, 2009|
The Flamingo Las Vegas is a hotel and casino located on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Las Vegas, Nevada and is owned and operated by Caesars Entertainment. The property offers a 77,000-square-foot (7,200 m2) casino along with 3,626 hotel rooms. The 15-acre (6.1 ha) site's architectural theme is reminiscent of the Art Deco and Streamline Moderne style of Miami and South Beach, with a garden courtyard housing a wildlife habitat featuring flamingos. It was the third resort to open on the Strip, and it is the oldest resort on the Strip still in operation today.
The Flamingo site occupies 40 acres (16 ha) originally owned by one of Las Vegas' first settlers, Charles "Pops" Squires. Squires paid $8.75 an acre for the land. In 1944, Margaret Folsom bought the tract for $7,500 from Squires, and she then later sold it to Billy Wilkerson. Wilkerson was the owner of the Hollywood Reporter as well as some very popular nightclubs in the Sunset Strip: Cafe Trocadero, Ciro's and La Rue's.
In 1945, Wilkerson purchased 33 acres (13 ha) on the east side of U.S. Route 91, about 1-mile (1.6 km) south of the Hotel Last Frontier in preparation for his vision. Wilkerson then hired George Vernon Russell to design a hotel that was more in the European style and something other than the "sawdust joints" on Fremont Street. He planned a hotel with luxurious rooms, a spa, health club, showroom, golf course, nightclub, an upscale restaurant and a French style casino. Due to high wartime materials costs, Wilkerson ran into financial problems almost at once, finding himself $400,000 short and hunting for new financing.
In late 1945, mobster Bugsy Siegel and his "partners" came to Las Vegas, after the fledgling resort city piqued Siegel's interest due to its legalized gambling and its off-track betting. Siegel at the time held a large interest in Trans America Wire, a racing publication.
Siegel began by purchasing the El Cortez on Fremont Street for $600,000. His expansion plans were hampered by unfriendly city officials aware of his criminal background, so Siegel began looking for a site outside the city limits. Hearing that Wilkerson was seeking extra funding, Siegel and his partners, posing as businessmen, approached him and bought a two-thirds stake in the project.
Siegel took over the final phases of construction and convinced more of his underworld associates to invest in the project. Siegel lost patience with the rising costs, and his notorious outbursts unnerved his construction foreman, Del Webb. Reportedly, Siegel told him, "Don't worry — we only kill each other."
The Flamingo Hotel & Casino
Siegel finally opened The Flamingo Hotel & Casino at a total cost of $6 million on December 26, 1946. Billed as "The West's Greatest Resort Hotel," the 105-room property and first luxury hotel on the Strip, was built 4 miles (6.4 km) from Downtown Las Vegas, with a large sign built in front of the construction site announcing it was a William R. Wilkerson project, with Del Webb Construction as the prime contractor and Richard R. Stadelman (who later made renovations to the El Rancho Vegas) the architect.
Lore has it that Siegel named the resort after his girlfriend Virginia Hill, who loved to gamble and whose nickname was "Flamingo," a nickname Siegel gave her due to her long, skinny legs. Organized crime king Lucky Luciano wrote in his memoir that Siegel once owned an interest in the Hialeah Park Race Track and viewed the flamingos who populated nearby as a good omen. In fact, the "Flamingo" name was given to the project at its inception by Wilkerson.
Siegel's trouble with the Flamingo began when, a year after the official groundbreaking, the resort had produced no revenue and drained the resources of his mob investors. Then Meyer Lansky charged — at a major mob meeting in Cuba — that either Siegel or Hill was skimming from the resort's building budget, a charge amplified when Hill was revealed to have taken $2.5 million and gone to Switzerland, where the skimmed money was believed to be going.
"There was no doubt in Meyer's mind," Luciano recalled in his memoir, "that Bugsy had skimmed this dough from his building budget, and he was sure that Siegel was preparing to skip as well as skim, in case the roof was gonna fall in on him." Luciano and the other mob leaders in Cuba asked Lansky what to do. Torn because of long ties to Siegel, whom he considered like a brother, Lansky nevertheless agreed that someone stealing from his friends had to go — at first. Lansky persuaded the others to wait for the Flamingo's casino opening: if it was a success, Siegel could be persuaded in other ways to repay. Luciano persuaded the others to agree.
The splashy opening — stars present included Spanish band leader Xavier Cugat (whose band provided the music), George Jessel, George Raft, Rose Marie, and Jimmy Durante as entertainment, with guests including Clark Gable, Lana Turner, Cesar Romero, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, and others — was a flop. Lansky managed to persuade the mob chiefs to reprieve Siegel once more and allow the Flamingo more time. But by January 1947 Siegel had to order the resort closed until the hotel could be finished.
The Flamingo re-opened in March despite the hotel not being complete, and this time, the results proved different. By May, the resort reported a $250,000 profit, allowing Lansky to point out that Siegel was right about Las Vegas after all. But it wasn't quite enough to save Siegel. On 20 June 1947, relaxing in the Beverly Hills house he shared with Hill, who was away at the time, Siegel was shot to death.
A memorial plaque exists on the Flamingo site near the outdoor wedding chapel.
Casino management changed the hotel name to The Fabulous Flamingo on March 1, 1947, and in time the Flamingo presented lavish shows and accommodations for its time, becoming well known for comfortable, air conditioned rooms, gardens, and swimming pools. Often credited for popularizing the "complete experience" as opposed to merely gambling, the Flamingo staff became known for wearing tuxedos on the job.
Among the many entertainers who performed at the Flamingo between 1947 and 1953 were Danny Thomas, Tony Martin, Marge and Gower Champion, Polly Bergen, Lena Horne, Alan King, Pearl Bailey and Spike Jones.
In 1953, the Flamingo spent $1 million in renovations and remodeling. The original entrance and signage was destroyed. A new entrance with an upswept roof was built and a pink, neon sign was designed by Bill Clark of Ad-Art, and a neon-bubbled "Champagne Tower" with pink flamingos rimming the top was installed in front of the hotel.
From 1955 to 1960, the Flamingo was operated by Albert Parvin of the Parvin-Dohrmann Company. In 1960, it was sold for $10.5 million to a group including Samuel Cohen, Morris Lansburgh, and Daniel Lifter, Miami residents with reputed ties to organized crime. Lansky served as middleman for the deal, receiving $200,000.
Kirk Kerkorian acquired the property in 1967, making it part of Kerkorian's International Leisure Company, but the Hilton Corporation bought the resort in 1972, renaming it the Flamingo Hilton in 1974. The last of the original Flamingo Hotel structure was torn down on December 14, 1993 and the hotel's garden was built on the site.
In 1998, Hilton's gaming properties, including the Flamingo, were spun off as Park Place Entertainment (later renamed to Caesars Entertainment). The deal included a two-year license to use the Hilton name. Park Place opted not to renew that agreement when it expired in late 2000, and the property was renamed Flamingo Las Vegas.
In 2005 Harrah's Entertainment purchased Caesars Entertainment Inc and the property became part of Harrah's Entertainment company, which changed its name to Caesars Entertainment Corporation in 2010.
On September 9, 2012, Port Adelaide Football Club AFL footballer John McCarthy died after falling 30 feet (9 m) from a rooftop of the hotel. The incident occurred at the start of a post-season holiday for McCarthy and other Port Adelaide players. They had arrived in Las Vegas only a few hours before the incident. After reviewing evidence, police said that McCarthy had attempted to jump off the roof onto a palm tree, but fell to the ground.
Facilities and attractions
The headline show at the Flamingo features brother-sister musical duo Donny and Marie Osmond. Their show premiered in September 2008, and was extended until October 2012. The show has now been extended through 2015. The Donny & Marie show is in the performance still using the "Old Showroom" format from the early days of Vegas featuring tables and booths. The show was rated The Best of Las Vegas and voted Best Performers of Las Vegas in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Singer Olivia Newton-John started a residency at the Flamingo in April 2014, which has now been extended through September 2015. She alternates showroom dates with Donny and Marie.
Other shows residing at the hotel are comedian Vinnie Favorito and X Burlesque.
The garden courtyard houses a wildlife habitat featuring Chilean flamingos, Ringed Teal ducks, and other birds. There are also koi fish and turtles. It was the home of penguins, but they have since been moved to the Dallas Zoo.
In popular culture
The 1964 film Viva Las Vegas and the 1960 version of Ocean's 11 were filmed at the hotel, as was a flashback sequence from the 2001 version of the latter film. In the original Ocean's 11 story, the Flamingo was one of the five Las Vegas casinos robbed by the characters played by Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and others.
The 1991 film Bugsy starring Warren Beatty depicted Bugsy Siegel's involvement in the construction of the Flamingo, though many of the details were altered for dramatic effect. For instance, in the film, Siegel originates the idea of the Flamingo, instead of buying ownership from Billy Wilkerson, and is killed after the first opening on December 26, 1946, rather than the second opening of the Flamingo in 1947.
Hunter S. Thompson and Oscar Zeta Acosta stayed at the Flamingo while attending a seminar by the National Conference of District Attorneys on Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs held at the Dunes Hotel across the street. Several of their experiences in their room are depicted in Thompson's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.
The original Flamingo hotel and casino figures prominently in the Tim Powers novel Last Call. In the novel, the famed myth of Siegel's creation of the Flamingo was utilized as a basis for the overall supernatural plot of the novel (rather than the true historic account of his acquiring it from the original founder). The Flamingo is supposedly founded on Siegel's mythical/mystical paranoia of being pursued and killed for his Archetypal position as the "King of the West," known mythologically as "Fisher King." Supposedly the Flamingo itself was meant to be a real-life personification of "The Tower" card amongst the Major Arcana of the Tarot deck, literally "the King's Castle in the Wasteland." In the book, it is believed Siegel kept in the Flamingo hotel's penthouse a deck of the fictional Lombardy Zeroth Tarot deck. Siegel's penthouse and office floor did, as referenced in the novel, in fact have a secret escape-hatch complete with ladder down to a service floor where supposedly a car was always in ready to effect his getaway in the event of his being attacked in his chambers. All other references to the Flamingo in any supernatural context in the novel are not based on any known or recorded facts/events.
On February 17, 2012, a slot machine game named Flamingo was added to the Sapphire Room of the Slotomania game on Facebook. This game is themed after the casino and mentions at the log-in screen that the Flamingo was the first casino "on the strip" (their capitalization). According to a post on the Flamingo's Facebook page, Slotomania is their own application.
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