Dunes (hotel and casino)
|Dunes Hotel and Casino|
The Dunes Hotel and Oasis Casino in 1983, seen from Flamingo Road
|Address||3600 Las Vegas Boulevard South|
|Opening date||May 23, 1955|
|Closing date||January 26, 1993|
|No. of rooms||1,300|
|Signature attractions||Dunes Golf Course|
|Owner||Masao Nangaku (1987–1992) |
Mirage Resorts (1992–1993) 
|Renovated in||1961 (tower)|
The Dunes Hotel was a hotel and casino on the Las Vegas Strip in Paradise, Nevada, that operated from May 23, 1955 to January 26, 1993. Designed by architect Maxwell Starkman, it was the tenth resort to open on the Strip. Bellagio now stands on the former grounds. The Dunes golf course is now occupied by parts of Park MGM, New York-New York, CityCenter, and Cosmopolitan, and T-Mobile Arena.
In the early 1950s, Al Gottesman, the retired owner of a movie theater chain who was living in Miami, received a request from two developers for a $58,000 loan that would be used to purchase desert property for a Las Vegas hotel. Gottesman agreed to provide funding in exchange for a small portion of the hotel's profits. Gottesman provided an additional $16,000 to hire an architect for the new project.
Gottesman later discovered that other partners, who were from Rhode Island and were led by Joe Sullivan, had also invested in the project. Sullivan's group had secretly included mobster Raymond Patriarca, a fact that was not discovered until years later. The initial developers later dropped out of the project, and the property was subsequently taken over by Gottesman and by Sullivan's group, both of whom had plans for a large gambling resort. An additional $1.5 million was raised, with Beverly Hills jewelry seller Bob Rice as an additional partner. A pension fund from the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which had connections to the mafia, helped to complete the new resort, which cost $3.5 million to build.
Opening and early years (1955-1960s)
The Dunes, themed after the Arabian Nights stories, opened on May 23, 1955. It was designed by architect Maxwell Starkman. The new resort included 200 hotel rooms, located in several two-story buildings. Also featured was a 90-foot V-shaped swimming pool and a 150-foot lagoon. The resort also featured the Arabian Room, which had the capabilities and size of a Broadway theatre. Hollywood star Vera-Ellen headlined on opening night. The resort was located on an 85-acre (34 ha) property, some of which remained vacant at the time of opening. The hotel's slogan was "The Miracle in the Desert". From the time of its opening, the Dunes was known for the 35 ft (11 m) tall fiberglass sultan statue that stood above its main entrance.
Gottesman and Sullivan were surprised by the amount of money lost on the hotel and on expensive headliner entertainment, while the resort suffered from poor revenue on its table games and only minimal success from the Arabian Room. Managers of the Sands Hotel and Casino leased the showroom and casino for a short time, but were unable to make it a success. By August 1955, Gottesman was prepared to sell the resort as he had become upset with the large amount of his own money that he had to spend to keep it operational. The casino was closed briefly for a lack of business.
The resort was purchased in 1956 by two businessmen, Major A. Riddle and Jake Gottlieb, who had dealings with the Chicago Outfit. Rice stayed with the property to work on its entertainment aspect with Riddle. On January 10, 1957, Riddle introduced Nevada's first topless show, called Minsky's Follies - the first of which was "Minsky Goes to Paris." Although the State Legislature was opposed to the show, it set a record for attendance in a single week at 16,000.
In 1958, the pension fund of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters loaned $4 million to Riddle and Gottlieb to help the resort. At one point, Jayne Mansfield performed in the resort's showroom for $35,000 a week. An 18-hole golf course was added in 1959. In April 1959, the Dunes celebrated what was the first double groundbreaking ceremony in Las Vegas, with construction beginning simultaneously on the resort's new Exhibitor & Convention Hall and a 500-space parking lot.
In 1961, a 24-story, 250-room hotel tower, known as Diamond of the Dunes, was added to the northern part of the property, bringing the total number of rooms to 450. At the top of the tower was the Top O' the Strip restaurant and lounge. The tower was the tallest building in the state at the time.
Operation and final years (1960s-1993)
Although it opened to much fanfare, it struggled from the start because it was at the then-southernmost part of the Strip. The hotel frequently had to borrow money, and even the Sands Hotel lent its executives to help out, as well as bringing in numerous famous celebrities and entertainers such as Frank Sinatra's surprise appearance dressed as a sultan. In the late 1960s, Morris Shenker bought an interest in the Dunes and became its Chairman of the Board. In 1970, there were unrealized rumors Howard Hughes would buy into the hotel.
During the 1970s, a restaurant with a dome-shaped roof, known as Dome of the Sea, operated on the property. From 1976 to 1978, Johnny Elvis Foster starred in his Elvis show, For The Love Of Elvis, at the Dunes' showroom. Shenker was Foster's godfather. Foster was the first Elvis impersonator before Elvis died.
In 1979, the South Tower was added, expanding the hotel to 1300 rooms.
In 1983, brothers Stuart and Clifford Perlman, founders of Caesars World, agreed to buy the Dunes for $185 million, and even took over operation of the property for several months, but the sale ultimately fell through. A second casino in a separate, round building on the site opened in 1983 under the name Oasis Casino at The Dunes. In 1985, the sultan statue was moved to the golf course during renovations, and later caught fire, reportedly due to an electrical short.
The Dunes, suffering from low revenue, filed for bankruptcy protection and reorganization under Chapter 11 on November 6, 1985. Later that year, Steve Wynn, chairman of the local Golden Nugget hotel-casino, offered $115 million to purchase the resort, although the offer was rejected. Businessman Donald Trump subsequently offered to purchase the resort for $100 million, although he was rejected as well. By July 1987, Hilton Hotels Corporation and Japanese investor Masao Nangaku both separately planned to purchase the resort. Nangaku purchased the Dunes that year for $155 million, although he could not make it financially successful.
Closing and demolition
On January 26, 1993, the Dunes closed its doors for good. A liquidation sale was conducted by National Content Liquidators to clear the property of its contents as a prelude to the building's demolition. Like many of the legendary properties of its era, it could no longer compete with the newer and more exciting megaresorts that were being built.
Steve Wynn bought the Dunes and started the redevelopment trend with the demolition of the 32-year-old North Tower. On October 27, 1993, the Dunes was demolished in a grand ceremony that involved major fireworks displays and the use of several "cannon blasts" from the English ship 'HMS Britannia' of Treasure Island Hotel and Casino. Over 200,000 people watched its demise. The Dunes sign itself was lit and read "No Vacancy" as if it were still open. Steve Wynn, along with Controlled Demolition, Inc. stood by and said "Captain of the Britannia, are you ready sir? Prepare broadside. Ready! Aim! Fire!" Cannon shots from the ship were simulated to coincide with explosions along the Dunes property. The neon sign was destroyed and a fireball fueled by 16,000 liters (4226 gallons) of aviation fuel engulfed the Diamond Tower shortly before explosives brought it down. Everything except the south tower was destroyed "amid a shower of fireworks never before equaled west of the Mississippi."
The 15-year-old South Tower was demolished 9 months later in July 1994, with no fanfare and minimal media attention. The demolition also held symbolic significance for the city. Many long-time residents knew the Dunes was controlled by the mafia, having been first built with money from it and the mob-controlled pension funds of the Teamsters and Pipefitters unions. The demolition signaled the end of significant mafia control and influence in Las Vegas.
For many years, the hotel was owned by Major Riddle from the "Chicago Outfit" and later sold in part to Morris Shenker, an "attorney associated with the St. Louis Mafia, Meyer Lansky, Jimmy Hoffa, and Frank Foster, owner of Athony Alarm". Riddle and Shenker later became a target of the Organized Crime Strike Force in St. Louis.
- The Dunes is shown across from the fictional Tangiers casino at the beginning of the movie Casino.
- The Dunes makes a cameo in the video game Fallout: New Vegas under the name of "Gomorrah".
- The hotel was used in the intro of Vega$.
- The Dunes sign can be seen in the movie Diamonds Are Forever as James Bond rides in the back of the diamond smuggler's van to the research center.
- The Dunes can be seen extensively in The Bionic Woman episode, "Fembots in Las Vegas".
- The Dunes sign can be seen and the hotel is featured in the Charlie's Angels episode "Angels in Vegas".
- The Dunes sign and Oasis Casino was shown near the end of the Season Four episode of Highlander: The Series entitled "The Immortal Cimoli" where the newly Immortal named Danny Cimoli was performing there and runs into an immortal named Vrej Ratavoussian.
- The Dunes was seen in the pilot episode of the 1980s hit TV series Knight Rider entitled Knight of the Phoenix and seen in the Season Two premiere episode entitled "Goliath".
- The Dunes sign can also be seen in the 1991 comedy Hot Shots!, when the pilot nicknamed "Wash Out" mistakes a runway and lands near the hotel.
- The Dunes sign was seen in the scene of the 1991 cult classic movie Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man in the hotel window they were staying at in Las Vegas. The movie took place in the then-future year 1996 where in real life the Dunes was torn down before that year.
- Las Vegas History - Dunes Hotel & Casino
- Burbank, Jeff (2014). "The Dunes". Lost Las Vegas. Pavilion Books. pp. 54–57. ISBN 978-1-90981-503-2.
- Dunes hotel tower architect Starkman dies, Las Vegas Sun, January 26, 2004
- The History of the Las Vegas Strip - Blog
- Classic Las Vegas: The Dunes Hotel History
- Morrison, Jane Ann (July 25, 1987). "Ruling delays foreclosure against Dunes". Reno Gazette-Journal. Retrieved February 13, 2018.
- "Dunes Hotels turned down Golden Nugget's offer". Los Angeles Times. December 3, 1985. Retrieved April 13, 2017.
- History of Las Vegas
- Las Vegas Casinos and Past Mob Ties
- Aladdin, A Casino With A Colorful Past, Rises Again
- Dunes Casino listing at 702dice.com
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