WORLD-FAMOUS STRIP STARTS
The success of the El Rancho Vegas triggered a small building boom in the late 1940s including construction of several hotel- casinos fronting on a two-lane highway leading into Las Vegas from Los Angeles. The stretch of road evolved into today's Las Vegas Strip. Early hotels included the Last Frontier, Thunderbird (Still standing as the Arubu Hotel & Spa) and Club Bingo.
The El Rancho Vegas was razed by fire on June 17, 1960. As time passed, many other first-generation Strip resorts lost their identity through absorption by new owners, demolition, extensive renovation and name changes.
By far the most celebrated of the early resorts was the Flamingo Hotel, built by mobster Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel, a member of the Meyer Lansky crime organization.
The Flamingo with a giant pink neon sign and replicas of pink flamingos on the lawn, opened on New Year's Eve 1946. Six months later, Siegel was murdered by an unknown gunman who fired a shotgun blast as Siegel sat in the living room of the Beverly Hills, Calif., home of his girlfriend, Virginia Hill.
Siegel's life was the subject of a 1992 movie entitled "Bugsy." Although the historic accuracy of the movie is questionable, the movie prompted the Flamingo to open the "Bugsy Celebrity Theater" in November 1992. The Flamingo, after numerous ownership changes, is now owned and operated by the Hilton Hotel Group. Its proper name is the Flamingo Hilton.
While the El Rancho Vegas and other 1940s resorts followed a western ranch-styled theme, the Flamingo was what Siegel called a "carpet joint." It was modeled after resort hotels in Miami. Only the Flamingo Hotel name has survived the 1940s era of Las Vegas Strip development. The final end of the Flamingo as Bugsy knew it was announced early in 1993 when Hilton Corp. revealed plans to construct a $104 million tower addition at the Strip resort -- the last of a six tower master plan. The addition opened in the spring of 1995.
Architectural plans included razing the outmoded, motel-style buildings at the rear of the property, dooming the fortress-like "Bugsy Suite" and bullet proof office used by the gangster before his death in 1946. In December 1993, the last remnants of Bugsy Siegel and his residence were destroyed when the hotel bulldozed the Oregon Building that held the suite in which the gangster once lived.