El Rancho Vegas

Nevermind Bugsy Siegel... This is the place the REALLY started it all.

El Rancho Vegas was the first hotel of any kind to be built in the desert along Highway 91 which would eventually become the Las Vegas Strip. It was originally conceived by Thomas Hull who operated similar resorts in California. Hull envisioned a desert oasis to attract travelers arriving from the West in which gambling was a mere afterthought.

The property operated with great success and in 1950 a new owner named Beldon Katleman became the primary shareholder. Katleman improved the property throughout the decade to be more competitive with larger resorts and changing tastes. He is also credited with a number of "Vegas firsts" including the popularization of the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Unfortunately a fire broke out on June 17, 1960 and burned the casino building to the ground. Many of the other buildings survived but the El Rancho Vegas resort was never rebuilt. The remaining facilities were operated as a non-gaming motel until Howard Hughes acquired the property in 1970 and ultimately cleared the land.

Final years

In 1962, Katleman engaged in a failed effort to get the adjacent San Francisco Avenue renamed after the El Rancho; the road was instead renamed Sahara Avenue, after the Sahara resort located across the street.[130][131][132]

During 1962, the Thunderbird resort, also located across the street, operated 88 of the El Rancho's rooms under the name Thunderbird West,[133][134] through a lease that extended into 1963.[135] The following year, Alfred Hotels, Inc. announced that it had leased the hotel buildings from Katleman. Alfred Hotels planned to operate them as the El Rancho Vegas Motor Inn. Refurbishments were underway at that time, including remodeling of the swimming pool.[136][137][138] A wax museum and antique store were opened on the property in 1965, joining the motel.[139][140][141]

The El Rancho Vegas struggled financially as a non-gaming motel,[36][122] leading Katleman to put it up for sale in the late 1960s.[122] Businessman Howard Hughes negotiated a $7.5 million deal to buy the property, and Katleman initially agreed before later raising the purchase price. A two-year court battle began in 1968 as Hughes and Katleman fought over the initial purchase agreement. They settled the case in 1970, after Hughes agreed to pay $8.5 million for the property.[122][142][143][144]

The cottages were then used as warehouse storage before being demolished,[3][36] although some were relocated and preserved. In September 1975, one of the last remaining buildings was removed from the property.[145] In mid-1978, three more buildings were moved to Old Vegas, an Old West amusement park outside of Henderson, Nevada.[146][147][122] Another structure is located in Pahrump, Nevada, where it serves as a duplex under the name El Rancho Gardens. This building was added to the Nevada State Register of Historic Places in 1998.[148][149][150][151]

Aside from the cottages, 14 Washingtonia palm trees were also relocated in 1978, to the newly renovated Desert Inn resort nearby.[152]

Proposed redevelopment

Looking south at the vacant El Rancho property (right) in 1995
The El Rancho Vegas property was vacant as of 1979,[122] and the site remained undeveloped for decades.[153] Several projects were proposed for the site, but were never built. In 1993, there were plans to construct a $5 million entertainment complex that would include a golf driving range, miniature golf courses, batting cages, and a race track. Hughes' Summa Corporation would lease the land to the developer.[154] A baseball stadium was also being planned for the property in 1995, as part of the All-American Family Sports Park.[155][156][157] However, William Bennett purchased the property from Summa Corporation later that year, for $40 million.[158] It was one of the last large, undeveloped parcels left on the Las Vegas Strip.[159][160] Bennett planned to eventually develop the site, but was occupied in the meantime with renovations at his newly acquired Sahara resort.[161] Some preliminary foundation work had already begun for the sports park when Bennett canceled the company's lease.[156]

Representatives for Hassanal Bolkiah, the sultan of Brunei, made a $55 million offer for the land in 1996. However, the sultan vetoed the offer, which was apparently made without his knowledge.[158] Real estate developer Donald Trump also discussed a possible purchase of the land, but passed.[162] In the late 1990s, a group planned to build a western-themed resort on the site.[163][164][165] It would include a Billy Bob's nightclub and a 5,000-seat arena with daily rodeo events.[166] However, the group had difficulty raising money to build the project, and it never materialized.[163][167] In 2000, Hilton Grand Vacations announced plans to build a timeshare building on part of the property. The Hilton Grand Vacations Club would eventually open in 2004, on 10 acres located at the southern edge of the El Rancho property.[167][36][24]

Meanwhile, Bennett started marketing the remaining 26 acres again in 2000, with an asking price of $65 million.[168][159] He pulled the property off the market in 2002, believing that its value would increase further in the years to come, as the north Las Vegas Strip was expected to see new development.[160] Bennett died later in 2002, and the property was sold to MGM Mirage in 2007. The company, partnered with Kerzner International Resorts and Dubai World, planned to build a mixed-use development project with hotels and a casino, similar to MGM's CityCenter. Construction was to begin in 2009, with the opening expected three years later.[169][170][9][171] The project, sometimes referred to as CityCenter North, was canceled because of the Great Recession.[172][173] Ultimately, MGM opened its Festival Grounds on the property in 2015.[174][175][176] This development saw minimal success,[173] and the property was sold to Phil Ruffin in 2019.[177]
Last Updated Mar 2nd, 2024