Desert Inn Closes Its Doors After 50 Years

ByLisa Snedeker

L A S   V E G A S, Aug. 28, 2000 -- Frank Sinatra and Edgar Bergen played itsCrystal Showroom. Billionaire Howard Hughes slept there, thenbought the place when management tried to make him vacate his roomfor high-rollers. Royalty and the rich teed off on its golf course— the only one remaining on the Las Vegas Strip.

After 50 years, the Desert Inn closed its doors today,marking the end for one of the Strip’s most storied resort casinos.

Despite its glamorous past, the relatively small 715-room resorthas struggled in recent years to compete with the billion-dollarmegaresorts springing up down the Strip.

Developer Steve Wynn, former owner of Mirage Resorts Inc.purchased the ailing property in April and plans to replace theDesert Inn with a massive new resort, complete with two 59-storyhotel towers.

As the final guests trickled out today, Jack Butler, a formeremployee who helped open its doors as a bell captain April 24,1950, stood in the valet area saying good-bye to the place he hascalled home for the past half-century.

“I was the first one in, so I wanted to be the last one out,”said the 90-year-old who retired 10 years ago. “It’s very sad. Ihang out here all the time since my wife died. My car only knowshow to come to this place.”

Fabled PastThe legendary resort was the fifth property to open on atwo-lane highway that would become the Las Vegas Strip.

When builder Wilbur Clark opened its doors a half-century ago,he tossed away the silver keys to the main entrance doors,proclaiming there would never be a need to lock them again. Despitechanges to the property, the doors never closed until today.

In the 1970s, the resort was the setting for the popular TVdetective series Vegas, and for years, its Crystal Showroom was the hot spot for talent, including Frank Sinatra.

In the resort’s final days, it seemed everyone wanted to take apiece of history with them. Everything from decks of cards to diceto hotel room keys bearing the property’s photograph disappeared assouvenirs. Employees were offered money for parts of theiruniforms.

Bright FutureWynn, who bought the property for $270 million as a gift to hiswife, has said the 220-acre site is underutilized. Besides the twotowers, his plans include turning the golf course into a giantlake.

Wynn has said he will keep the golf course open until September2001. A handful of employees will also be retained in corporateoffices.

No other timetable for the new resort has been released.

The Desert Inn had been scheduled to close Wednesday, but theloss of workers to the newly opened Aladdin and the soon-to-openedSuncoast hotel and casinos in the city’s northwest led to the earlyclosing, hotel officials said.

Employees and guests shared hugs and tears today while theytook snapshots in front of the hotel.

Burbank resident Ken Fisher was one of the last guests to sleepin the hotel and the last person to retrieve his car from valetparking. He purposely came to Las Vegas to stay at the Desert Innon its last night of operation.

“It’s bittersweet,” he said, adding he stayed at the resortfor the first time 13 years ago. “You feel like a piece of historyis gone.”