Frank Sinatra and Edgar Bergen played its Crystal Showroom. Billionaire Howard Hughes slept there, then bought the place when management tried to make him vacate his room for 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 resort has struggled in recent years to compete with the billion-dollar megaresorts springing up down the Strip.

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

As the final guests trickled out today, Jack Butler, a former employee who helped open its doors as a bell captain April 24, 1950, stood in the valet area saying good-bye to the place he has called 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. I hang out here all the time since my wife died. My car only knows how to come to this place.”

Fabled Past The legendary resort was the fifth property to open on a two-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. Despite changes to the property, the doors never closed until today.

In the 1970s, the resort was the setting for the popular TV detective 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 a piece of history with them. Everything from decks of cards to dice to hotel room keys bearing the property’s photograph disappeared as souvenirs. Employees were offered money for parts of their uniforms.

Bright Future Wynn, who bought the property for $270 million as a gift to his wife, has said the 220-acre site is underutilized. Besides the two towers, his plans include turning the golf course into a giant lake.

Wynn has said he will keep the golf course open until September 2001. A handful of employees will also be retained in corporate offices.

No other timetable for the new resort has been released.

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

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

Burbank resident Ken Fisher was one of the last guests to sleep in the hotel and the last person to retrieve his car from valet parking. He purposely came to Las Vegas to stay at the Desert Inn on its last night of operation.

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