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A Complete Photo History of Las Vegas Strip Casinos

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Roadhouse Casinos - Before the Strip

1932 Meadows Casino on Fremont and Charleston Street in East Vegas Near Boulder Highway.
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1932 view of The Meadows Casino. The name 'Las Vegas' translates, in English, to 'The Meadows'. With the 1931 legalization
of gambling in the state of Nevada, a handful of Fremont Street bars and hotels rushed to get their gaming licences and began
converting their existing business into gambling halls. In the beginning, these small casinos were simply store front operations.

In 1931 the Anthony Cornero family took the initiative to build the first, all-new casino property from the ground up. They chose
a location at the intersection of Fremont and Charleston Street. Though it was located about one mile from the train depot and
the other small casinos near Main Street, its operation was intended to draw gambling patrons who drove into the downtown
area from Boulder Highway. At the time, Boulder Highway was the most heavily used road into Las Vegas; especially used
most by the construction workers building Boulder Dam and only had a few barn-like, roadhouses along its five mile length.

The Meadows Casino was a unique and trendsetting establishment due to its car oriented design and its complete use as an
all-in-one casino complex. The Meadows was the first gaming establishment to combine casino space with a cabaret,
showroom, restaurant, plus fifty hotel rooms. It was plush, sophisticated and popular with its Red Room Cabaret
and its Gold Ballroom. From the time of its May 2, 1932 opening, it was a great success.

After the 1935 completion of Boulder Dam, the construction workers left the Las Vegas area and The Meadows lost a major
portion of its customer base. It closed in 1936 and the building later caught fire and the entire complex was demolished.

Although the 1905 Arizona Club provided the first Las Vegas casino-hotel...The Meadows holds the distinction
of being the first (post-1931 gaming legalization)casino-hotel complex in Las Vegas.

The car-oriented placement of The Meadows, near the major highway of the time, set the template for what would later be done by
the El Rancho hotel-casino complex and its placement on the Los Angeles-Arrowhead Highway five years after The Meadows shut
down. Though the 1941 El Rancho was the first major casino-hotel complex built on The Strip - The Meadows was the very first
gaming-complex ever built it Las Vegas. 5 years after its closing, the next Downtown casino-hotel to open was the El Cortez.

The Meadows originator and owner, Tony Cornero would later go on to operate gaming-boats (such as the S. S. Rex) off the shores
of California until anti-gaming laws took effect in the early 1940s. Cornero arrived back in Las Vegas in 1945 to open his S.S. Rex
Casino in the ground floor of the Apache Hotel. As a major player in Las Vegas his name should not be forgotten. It was his close
friendship with the top L.A. Sunset Strip, nightclub owner Billy Wilkerson - that led to the building of the Flamingo in 1945.

Tony Cornero would later go on to start construction of his final dream-casino, The Starlite. He passed away
before its completion and it finally opened (with a name change) as The Stardust, in 1958.

In actuality, the roots of the current Las Vegas Strip lead back to the once opulent Meadows Casino and the visions of Tony Cornero.

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With the 1931 start of construction of the Boulder/Hoover Dam, Boulder Highway offered construction workers a few rough and
tumble roadhouses where they could relax and spend their weekly paychecks. With the 1931 legalization of gaming in Nevada -
certain roadhouses, bars and eateries were allowed to set up slot machines and provide gambling.

By comparing these ramshakle roadhouses to the well designed architectural beauty of The Meadows Casino, the vast differences
between the different types of 1930s entertainment facilities is easily seen. What they did have in common was plenty of room for
easy parking. This would be what the later Strip would be able to provide, as opposed to the pedestrian Downtown properties.

Two of the largest roadhouses, near The Meadows Casino are seen above. Notice the slogan above the The Black Cat Roadhouse,
which announces "All Night Long". The other roadhouse (seen at left) was named The Red Windmill, which had a large windmill-sign
over its front entrance. In 1941, the Los Angeles Highway-Strip would have a similar windmill-sign set in place at the new El Rancho
Vegas Motel-Casino complex...although this one would be outlined in modern neon. Though coincidentally similar, the El Rancho
windmill design was a key-element in its chain of 1930s California motels (such as was installed at the 1939 El Rancho Fresno).


Roadside America - Prelude to The Strip

Arizona Wigwam Motel Unit.
Photo by Raleigh Muns - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Las Vegas Neon Museum Sign from the Chief Motor Court.
Photo Copyright © 2009 By Erik Wunstell

The roots of the Las Vegas Strip can be traced back to the production of low-priced automobiles during the prosperous Roaring Twenties
and the resulting rise in Auto-Tourism and Tourist-Camps; as well as the 1925 advancement of the US Highway System, the completion
of the Salt Lake-to-LA Arrowhead Highway, the conception of the first American Motel in 1925 San Luis Obispo, the Rise and Fall of
the 1928 Agua Caliente Casino Complex in Tijuana, the 1931 boom in Las Vegas Dude Ranches, the late 1930s development of
Tom Hull's El Rancho Motel Chain, the influence of 1930s Hollywood Nightclubs, LA's Sunset Strip and Roadside Architecture.

These subjects will be covered in full, further inside the InOldLasVegas website Motel & Strip sections.

American Automobile Production (1920s)

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Car Image Banner.
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American automobile production started at the beginning of the 20th century. In 1901 approximately 3,000 cars were built in American
car factories. At the time, car use was mainly for the wealthy. Along came Henry Ford with his proclaimation "I will build a car for the
great multitude so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy the blessing of hours of pleasure
in God's great open spaces". Ford's declaration set a national agenda and readiness for low-priced personal mobility.

With the 1909 creation of the Ford Model T, auto production and ownership changed dramatically. The Ford Model T became the world's
most influential car of the twentieth century. Automobile ownership and use grew steadily. After the end of World War One, U.S. auto
production reached 750,000 cars built in 1918. By 1920 annual auto production reached 2 million. By the 1920s, the price of Ford cars
had dropped to $300 equivalent to $3,200 today By 1923, 3 million. Car production increased steadily until 1929 when over 4 million cars
were manufactured in a single year. When the Great Depression struck, auto production dropped to 950,000 cars produced in 1932. Due to
the Depression and World War Two, it would take until 1949 before the 1929, 4 miilion mark would be surpassed.

Never before had so much prosperity and technological changes been placed upon a nation. The inventions of radio and electrical
appliances, along with the increased availability of the telephone and home electricity, brought tremendous advancements to the
American way of life during the heydays of the Roaring Twenties. The impact of car use caused a ripple-effect of subsequent changes.

AUTO-TOURISM, TOURIST CAMPS & AUTO COURTS (Early 1920s)

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From the InOldLasVegas.com & Art.com 'Retro Motels Photo Gallery'.

Increased automobile use forever changed the landscape of America. The popularity of automobiles and people's new mobility
led to an the phenomena of automobile vacationing. The need for comfortable places to sleep, near the highways,
caused the emergence of highway campgrounds on the edge of towns across the USA.

The free auto-camps and public toilets, of the early 1920s, led to development of more suitable travel stops known as auto
and motor courts. These commerical, tourist courts were composed of fenced-off land containing roughly 20-40 small cabins
and cottages with individual driveways for overnight car parking. Unlike pedestrian oriented downtown hotels, early 1920s
auto-courts were automobile-friendly, allowing quick and easy parking and fun and clean havens to spend the night. Filling
stations and diners were available nearby or on-site. This centralization of auto-travel facilities marked
the beginning of what is now know as Roadside Architecture.

Auto-courts would usually incorporate their unique local landmarks and geographic attractions into the design of their
motorist campgrounds. In Kentucky, a person could find wigwam-cabins (cement tee-pees) . In New England they could
sleep in Colonial styled cabins. In the Southwest, they could sleep in mini-adobe huts. Entire chains of motor-courts
developed over the years with names like 'Kozy Kottages' of Wigwam Village'.

The concept of road-art, where motor-courts and roadside-cafes used eye-catching signs and themed buildings
would develop for over two decades before it became used on the highways leading to Downtown Las Vegas.

U.S. HIGHWAY SYSTEM & ARROWHEAD HIGHWAY (1925)

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By 1925 there were over 250 named highways in the United States. The first all-weather road connecting Los Angeles to Salt Lake
City was called the Arrowhead Highway. In 1925 this route to Las Vegas was included in America's state highway system. During the
1940s the Arrowhead Highway that lead into Las Vegas became better known as the Los Angeles Highway. Soon after the first four
casino-motels were built along the roadway leading up to Downtown Las Vegas - this highway became known as the Las Vegas Strip.

AMERICA'S FIRST MOTEL (1925)

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From the InOldLasVegas.com & Art.com 'Retro Motels Photo Gallery'.

The world's first motel was built in San Luis Obispo, California in 1925. It was owned and designed by architect Arthur Heinman, who
planned for a string of 18 motels to operate along the coast of the western USA, from Los Angeles to Seattle. Heinman promoted his
company (Milestone Interstate) to investors as operating like travler's way-stations, following the concept of the 21 California Missions
built from 1769-1823. Heinman is credited with giving birth to the concept and name "Mo-tel"(a combination Motor and Hotel).

The difference between an auto-court and a motel was that the motel would provide private bathrooms in each room, as opposed
to the common, group bathrooms/showers of the early auto-courts. His motel plan was to provide a restaurant, laundy and grocery
store at each motel location. The first motel in his planned chain opened under the name of the Milestone Motel. It was located
mid-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, near Avila Beach.

Although his first motel was a commercial success, The Great Depression of 1929 delayed his plan to eastablish a motel chain.
The name Mo-Tel soon after became a generic term, used for any 'roadside-hotel' that built rooms under a single roof (instead
of using the individual cottage layout of auto-courts. Heinman's Motel still stands next to the Apple Farm Inn. It operated for
approximately 60 years under the name Motel Inn and was a favorite place for 1930s movie stars traveling to Hearst Castle.

TIJUANA'S AGUA CALIENTE HOTEL-CASINO (1928)

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InOldLasVegas.com's & Art.com's 'Auga Caliente Print Gallery'.

In 1927, wealthy nightclub owner Baron Long and owner of the famous U.S.Grant Hotel in San Diego, formed a 4 man
partnership to build a giant casino-hotel complex, named Agua Caliente, just 20 miles south of the California border, in
Tijuana, Mexico. With Prohibition outlawing the consumption of alcohol from 1919-1933, the Auga Caliente hotel-casino
would provide Americans with a legal venue for drinking and gambling in its casino and on-site racetrack.

The architect hired to design Agua Caliente was an astoundingly young nineteen year old named Wayne McAllister. After designing
Agua Caliente, McAllister gained fame for designing nightclubs and restaurants in Southern California. MacAllister was the creator
of the circular drive-in restaurants in So Cal such as the 'Pig 'n' Whistle', Simon's, Herberts, and Van De Kamps. He also
designed Lawry's Restaurant, the Cinegrill, and the Biltmore Bowl auditorium (an early location used for the Academy Award
Ceremonies. McAllister also designed the 1949 Bob's Big Boy Restaurant and the drive-ins in its chain.

Most importantly, Wayne McAllister would later go on to play an important role in Las Vegas development thru his knowledge of
roadside architecture and casino design. McAllister would design the first Strip casino-motel ever built (the El Rancho) in 1940.
That same year he designed Downtown Las vegas' El Cortez Hotel. In 1949 he created plans for the most modern casino in
Las Vegas (The Desert Inn) and two years later designed the Sands. In 1955, he was again hired to create the
Downtown Vegas' first high-rise hotel, the Fremont Hotel and Casino.

With the 1928 Auga Caliente, Wayne McAllister designed a hotel-casino complex that set the prototype that Las Vegas Strip casinos
would follow thru the 40s, 50s, 60s, up to this very day. Auga Caliente was a lavish resort. Just as Las Vegas took its name from
a watering spring, so did Auga Caliente.

The resort was a rarity in architectural design for public entertainment. While Hearst Castle was being built in the 1920s for use as
a private residential party-spot for Hollywood celebraties...Auga Calitene opened as the one of the most lavish, public entertainment
facilities of its time. Auga Caliente included a casino, luxurious guest bungalows a spa, Turkish baths and two ballrooms, all designed
in a combination of Mexican Colonial, California Mission stylings. The resort an airstrip, championship golf and tennis facilities.

Two years after the casino opened, McAllister designed the $2.5 million dollar Auga Caliente Racetrack. The racetrack hosted the
world's richest race with its $140,000 grand prize and was known throughout the world for being the home for some of the most
famous horse races in history with Phar Lap and Sea Biscuit. The racetrack opened four years before Southern California's
Santa Anita Racetrack and was considered the most important track in the west.

Film Clips: Phar Laps wins 1932 Auga Caliente Horserace & 1935 movie 'In Caliente'.

Auga Calient was a tremendous success and hugely popular with wealthy Americans and celebrities. Quite unexpectedly, Mexico's
President, Lázaro Cárdenas, outlawed gambling in 1935. The resort was closed and became the property of the Mexican government.
The racetrack would remain remained open until it was destroyed by fire in 1971. But in 1935, the casino was closed forever.

Meanwhile. In the quiet, sleepy railroad-stop called Las Vegas - gambling had just become legal with the 1931 ban against
gambling lifted. It wouldn't be long until the visions of architect Wayne McAllister were brought to Las Vegas to create
similar plush resorts on a barren strip of road in the Nevada desert.

DUDE RANCHES IN THE SOUTHWEST (1931-40)

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Courtesy of the University Wyoming Collection.

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CALIFORNIA'S EL RANCHO MOTEL CHAIN (1937-41)

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LA'S SUNSET STRIP & HOLLYWOOD'S NIGHTCLUBS (1934-40)

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ROADSIDE ARCHITECTURE, DRIVE-INS & GIGANTISM (1925-40)

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COUNTDOWN TO THE LAS VEGAS STRIP (1941)

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Mid-Fifties View of the 1952 Desert Villa Motel on the Las vegas Strip at the NE Corner of Flamingo Road.
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The 1952 Desert Villa Motel sat at the north-east corner of Flamingo Road & The Strip from 1952-1977.

The Small, Non-Casino Motels of Las Vegas


Strip History

Below are links to the complete history of the 18 major Las Vegas Strip Casino-Hotels.
Some of the links are currently operable, though most of these additional pages will become
available over the coming months. Check back often to see what's new here. There will also be
many new pages showing Old Las Vegas Nightlife, Aerial Views of The Strip, Casino Culture & Old
Advertising and Publicity, Showgirls, Before & After photos,plus many more Downtown photos as well as more
information on lesser known historical events & stories. You aint seen nothing yet. This site is gonna be huge!

InOldLasvegas.com intends to be the biggest & best Las Vegas Historical Website on the entire Internet.
Following the tradition of Old Vegas, new things will appear here everyday...so, please return often.
Thanks for visiting. I hope you enjoy your stay. Sincerely, your webhost...Erik Wunstell.

El Rancho - 1941

Mid-Fifties View of the First Casino Built on the Las Vegas Strip.
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Mid-Fifties view of Thomas Hull's 1941 El Rancho Vegas.
The first casino-motel complex built on The Las Vegas Strip.

The Las Vegas Strip's First Hotel-Casino Complex. The 1941 El Rancho Vegas Seen in the Early Sixties.
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The El Rancho Vegas was the first motel-casino complex to open on the Los Angeles Highway that led into Downtown
Las Vegas. The casino opened in 1941 on what is now the south-west corner of The Strip and Sahara Avenue.
It was remodeled in 1952 when its Round-Up Room restaurant became The Opera House. This photo is from 1958.

The Interior of the Casino at the El Rancho Vegas Motel.
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The El Rancho's casual old-west theme carried into the small casino area with wood walls, lanterns and Western paintings.

The El Rancho Vegas' Roadsign on the East Side of The Strip.
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One of the El Rancho Vegas'roadsigns. The neon arrow was quite noticable in the surrounding vacant desert.


Last Frontier - 1942

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Flamingo - 1946

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Thunderbird - 1948

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Desert Inn - 1950

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Silver Slipper - 1950

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Sands - 1952

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Photo Courtesy of the 2005 Las Vegas Centennial Committee.

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Photography by Erik Wunstell Copyright © 1977-2009

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Sahara - 1952

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1959 View of the Las vegas Strip, Near Sahara Avenue and the El Rancho Vegas.
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1959 view of the north end of The Strip, near Sahara Avenue. The Sahara low-rise, motel rooms are seen on right.
The area on the left shows the trees in front of the El Rancho Motel. The El Rancho would burn down the following
year (1960). The El Rancho property remained vacant for over 40 years until a Hilton Tower was built around 2005.
The vacant lot on the right, would later become the site of the (1985-2004) Wet 'n' Wild Water Park.

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Royal Nevada - 1955

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Dunes - 1955

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Photo Donated to InOldLasVegas.com by Wayne Violette. Copyright © 2009. Enhancement by Camden Communications.

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Riviera - 1955

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Photo Donated to InOldLasVegas.com by Wayne Violette. Copyright © 2009. Enhancement by Camden Communications.

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New Frontier - 1955

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Hacienda - 1956

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Tropicana - 1957

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Stardust - 1958
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Photo Donated to InOldLasVegas.com by Wayne Violette. Copyright © 2009. Enhancement by Camden Communications.

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Photo Donated to InOldLasVegas.com by Walter Reed. Walter Reed Copyright © 2009.

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Aladdin - 1966

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Caesars Palace - 1966

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Photo Copyright © 1977-2009 By Erik Wunstell

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Photo Copyright © 1977-2009 By Erik Wunstell

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Circus Circus - 1968

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University of Las Vegas - UNLV Special Collections Department

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UNLV's Martin Stern's architectural rendition of the original Circus-Circus Tower design.
Visit UNLV's Martin Stern Collection for a full exhibition
and history of Martin Stern's Las Vegas hotel architecture.

UNLV SPECIAL COLLECTIONS

The best research center for Las Vegas historians. Also accepts memorabilia donations.


MGM Grand - 1973

Photo Copyright © 1977-2009 By Erik Wunstell

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Photo Copyright © 1977-2009 By Erik Wunstell

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Photo Copyright © 1977-2009 By Erik Wunstell

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LAS VEGAS STRIP - CASINO HISTORY

The El Rancho was the prototype for all other Strip casinos by having 24 hour gaming, surrounding
guest rooms, a chuck-wagon buffet, a showroom, a 24 hour coffee-shop and an on-site gift shop.

The EL Rancho concept was followed by the 1942 Last Frontier, the 1946 Flamingo, the 1948 Thunderbird,
the 1950 Desert Inn, the 1952 Sands casino and the 1952 Sahara. In 1955, the Last Frontier built its
New Frontier casino, the Royal Nevada opened, the Dunes was completed and the Strip's first high-rise
(the Riviera) opened. In 1956 the Hacienda opened - followed by the 1957 Tropicana & the 1958 Stardust.

Although the Landmark casino began construction in 1962, it wasn't completed until 1969 and wasn't
located on the Strip. In 1964, the Dunes and the Sands both completed new tower hotel additions.
The Aladdin and Caesars opened in 1966, Circus Circus in 1968, the Bonanza in 1969 and the original
MGM Grand in 1973.

There were no new, major casinos built on the Strip for 16 years until the opening of Steve Wynn's Mirage
which brought Las Vegas into its present era and also opened the door for groups such as
www.worldpokertour.com and a new era of gaming all together.


LAS VEGAS STRIP - CASINO & HOTEL OPENINGS TIMELINE

THIRTIES

Pair-O-Dice 1931
Red Rooster 1932

FORTIES

91 Club 1938
El Rancho 1941
Last Frontier 1942
Player's Club 1943
Flamingo 1946
Thunderbird 1948
Club Bingo 1948

FIFTIES

Desert Inn 1950
Silver Slipper 1950
Sahara 1952
Sands 1952
New Frontier 1955
Dunes 1955
Riviera 1956
Royal Nevada 1956
Hacienda 1956
Sans Souci 1957
Tropicana 1957
Stardust 1958
Flamingo Capri 1958

SIXTIES

Tally-Ho 1962
Castaways 1964
King's Crown 1964
New Thunderbird 1964
Sands Tower 1965
Dunes Tower 1966
Caesars Palace 1966
Aladdin 1966
Frontier 1967
Circus Circus 1968
Bonanza 1969
Landmark 1969 - (Off Strip)
International 1969 - (Off Strip)

SEVENTIES

Maxim 1972 - (Off Strip)
Holiday Inn 1972
MGM 1973
Vegas World 1974
Marina Hotel 1975
Silverbird 1978
Barbary Coast 1978

Complete Casino Opening Dates for The Strip & Downtown Las Vegas


The Strip's Welcome Sign - Before & After

The Strip's 1959 and 1999 Las Vegas Welcome Sign.
InOldLasVegas.com Collection and 1998 Photo by Erik Wunstell Copyright © 2009.

The Las Vegas Welcome Sign, on the south end of the Strip near Mandalay Bay in 1959 and 1999.


IN OLD LAS VEGAS - HOMEPAGE


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