Hotel Histories

History of the Dunes / Bellagio

First Opened as the Dunes May 23, 1955
Replaced with the Bellagio which opened Oct 15, 1998


Movie magnate Al Gottesman, along with two men from Las Vegas, a purchased horse ranch property from an estate for $58,000. Gottesman was to receive 50% of the profits from an immediate resale of the land, hotel and nine points of the casino take. Of that amount, $20,000 was for the initial escrow and an additional $38,000 to purchase the property. This payment was one-tenth of the full price of the $380,000 for the land. Gottesman then added another $16,000 for the preliminary plans for which he was to receive a refund. It turned out that these two gentlemen also secured an agreement from an investment group from Rhode Island to sublease the hotel in the event it was built. The middlemen got lost in the shuffle and Gottesman, Joe Sullivan of the Rhode Island Group, and Bob Rice, a Beverly Hills costume jeweler, became owners of the property. A total amount of $2 million was now invested into the property before building even began.

With the additional financial assistance of the Teamsters Pension Fund, the 200 room Dunes opened on May 23, 1955. Hollywood musical star Vera-Ellen provided opening night entertainment with a show billed as the Magic Carpet Review.

With the slogan "The Miracle in the Desert" the theme was nomadic. It had a porte cochere both modern and normadic, with sloping stucco walls that echoed desert tents. On top of its roof stood a 35 foot tall fiberglass sultan with a billowing cape and plumed turban.

The resort struggled. Sands owner Jake Freedman bought it. Even with the assistance of the Sands' management, the casino closed after one year. Jake Gottlieb bought the property in 1957, and hired Major Auterburn Riddle, to turn the Dunes around.

Riddle booked "Minsky's Follies" series, the first bare bosom stage show to appear in Nevada. The first of the "Minsky's Follies" series debuted on January 10, 1957, with Minsky Goes to Paris. While there was an initial uproar in the State Legislature, the show set a record for attendance in a single week at 16,000.

A golf course was added in 1959. In April of 1959, Dunes celebrated the first double ground breaking ceremony in Las Vegas history when construction began simultaneously on both the hotel's new Exhibitor & Convention Hall and 500-car parking lot.

In July, the Dunes showcased flying Indians who performed poolside 4:30 and 10:15pm. free of charge. The Aztec Birdmen performed their ritual dances on a platform so small a person could scarcely see it as it sat on top of a 100 foot high pole without the benefit of a safety net.

In 1961, Dunes was turned into a resort complex dominated by another new highrise, the 24-story "Diamond of the Dunes" bringing the hotel's number of rooms to 450. This tower for a while was the tallest building in the state.

In 1964, the Dunes added a 180-foot sign at a cost of $250,000. The onion dome silhouette evoked a Thousand and One Nights fantasy. With electric lava erupting through the sign into the sky every minute, the Dunes' sign was phenomenal. In 1966, it was noted that the sign alone, which contained 10,000 lighting units cost the Dunes $47,500 a year to operate.

Opera star Rouvaun signed a three year contract to appear in the new 1967 Casino de Paris for just under $1.5 million.

Rumors were flying in June of 1970 as negotiations began with Howard Hughes and Dunes owners regarding Hughes' possible purchase. Hughes was told by the Gaming Board that he already had enough gaming licenses. Hughes was considering removing the gaming license from the Castaways so he could purchase the Dunes. Ultimately Hughes bowed out of the deal.

In December of 1979, Dunes built a 17-story companion to the Diamond of the Dunes, bringing the total rooms to 1,300. The new tower advertised the most luxurious suites in the entire resort world with multi-level layouts, lavish flora and cascading waterfalls.

In 1980, Dunes advertised the 18-hole Emerald Green Championship Golf Course which extended a full mile to the rear of the hotel. The golf course was the largest in the state - 7,240 yards, par 72.

The property held acres of free parking, two giant swimming pools, a complete laundry and dry cleaning plant, and a staff of more than 2,300.

In 1985, the sultan, who had been moved to the golf course during the renovations caught on fire and was destroyed. It is reported that there was an electrical short in his stomach which caused the fire.

At this time the resort also contained five outdoor tennis courts, two lighted. It contained a pro shop, and racquet rentals were $4.

In 1987, Japanese millionaire investor Masao Nangaku purchased Dunes for $155 million but could not make it a financial success.

In late 1992, Steve Wynn bought the Dunes for $75 million, closed it down, and on October 20, 1993, the Mirage Resorts, Inc., imploded the casino and north tower which was televised. The Dunes' death signified a birth of another resort. A cannon fired by Wynn from the Treasure Island went off signaling the implosion. At the same time, it was also signifying the opening and birth of the Treasure Island resort. The golf course remained however and it was then called the Mirage Golf Course.

In 1994, the Dunes south tower was imploded without fanfare to make ready for the building of The Bellagio. Bellagio construction workers stumbled onto four bags of Dunes casino chips buried at the site of the Dunes resort.

On October 15, 1998, just before 11:00pm, the 36 story, 3,026 room, $1.6 billion Bellagio opened. The Bellagio reported to spend $88 million on its opening. The VIPs invited to the grand opening were expected to donate to The Foundation Fighting Blindness $1,000 a person or $3,500 a couple, which entitled them to an overnight stay at Bellagio's suite rooms.

Opening night's entertainment began with Wynn giving a 40 minute welcome speech and then the opening of the Cirque du Soleil production, "O." Performing in Bellagio lounges that night were New York cabaret and recording artist Michael Feinstein, George Bugatti and John Pizarrelli.

The property contains an eight acre lake, called Lake Como, filled with thousands of fountains which run the length of Bellagio's grounds. Facing Las Vegas Boulevard, crowds gather in front of the hotel to listen to amplified music and watch the "dancing" fountains that are activated regularly throughout the day and evening. The in-door garden sits on 12,500 square feet. The resort replicates a Tuscan village which lines the water's edge. Stretching across the ceiling of the lobby is the 70' x 30' Dale Chihuly floral sculpture of hand-blown multicolored glass. The casino is 156,000 square feet and holds 173 game tables and 2,700 slot machines. Nearby, a botanical conservatory is home to exotic plants and flowers.

Complementing the beauty of nature is a $285 million dollar gallery featuring the works of the masters-original paintings.

Bellagio's deluxe guest rooms and suites feature sweeping vistas of the resort's lake, surrounding mountains and the Las Vegas skyline. Each room is elegantly appointed with custom European-style furnishings and art, and is equipped with every modern-day convenience. They include an armoire housing a remote-controlled cable television, stereo, electronic in-room safe and lighted wardrobe section able to accommodate full-length gowns. The writing desk is equipped with a two-line telephone and computer/fax accessible data ports.

The bathrooms, decorated in Italian marble floors and surfaces, contain robes, a third telephone, a soaking tub and separate shower.

On March 6, 2000, it was announced that Mirage Resorts has been sold to Kirk Kerkorian/MGM Grand for $4.4 billion in cash.

As of June, 28, 2000, MGM Mirage raised $154.2 million from the sale of Mirage Resorts assets, primarily from the sale of Bellagio artwork. MGM Mirage is using these funds to reduce its debt.

Less than half a dozen paintings now remain available for sale from the art collection. Though the controversial right of first refusal gave Wynn the capability of buying all $200 million in artwork owned by Mirage Resorts, he ended up purchasing three items from the gallery -- though it has not been revealed what Wynn paid for these paintings, or which paintings he purchased.

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