Hotel Histories

History of the Caesars Palace

Opened August 5, 1966


Jay Sarno made his money with a string of "cabana" motels ranging from Atlanta to Palo Alto, California. His partner Nate Jacobson had a bankroll of money from a Baltimore insurance company.

In 1962, using a $10.6 million loan from Teamsters Central States Pension Fund, Sarno began building a resort on the 34-acres of property which Kirk Kerkorian owned.

Sarno was the concept and design man, the money was handled by Jacobson. Ground breaking didn't actually start until early 1965. The Palo Alto Cabana was the virtual platform prototype for Caesars.

Sarno's hotel was originally going to be called the Cabana Palace, then Desert Palace, then Caesars Palace, with the emblem of a chesty female dipping grapes into the waiting mouth of a recumbent Roman, fitted out in a toga, laurel wreath and phallic dagger.

Sarno thought of everything, from the Roman decor and name, to the toga-like waitress costumes, the hotel logo, the parchment-like desk stationary, matchbooks and business cards with simulated burnt edges. Sarno even had long discussions about the apostrophe in "Caesar's" - which he banished because the possessive "would mean that it was the place of only one Caesar". He wanted to create the feeling that everybody in the hotel was a Caesar. "Caesars" it became.

Builders hit water while building an underground parking lot. A series of coverts were built so the water was routed and building could be resumed. The underground parking plan was abandoned.

Sarno created Caesars using the usual frontage parking lot amended by a long axis of fountains marking an entry drive. The parking lots were pushed to the side for this effect.

Caesars faced the Strip with a royal presence. The wings that marked the entry were Baroque Rome. At roadside, in front of the herd of the spraying fountains stands a copy of the Winged Victory of Samothrace. The main building is set back 135 feet. The original porte cochere was a flat canopy back by a black-tiled screen, flanked by reproductions of classical soldier statues in scalloped niches.

Sarno asked for proposals from local sign companies for the sign. Young Electric Sign Company submitted an entry, which ripped a pediment, architrave, and columns off a Roman temple and placed them at right angles to the road. Originally two attraction boards laced through the four Ionic columns, later a single, bigger board and two freestanding columns for support were added.

YESCO visited a dime store and picked out a few toy soldiers for scale, they happened to be centurions. Sarno liked them so much that he insisted that full-scale, full-color figures of vestal maids and plumed centurions be added to the base of the actual sign.

At the last moment, YESCO turned down the job because clients balked at paying half the cost before beginning fabrication. Ad-Art then stepped in and did the job with no money down for $350,000. The design was essentially the same as Young's.

Inside Caesars' entry, a vast, low casino dominated the interior. Its shallow oval-shaped dome hovered over the gaming pit which Sarno believed was conducive to relaxation. Windowless and with a blacked-out ceiling, the casino relied on sparkling trim lights to give it shape. Around this central oval spun a welter of shops, restaurants, lounges and corridors. Others led to the sunlight, made more blinding by the dazzling white exterior. One corridor went to the 1,200 Circus Maximus, the main showroom.

On August 5, 1966, the 14-story, 700 room Caesars Palace opened with each guest being welcomed by the official greeter, a blond 40-20-37 Cleopatra. The opening included the stage production of "Rome Swings" with Andy Williams, and Phil Richards playing the Caesar character.

Of the $25 million spent on the Palace, $1 million went to a gala three-day long grand opening party that had a guest list of 1,800. In an attempt to cut costs, the opening invitations were whittled from 20,000 to 1,400.

Sarno then bought the property from his landlord Kerkorian in the amount of $5 million.

On December 31, 1967, Caesars played host to Evel Knievel's unsuccessful, and near-fatal attempt to make it over Caesars' fountain.

On July 15, 1969, executives broke ground for their proposed 13 story high rise, and buried a time capsule. Just one week later, they discovered someone had stolen the time capsule.

Cleopatra's Barge, sitting in its own miniature Mediterranean Sea opened in 1970, during the second expansion of Caesars which included a 14-story Centurion tower on the north side.

In addition to 1,000 rooms/suites, Caesars contained the Bacchanal, The Piazza, Ah So Steak House, and Noshorium restaurants.

Caesars Health Club contained tennis courts as well as whirlpool baths, saunas, steam rooms, exercise and relaxing rooms. Also on the premises was a beauty salon and barber shop.

On either side of the front doors were marble statutes of Medici Venus, Canova Venus, Venus de Milo, David, Heve, and Bacchus, imported from Italy at a cost of $100,000. The Olympic swimming pool copied the design of ancient Rome's Pompeii baths. More than 8,000 pieces of marble quarried from Carrara, Italy, tile the pool.

Suspended from the ceiling in the Grand Promenade was one of the largest chandeliers ever built, costing $125,000, it measured 99 by 66 feet and contained more than 100,000 crystals.

Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Louis was the hotel's greeter/host for many years. In a tribute to the champ, a bronze statue was erected in his honor in one of the casino's alcoves.

In 1973, Caesars contracted Del Webb Corporation to build a 16 story, 333 room high-rise tower to be completed September of 1974.

In 1975, Caesars opened its Palace Court Restaurant. The restaurant became known for its stained-glass dome, elegant appointments and exquisite food.

In 1979, Caesars added a 22-story tower.

On September 15, 1980, Gary Wells attempted to leap across the fountains at Caesars Palace. Gary suffered a ruptured aorta and fractures of the pelvis, thigh and lower leg from this failed attempt.

In the spring of 1980, the giant-domed 98 speaker movie and sound attraction Omnimax Theatre premiered.

In 1981, Frank Sinatra was licensed as Vice President of Entertainment of the resort, after paying $500,000 for his background check.

In 1982, it was noted that the fountains at the resort held 350,000 gallons of water, 10,000 of which was always shooting into the air over the reflecting pools.

On February 5, 1984, Caesars erected the four-faced Brahma Shrine from Mr. and Mrs. Kamphol Vacharaphol and Mr. Yip Hon.

The resort also held the Atari Adventure Center in the Olympic section. This 2,000 square foot area contained over 60 electronic and video games.

On April 14, 1989, Robby Knievel, son of Evel Knievel, successfully made the leap over Caesars' fountains.

In 1992, Caesars opened its Forum Shops. This area contain shops such as Gucci, Bernini, Versace, Guess, Caesars Exclusively, Magic Masters, and Just for Feet, and restaurants such as Spago and The Palm.

The resort contained the King Tut Suites which offered everything from grand pianos to chandeliers, full dining rooms and bathroom facilities with Jacuzzis.

On July of 1995, Caesars was bought by ITT Sheraton Corporation.

On June 18, 1996, Caesars opened their Magical Empire which took two years to build and employed 200 people. The 66,000 square-foot attraction housed 10 Dining Chambers, each seating 24 guests; the Sultan's Palace theater that accommodated 144 people; the 72-seat Secret Pagoda; a lounge and souvenir/magic store.

On November 7, 1997, Caesars opened its $495 million, 1,134 room Palace Tower with stunning architecture and lavish furnishings. The king suites feature a 750-square-foot parlor, his-and-her bathrooms with connecting showers, large walk-in closets and a vanity counter. Every floor is framed in marble tile around detailed carpeting.

There are 25 meeting rooms, some equipped for audio/visual presentation on big screens. The 30,000-square-foot Palace Ballroom with its 21-foot ceiling seats 2,500 people and is designed to host a variety of functions from headliner entertainment to theatrically produced corporate presentations. The tower also holds a 22,000-square-foot health spa and fitness center on the second floor.

In 1997, the Starwood Hotel and Resorts acquired control of ITT and therefore Caesars.

In late 1997 - early 1998, Starwood put Caesars up for sale for $3 billion dollars including 10 other Caesars properties in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and other locations.

In January 1998 Caesars opened its $35 million 3-D Atlantis attraction at the far corner of the new expansion at the Forum Shops.

Mirage Chairman Steve Wynn tried to buy selected Caesars assets, including Las Vegas Caesars. On April 27, 1999, Hilton Hotels Corporation bought the Caesars chain for $3 billion dollars.

On April 21 2000, Caesars famed Palace Court Restaurant closed.

Over the years, and after Andy Williams initiated the Circus Maximus showroom, the top entertainers in the world performed on that stage. In addition to Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Liberace, Cher, Freddie Roman, Shirley MacLaine, Freddie Prinz, Petula Clark, Henny Youngman, Johnny Mathis, Diana Ross, George Burns, Charo, Julio Iglesias, Bette Midler, Tom Jones, Anthony Newley, Wynonna, Buddy Hackett, Ann-Margret, Flip Wilson, Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach, Natalie Cole, Harry Belafonte, Peggy Lee, Milton Berle, Woody Allen, David Copperfield, Eddie Fisher, Tony Bennett and Sammy Davis Jr. were some of the stars that played in the Circus Maximus theater. In September 2000, Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme were the last celebrities to entertain at Circus Maximus as it closed to make way for major changes at the resort.

In March of 2001, Caesars stated that are definite plans to add a showroom The Colosseum. Caesars has suffered when they closed the Maximus to provide space for more high-roller suites. The Colosseum, is part of a master plan to expand the resort. Also on deck are a 35-story, 800-room hotel tower, which would give the property more than 3,250 rooms.

With 2,454 rooms now, the expansion would push Caesars on to the list of the city's 10 largest hotels.

The project comes on top of heavy capital spending at Caesars in 2000. Park changed the facade on Caesars' older hotel towers, redesigned 600 hotel rooms and added two restaurants. This summer, two high-end poolside villas will be completed at a cost of $24 million, and a high-end gaming salon will be added by year's end.

In the summer of 2001, it was announced that the Colosseum will open in March 2003, with a show starring singer Celine Dion. The 4,000 seat showroom will cost a reported $65 million to build.

In May, 2001, Shadow: A Bar at Caesars Palace opened. Shadow replaced the Forum Lounge and has seating capacity for about 100 people across its 3,500 square feet.

On June 28, 2001, a propane tank exploded on the roof of Caesars injuring three people and sending a huge plume of black smoke into the air over the Strip.

In November 2002, in spite of its success, the Magical Empire was closed.

In March 2003, "A New Day" starring singer Celine Dion opened in the newly constructed Colosseum. The 4,000 seat showroom cost a reported $95 million to build. During her vacation time, performers including Jerry Seinfeld and Gloria Estefan have filled in for Dion. In November 2003 it was announced that beginning in February 2004, during some of Celine's off time, Elton John would perform in the Colosseum for 75 weeks over the next three years.

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