Hotel Histories

History of the Desert Inn

First Opened April 24, 1950


The Desert Inn was the idea of Wilbur Clark. With the $1.5 million proceeds from the sale of his part of the El Rancho, and Monte Carlo Club, Clark bought out the other partners in the Players Club in 1945. He demolished the building and began construction of the Desert Inn in 1946. He proceeded to build Desert Inn piecemeal. Clark had a dream of a chic resort to compete with the Flamingo, but modeled for the Desert Inn located in Palm Springs, California. Unfortunately, in 1947-1948 Clark ran out of money and construction stopped.

To obtain funding to complete the complex, Clark turned to associates from Cleveland, Ohio - Morris "Moe" Dalitz, Morris Kleinman, Sam Tucker, Tom McGinty, and Lou and Bernie Rothkopf. The associates, headed by Dalitz took a 74% interest in the Desert Inn. Dalitz received his financing from the Teamster's Union Central States Pension fund.

Four years in the making, the 300 room Desert Inn opened on April 24 and 25, 1950, costing $6.5 million. Desert Inn's two day gala opening received national press coverage and gave the hotel overnight identity. Invitations were sent to all major newspapers and magazines. The media guests were flown out to the opening at a cost of $5,700. Another 150 invitations were sent by Clark to VIPs whose credit limit was $10,000. A further list of impressive dignitaries and players were furnished by Clark's new associates. In all, 50% of the guests, public figures and tourists who attended the opening were from California and Nevada, while others were drawn from around the country. The Desert Inn's trademark, a painted desert scene highlighted by a large Joshua Tree cactus, stood as a symbol for the warmth and hospitality the Hotel came to exemplify.

Opening night entertainment appeared in the new professional, luxurious 450 seat, Painted Desert Room, by Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Vivian Blaine, Pat Patrick as "Ercil Twing", a Bergen-inspired character, The Donn Arden Dancers and the Desert Inn Orchestra conducted by Ray Noble.

In November of 1951, the ground breaking for the golf course was announced. Desert Inn was the only Strip resort with an 18-hole golf course on its 272 acres of property.

In 1953, Desert Inn held its first Annual Tournament of Champions Golf Event. Other Las Vegas hotels contributed $25,000 to the event as the proceeds went to the Damon Runyon Memorial Fund for Cancer Research. For 13 years, this tournament was one of the premiere stops on the pro golfer's tour. It was an event the entire city looked forward to.

In 1956, Clark suffered a stroke, and began taking a back seat to the running of the resort. He died in 1965 of a heart attack.

In 1963, the St. Andrew Tower was added.

In 1966, Howard Hughes, who had been living on the ninth floor, began his spending spree by buying the resort for $7 million. Even though Hughes died in 1976, the Desert Inn remained the possession of the Summa Corporation. Hughes had authorized an expansion of the Desert Inn before he died. As a legacy to Hughes, Summa mushroomed the resort from its original 16 acres to 165 acres at a cost of $54 million. The striking 14-story Augusta Tower was built.

To celebrate its 35th birthday, Desert Inn buried a time capsule to be opened on April 24, 2020. Summa sold the Desert Inn in 1986 to Kirk Kerkorian with the sale becoming finalized in 1987, with the name of MGM Desert Inn. ITT-Sheraton purchased the Desert Inn from Kerkorian's Tracinda Corporation in 1993 for $160 million.

In 1997, Desert Inn completed a $200 million expansion. Desert reduced its 821 rooms to 715 to provide luxurious accommodations and exceptional service The expansion included the renovation of the Augusta and St. Andrews Towers, as well as the casino and public areas, building of the Palm Tower, Grand Lobby Atrium, New Golf Shop and Country Club, Starlight Lounge, Villas Del Lago, and the lagoon-style pool and gardens.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., acquired the Desert Inn in 1998 when it bought ITT Corp., but Starwood immediately put the resort on the auction block because, despite the $200 million renovation, it was losing money. On May 19, 1999, Sun International Hotels Ltd., bought the resort for $275 million.

On March 2, 2000, Sun International announced that it was pulling out of the $275 million pact to buy the resort, the 18-hole golf course, and an adjacent 32 acres of undeveloped land from Starwood Hotels Resorts. Starwood immediately put her up for sale but no buyers had been lined up.

There was an agreement that if the Desert Inn didn't sell for $275 million, Sun would pay 50% of the difference up to $15 million.

On April 24, 2000, Desert Inn turned 50 years old, and celebrated her birthday with a full week of activities. The festivities teed off with a celebrity golf tournament on the last remaining 18-hole championship course on the Las Vegas Strip. Some in attendance were Susan Anton, Robert Loggia, Chris O'Donnell, Robert Urich, Vincent Van Patten, Tony Curtis, Rip Taylor and various local dignitaries, celebrities and media. A time capsule was buried in a custom-designed granite burial chamber on April 25, 2000, to be opened on April 25, 2050.

On April 28, 2000, Steve Wynn bought the Desert Inn for $270 million. Wynn stated that he came to the conclusion that the resort had to be closed as he said he could not find a program that would work as the resorts stands presently. Plans for the yet unnamed resort will be that the first hotel tower will be 59 stories with 3,000 rooms. It will feature large rooms, gardens and courtyards. Wynn promised to bring a new life to the Desert Inn.

At 2:00 a.m. on August 28, 2000, Desert Inn closed her doors forever.

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