Hotel Histories

History of the Flamingo

First Opened December 26, 1946


In 1945, Billy Wilkerson, owner of the Hollywood Reporter as well as several hot nightclubs in Los Angeles wanted to recreate the Sunset Strip in Las Vegas. He purchased land about one mile south of the Last Frontier. Due to the high cost of materials immediately after the war, Wilkerson ran out of money.

In 1946, Benjamin Siegel and his New York "partners", along with Frank Costello, invested $1 million in this Strip property. They agreed to let Wilkerson retain one-third ownership and operational control. Siegel took over the project and supervised the building. Siegel paid top dollar for building materials due to wartime shortages. Also, workers would deliver material by day, and steal it back at night. Because of all this, the original cost more that doubled. It was during one of Siegel's outbursts out of frustration with the slow going of the building, that head contractor, Del Webb grew somewhat fearful, comes the famous quote of Siegel "Don't worry, we only kill each other."

Siegel named his resort after his girlfriend Virginia Hill. Hill loved to gamble in the U.S. and Mexico. The dealers in Mexico began calling her "The Flamingo" due to her red hair swinging while she danced showing her long legs.

Siegel's fourth floor suite was a double-loaded room wing with walls reinforced with steel acquired from naval shipyards. The suite's exits consisted of an elevator with an ante-room outside the suite, and two stairway exits lead down to any of the other three floors and basement and a secret trap door in the bedroom. Beneath the hatch was a ladder that led down into the basement of the hotel. There was also a false stairway installed to confuse would be assassins. There were gun portals and hallways leading nowhere to confuse intruders.

Although the 40 acre Flamingo was not finished, Siegel hoped to raise some revenue by having the grand opening on December 26, 1946. The opening was a disaster as the hotel rooms were unfinished and the Hollywood guests didn't arrive because of bad weather in Los Angeles. Because the gamblers had no rooms at the hotel, they merely took their winnings and gambled elsewhere. The casino lost $300,000 in its first week of operation. After two weeks, the Flamingo closed down and re-opened on March 1, 1947, with the name The Fabulous Flamingo.

Siegel began forcing Wilkerson out with threats. Wilkerson finally severed his connection in April, 1947.

Siegel's partners were growing more than restless wanting their money repaid. Convinced that Siegel wasn't giving them a "square count", they assassinated him on June 20, 1947, at Virginia Hill's mansion in California. Moe Sedway and Gus Greenbaum took over the resort.

Competition from the ultramodern Sands compelled the Flamingo to remodel in 1953 at the cost of over $1 million.

Throughout the years Flamingo had several owners including El Rancho Vegas owner and father of the Strip, Thomas Hull, and Chester Simms; Albert Parvin and George E. Goldberg; three Miami Beach investors from the Al Parvin group; International and MGM Grand owner Kirk Kerkorian; Hilton; and finally Hilton subsidiary, Park Place Entertainment.

The celebrities to grace the resort throughout the years include Steve Allen, Paul Anka, Pearl Bailey, Kaye Ballard, Count Basie and his Orchestra, Milton Berle, Ray Bolger, Pat Boone, Jack Carter & Barbara McNair, Nat King Cole, Bill Cosby, Gary Crosby, Xavier Cugat and his band, Vic Damone, Bobby Darin, Phyllis Diller, Fats Domino, Jimmy Durante, Ella Fitzgerald, Foreigner, Mitzi Gaynor, Betty Grable, Frank Gorshin, Peter Lind Hayes & Mary Healy, Don Ho, Lena Horne, Burl Ives, Eddie Jackson, Harry James, Spike Jones, Tom Jones, Alan King, Jerry Lewis & Dean Martin, Abbe Lane, Peggy Lee, Joe E. Lewis, Rose Marie, Tony Martin, Eddie Money, Terry Moore, Jan Murray & Gloria De Haven , Wayne Newton, Juliet Prowse, Joan Rivers, Larry Storch, Della Reese, Kenny Rogers & The First Edition, Darren Romeo, Dick Shawn, The Supremes, Danny Thomas, Justin Tranz, Dionne Warwick, and Shelley Winters.

In 1957, Judy Garland surprised the patrons during her show by introducing her 11 year old daughter, Liza Minnelli, sitting in the audience. Liza then came up to the stage and sang a duet with her mother.

The Flamingo property today contains not only the resort but also a time share owned by Hilton Grand Vacations Company, bringing the total rooms on the land to 3,638.

Today the third resort on the Strip competes successfully with the new megaresorts with a health spa, wedding chapel, shops, rent-a-car, fine restaurants, and popular musicals and celebrity shows.

The exterior offers two Olympic size swimming pools, one kids' pool, two Jacuzzis, several waterfalls, and meandering streams and lagoons. A waterslide branches off to empty into three separate pools. The free admission habitat contains penguins, flamingos, ducks, swans, Koi, and goldfish. There are also four night-lighted championship tennis courts available to visitors, together with a complete Pro Shop, a practice court, and a tennis pro for lessons.

The casino is 70,000 square feet. It contains a race and sports book, 2,100 slot machines, and 64 table games including progressive Keno, Caribbean Stud Poker, Let It Ride, Double-Down Stud, Blackjack and a traditional Poker Parlor.

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