History of the Thunderbird
First Opened September 2, 1948
Renamed the Silverbird in 1977
Renamed the El Rancho in 1982
In 1946, attorney Cliff Jones, and Los Angeles developer and Nevada
gambling pioneer, Marion Hicks, invested $2 million in a 111,000 Sq.
foot new complex across from the El Rancho from Guy McAfee and his
It was not until October of 1947, when building restrictions were met
sufficiently, to allow construction to start.
On September 2, 1948, the Thunderbird opened. Hicks had the distinction of
being the only man in town who had built two resort hotels. His original
venture, El Cortez, opened in 1941.
The Thunderbird's name was derived from an ancient Navajo legend - "The
Sacred Bearer of Happiness Unlimited".
The walls were concrete block with the ubiquitous weeping mortar. The
cocktail lounge displayed murals of cowboys, chuck wagons, and saguaro
cactus. The Navajo-style Pow Wow dining/showroom, had a small stage and
heavy wood trusses over the white tablecloth covered tables. The use of
native stone connected The Thunderbird to the region.
The room wing imitated the Flamingo's, with a central three-story section
raised above the two-story wings. In front of the main wing was the pool
with a high dive, palms, and lawn. This pool was billed as the largest
pool in Nevada with it containing 360,000 gallons of water.
It was the first Strip hotel covered with a porte cochere. On top of the
desert tower lookout was the Thunderbird, its talons gripped onto the tower
roof. Another neon mate was perched on the roadside sign.
In 1950, the Thunderbird had a total of 206 rooms and an annex. It then
added a six unit bungalow and the Casino Bar.
In 1952, Thunderbird was overbooked so the owners built the 110 room
Algiers on the property to accommodate the overflow. Guests of The
Algiers were given the same perks and benefits as if they were staying at
In 1954, the 450 to 500 seat Terrace Room was added. It was equipped to
show movies and had a public address system. A dance floor was also
installed for social functions. Its ceiling domes were lit enhancing the
flame-colored ceiling and its pompeliano had tinted walls.
In 1955, the Thunderbird lifted the roadside bird higher into the air on a
pylon rising out of a new porte cochere. She also expanded her casino out
toward the road, framing its new second floor with a rectangular box. A
new porte cochere and a taller sign pole with three pennant signboards
attached were added.
In 1955, The Thunderbird was closed down for a short time by the Tax
Commission after articles appearing in the Las Vegas Sun alleged that Meyer
Lansky and other underworld figures held hidden interest in the property.
In 1964, Del Webb bought the Thunderbird, adding a new façade south of the
original entry as well as bringing the room count to 500. The thunderbirds
were replaced by an updated one created by Ad-Art. The 700-foot sign
stretched across the old room wings south of the entry was the Strip's
biggest, over three times as long as the Stardust.
In 1966, Ken Curtis (Gunsmoke's Festus) and his bride Torrie Connelly
honeymooned at the resort.
In 1972, the Thunderbird was sold to the owners of Caesars Palace,
Clifford and Stuart Perlman. The new name was Thunderbird, A Division of
Caesars World, Inc.
The Thunderbird saw many stars/shows perform on its stages including
Rosemary Clooney, Larry Storch, Mills Brothers, Morton Downey, Orson Bean,
and Dale Robertson, Kaye Ballard, Belle Barth, Henny Youngman, Breck
Wall, The Treniers, Dorothy Shay Show, the Donald O'Connor Revue , Mel
Torme, Dick Shawn, Frank Gorshin, Edie Adams, Jim Bailey, Marty Barris,
Pete Candoli, Bobby Goldsboro, Tony Martin, China Doll Revue, Ecstasy on
Ice, and Les Foley's Glacees, showcased All Star Ice Revue, Follies on
Ice, Scandals on Ice with George Arnold, Sketches on Ice starring Edie
Adams, and Summer Ice Revue with Sammy Shore, South Pacific, Flower Drum
Song starring Jack Soo, Latin Fire '71 with Marta Cisneros, Latin Fire '72
starring Freddy Manjon, and Latin Fire '73 starring Manolo Torrente.
The Perlmans sold the hotel in 1977 to Dune's owner Major Auterburn Riddle
who changed the name to Silverbird.
Silverbird’s restaurant Top Brass, advertised "the Major stakes his
reputation on it." Also advertised was the Mexican restaurant La Paloma.
In 1981, veteran gambling operator Ed Torres purchased the Silverbird,
added a Spanish style mission front, and renamed it El Rancho in 1982.
A new tower was built along with a 52 lane bowling center with a bar and
snack restaurant, and a 90,000 square foot casino/race and sports
books. The casino held seven poker tables.
The El Rancho closed in 1992. New Jersey Horseracing Association
purchased the El Rancho but they couldn't get financing. The City ordered
the Association to tear down the building. They commenced destruction in
June of 1999, but subsequently halted the demolition.
In 2000, Turnberry Associates, purchased the El Rancho from the defunct New
The Thunderbird/Silverbird/El Rancho was imploded with 700 pounds of
explosives in front of more than 2,000 onlookers just after 2:30am on
October 3, 2000.
During the implosion, The Algiers, which is now owned by Hicks’ daughter
Marianne Kifer, was draped in plastic, and suffered only a sprinkling of
dust. There were no guests inside because LVI paid for all of the lodge's
rooms for the night.
When the El Rancho came down, she left 10,000 tons of concrete. The
remains will benefit Las Vegas when The Southern Nevada Water Authority and
the Las Vegas Wash Coordination Committee decided to use her remains to
reinforce one structure in a planned network of the Las Vegas Wash.
More detailed information can be found at www.lvstriphistory.com