Hotel Histories

History of the Sands / Venetian

First Opened as the Sands December 15, 1952
Replaced with the Venetian which opened May 3, 1999


Houston Texas gambler and oilman Jake Freedman, along with partners Jack Entratter, and Carl Cohen, both wanted to build a new resort on the Strip. Unable to get a building permit, they purchased La Rue's Restaurant from ex-Flamingo owner, Billy Wilkerson. The 200 room hotel and casino amounted to a $5.5 million addition to the old restaurant.

Bearing the slogan "A Place in the Sun," the Sands opened on December 15, 1952. Opening night entertainment was provided by Danny Thomas, Jimmy McHugh, Judy Collins, Chuck Nelson, and the "Copa Girls", billed as the "Most Beautiful Girls in The World".

The rooms were housed in five two-story Bermuda modern-style buildings, each named after a famous thoroughbred racetrack, arranged in a semi-circle around a half-moon shaped swimming pool. These structures featured a "Vermiculite" tile roof which was used extensively in the tropics to provide cooler temperatures. The main building was a great rectangular hall with the reception desk in one corner, slot machines along one long wall, and a bar and cocktail lounge, complete with a Latin trio along the opposite wall. Three wide terrazzo stairs led down into the large low casino lit by shallow modern chandeliers. The casino was flat-roofed where warm earth tones predominated and were enhanced by expensive copper lighting fixtures.

Crowning the Sands was a roadside sign that took a first step beyond the Strip status of sheet metal signs adorned with neon. At 56 feet, it was taller than the rest, with the "S" alone standing 35 feet, but its primary distinction was its integration into the main building's architecture. An eggcrate grill, cantilevered from a solid anchor pylon, played with the desert light and shadow. In a bold free script, the neon name "Sands" sprawled across the face of it.

Talent-wise and contact-rich, Jack Entratter was the Entertainment Director who became the driving force behind the hotel's world wide acclaim as the "in" place in Las Vegas. From the outset he presented the biggest names in entertainment. Entratter treated the performers appearing at the Sands like royalty and the biggest stars in show business all played the Sands during his tenure.

The Sands was the hotel of the '50s and early '60s. Entratter brought in Frank Sinatra and his "Rat Pack" which also included Dean Martin, Peter Lawford, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop who were staples at the hotel for over two decades. Tallulah Bankhead, Billy Eckstine, Jane Powell, Danny Thomas, Judy Collins, Vic Damone, Peggy Lee, Rosemary Clooney, Peter Lind Hayes & Mary Healy, Lena Horne, Bobby Darin, Jerry Lewis, Pearl Bailey, Myron Cohen, Nat "King" Cole, Johnnie Ray, Patti Page, Red Skelton, Jerry Vale, Carol Burnett, Robert Goulet, Johnny Mathis, Count Basie, George Gobel and Paul Anka were among other stars who also performed at the Sands.

When the Desert Inn opened its large pool in 1955, the Last Frontier filled in its old roadside pool and built a heated one of AAU dimensions with a subsurface observation room at the deep and a deck-side bar. The Desert Inn then replaced its original pool with one even bigger. The Sands created a thing of free flow design large enough to float a cruiser to compete.

In October of 1959, Sands completed a $100,000 remodeling of her lobby area, and was about to embark on a $1 million project for the addition of 53 luxury suites.

The Sands was bought by Howard Hughes for $14.6 million on July 22, 1967. Hughes added a 17-story cylinder tower, containing 777 rooms, topped by a tiara of looped arches ringing the penthouse. It stood prominently along the still mostly lowrise Strip.

It was during this period that the Sands was considered the "Queen of the Strip." It was one of the better hotels, with a strong customer base. The Sands was unique in that it was the only hotel that the guests could check into the hotel and never see the casino. It was considered a Class A operation by all.

In 1981, The Summa Corporation was advised to sell particular properties because the Hughes estate was too widespread. The Inns of the Americas, Inc., bought the Sands and expanded the casino, and in 1982, the Sands replaced the Modernist porte cochere with coruscating mushrooms. The Inns of America then became known as the Pratt Corporation.

The Pratt Corporation took the Sands over with plans to go after a specific market, Mexico and Latin America. Neil Smythe, then an executive at Caesars Palace, was hired to run the property.

Unfortunately, the Mexican economy nosedived, and the peso was devalued to almost nothing. Sands was left holding bad markers and the Mexican/Latin American trade dried up to almost nothing. The Pratts were left in an untenable situation, and in May of 1983, Summa stepped back in and repossessed the property.

When Summa took the hotel back, a new general manager, Phil Hannifin was appointed to guide it. The hotel was operated on a different scale than before because the Pratts had made some changes, a major one being that they had taken out the showroom which had to be re-installed.

Kirk Kerkorian purchased the Sands in 1988, making it the MGM Sands. Kerkorian was only involved with the property for a few months, as the Interface Group purchased it in April 1988 for $110 million. The sale was finalized in April of 1989. Even though the plan was to bring the Sands back to the status she once had, this couldn’t be accomplished. She kept failing. It was finally decided to implode her.

The Sands was imploded on November 26, 1996 at 2:06am

On May 3, 1999, the $1.5 billion, 3,036 room, 35 story, The Venetian Resort Hotel Casino opened its doors amid the flutter of white doves, sounding trumpets and singing gondoliers, with Academy Award-winning actress Sophia Loren joining The Venetian Chairman and Owner, Sheldon G. Adelson, in christening the first gondola. The Venetian opened on 1.7 million square feet of property. The Venetian is the first all-suites hotel on the Strip. Its guests enjoy spacious 700 square-foot suites with the finely appointed accommodations that include a plush private bed chamber featuring draped canopies, an oversized 130 square-foot bathroom finished in Italian marble, and a sunken living room area furnished with a convertible sofa, two upholstered chairs, a desk and game table.

Playing homage to the romance, old-world charm and festival-like atmosphere of Venice, Italy. The Venetian's opening celebration was authentically replicated as the striking statuaries, hand-painted frescoes, and recreated historic Venetian landmarks and palaces that adorn the megaresort.

The Venetian is the first phase of a two-part master planned casino resort entertainment project. Upon completion of Phase II, The Venetian will be the world's largest hotel and convention complex under one roof - with more then 6,00 lavish suites. The property boasts approximately 120,000 square feet of gaming floor; 500,000 square feet of meeting space at The Venetian Congress Center - which includes the world's largest column-free ballroom at 85,0000 square feet; and a direct link to the 1.2 million square-foot Sands Expo and Convention Center.

In the summer of 1999, famed Madame Tussaud's Museum opened at the Venetian. The 30,000 square-foot, two-story Madame Tussaud's Celebrity Encounter features five highly themed environments showcasing more than 100 specially crafted wax figures of some of the most popular film, television, music and sports celebrities, as well as legendary Las Vegas icons.

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