Sahara Las Vegas
May 16, 2011 by USA Post
Sahara Las Vegas, The Sahara was opened on October 7, 1952. On the morning of October 8, 1952, my father, Hank Greenspun, published his “What is my position” column announcing the opening of the great Sahara. It began this way:
“Ray Bolger (the scarecrow in ‘The Wizard of Oz’) came on stage at the Sahara Hotel last night and said,” a few years ago, nothing but desert, all of a sudden bingo. ‘
“Description of Ray’s ‘first night’ of the Sahara is typical of all the openings of the Strip hotels. Tommy Hull at the forefront of the game with Gus Greenbaum. I can imagine the thoughts that must have gone through Tommy’s head while watched the opening of the city’s newest and most beautiful in Las Vegas.
“Tommy is the guy who had the vision that gave the Gaza its inception 12 years ago when it built the El Rancho Vegas.”
My father’s hasty reaction to the opening of the Sahara – I had to write at some point between 10:00 and 11:15 at night when the Las Vegas Sun went to press – was typical of the way vegan opening reactions another great example of what would be the basis for the Entertainment Capital of the World.
It was also the way to Hank to congratulate your dear friend, Milton Prell, a man whose vision conceived and created the Sahara, to forge the path of what was still a very small town yearning to be great.
That was almost 60 years, and one in Las Vegas today can argue with the fact that men like Milton Prell, Tommy Hull, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Wilbur Clark dreamed has come to pass 100 times. Yes, every era has had its share of visionaries and builders. You can go up and down the Strip and see the results of what your imagination has wrought.
But in those early days when dreams were all they had, because money was short and customers were in the case of arrival, the people who came with his money and risked all they had were the true pioneers of this example of a Western city dream compensated. Okay.
As a child, I remember that the Sahara, not by their wealth and their adult entertainment options. What I remember is my bike up the hill seemed an endless Avenue San Francisco was on his way to meet the Los Angeles freeway. Actually hunted frogs in a swamp on the street. Today, we call that the freeway in Los Angeles’s famous Strip! Avenue and San Francisco? That is now Sahara Avenue.
That move – changing street names – began a trend. How do you think Desert Inn Road got its name? Flamingo Road? And what happened to Bond Road, which was not much more than the dirt in the early days when he crossed the road in Los Angeles? Try to Tropicana Avenue, one of the fronts of the original Strip last beauties still exist. And their does because what Alex Yemenidjian has been doing in this place the last two years is not much short of outstanding. But that’s another story for another day.
I remember growing up in a small town of Las Vegas, where the Sahara represented the best that man can achieve in the entertainment world. If it was sensational performance that led the Congo Room – Johnny Carson, Buddy Hackett, Don Rickles, Edgar Bergen with Charlie McCarthy, Liberace, George Burns and a young Sammy Davis Jr. – or culinary masterpieces of the day – Don Beachcomber and House Lords – or the aesthetic beauty of the grass around a beautiful pool, the Sahara had everything.
But above all, and this is where I can show how shallow I really am, was the hot chocolate banana royale ice cream served in the cafeteria that the Sahara was not only my favorite, but also the favorite of most of us who grew up here and have seen a king-size deal from time to time.
I do not know how they did it but managed to serve the most amazing concoctions of ice cream at incredibly low prices. In fact, I know how they did it because it was the old days, what could be called BA, before the counters.
Speaking of time before the counters, I remember when people who worked in the gambling business dreamed the day would become a vice president of the Sahara. What I really meant is that it has a new briefcase. The title comes with the right to enter the “computer room.” Can you guess what the bags were?
I also remember the Board of Pan in the Sahara. That’s where my mother would play their version of the cards. This is also where she and my father met and became lifelong friends with Eddie Escobedo. Eddie tended bar in the early days and later showed the city that the American dream was alive and could be accessed by anyone who is willing to work hard enough.
Property on Del Webb has brought tremendous growth for the Sahara, it has with the rest of Las Vegas, as he found his niche somewhere near the top of the world of tourism. The name of the Sahara expanded northward to Lake Tahoe, setting new standards for this part of the gaming world.
In the 1970′s, Webb’s company was led by General Eduardo Nigro, who tried to restore the hotel to greatness, but whose untimely death in that effort short. Years later, the general’s son and my friend, Edward M. Nigro, accepted the job and put back the Sahara on the map.
I remember those days well, because after Webb died, his company was in crisis. A man named Frank Sinatra joined Mickey Rudin and publisher Hank Greenspun called Las Vegas in a battle of proxy values?? For the control of the company Webb, who can, once again, to mark its place Sahara belonged.
That effort failed and the rest is history. Despite a valiant attempt by Bill Bennett to regain its former status, the die was cast. The Strip had moved to the south and the action was not anywhere near Sahara Avenue.
It was only a matter of time when its current owner, Sam Nazarian, would be admitting defeat. The Sahara will close its doors on Monday, ending what has been the longest running show on the Strip. What began with Ray Bolger yell “bingo” that sht in just a few hours?
For those of you who want to read and learn more about the Sahara and his legendary life, read the Las Vegas Sun on Monday and go to LasVegasSun.com for a real treat. We have reproduced some of the columns of my father, who is worth reading for himself.
What remains, of course, is to meet Sam’s plans for what comes next. He is a man of considerable business acumen, so that once the economy improves in southern Nevada, it is not inconceivable that the land on which is one of the great monuments of the early golden years of The Vegas one more time to usher in a new vision, a new dream. The next leg of the course ahead of Las Vegas.
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