Okay, we admit it. When compared to cities like New York or Chicago, Las Vegas isn’t that old – and, unfortunately, our hotels of yesteryear are more likely to be imploded than restored. However, if you want to get a glimpse of Sin City before it became the high-tech wonder it is today, there are some resorts that have ties to the past. Below are 10 “golden oldies” (i.e., hotels nearing or having passed the big 5-0 mark). They offer a lot more than just a place to rest your head.
1.) Golden Gate Hotel & Casino
Year opened: 1906.
Its history: Located in downtown, Golden Gate has roots dating back to the birth of the city. Its land was purchased for $1,750 at an auction held in 1905, when Las Vegas was officially founded. A year later, Hotel Nevada opened. Although the original building remains, over the decades it has seen many changes both in name and appearance. In 2012, Golden Gate completed a $12 million expansion that included the construction of a five-story room tower and a porte cochere.
Number of rooms: 122.
Don’t miss: There’s a display of memorabilia in the lobby that showcases Golden Gate’s past. It contains things like an antique Kellogg telephone, gaming ledgers dating back to 1907 and glass liquor bottles that withstood the Prohibition Era.
2.) Railroad Pass Hotel & Casino
Year opened: 1931.
Its history: The opening of Railroad Pass Club, now known as Railroad Pass Hotel & Casino, coincided with the beginning of construction on Hoover Dam. It’s located on the edge of Boulder City, just off U.S. Highway 93/95. Railroad Pass was once situated in the heart of a mining district, but now it serves locals as well as visitors who are driving between Las Vegas and either Laughlin or Phoenix. Railroad Pass holds the fourth gaming license issued in Nevada. Because the properties that were issued the first, second and third gaming licenses are no longer around, Railroad Pass boasts being the longest operating casino in the state.
Number of rooms: 120.
Don’t miss: The Heritage Room Visitors Center is packed with vintage photographs, old menus, classic slot machines and other memorabilia. There are also proclamations from state politicians honoring milestones like Railroad Pass’ 80th anniversary, which was marked on Aug. 1, 2011. Also stop by the “Safe Room,” where you can see a 6-foot-thick vault built around two safes that once held payroll for the Union Pacific Railroad.
3.) Boulder Dam Hotel
Year opened: 1933.
Its history: This hotel celebrated its 80th anniversary last December. It not only dates back to the earliest years of Boulder City, which formed when construction of Hoover Dam began, but it also was a leader in the tourism industry in the Southwest until the early 1940s. The Boulder Dam Hotel provided an exclusive escape for many famous people. It hosted political leaders of the time, European royalty and movie stars like Boris Karloff, Shirley Temple, Henry Fonda, Will Rogers and Bette Davis. The Boulder Dam Hotel was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
Number of rooms: 21.
Don’t miss: There is a charming front porch with square-paneled columns. The lobby features a fireplace, grand piano and period furnishings. Plus, the Boulder City/Hoover Dam Museum is housed in the back of the Boulder Dam Hotel. The museum’s exhibits tell the story of the people who braved the harsh conditions of the desert in order to build Hoover Dam and Boulder City.
4.) El Cortez
Year opened: 1941.
Its history: With a Spanish ranch theme, El Cortez opened at a cost of $245,000. Located in downtown, the resort was an instant success – becoming the biggest and trendiest hotel in Las Vegas with a casino, a restaurant, a café, a floor show and 59 rooms (that are now known as the “vintage rooms”). In the mid ’40s, it was owned by a group of men with ties to organized crime that included Bugsy Siegel. Legendary gaming visionary Jackie Gaughan bought El Cortez in 1963 and ran it for more than four decades. In 2008, ownership transferred to IKE Gaming, which is comprised of Gaughan’s deep-rooted colleagues. IKE Gaming has spent millions of dollars in recent years not only to renovate the resort but also to launch the contemporary, South Beach-themed El Cortez Cabana Suites across the street. El Cortez was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Feb. 13, 2013.
Number of rooms: 363.
Don’t miss: Keep an eye out for Gaughan, El Cortez’s 93-year-old patriarch. He still lives at the resort in a penthouse suite and can occasionally be found playing poker in the casino. Black-and-white photos of Gaughan and various celebrities are also on display at the back of the casino, lining the walls above the slot and video poker machines.
Year opened: 1946.
Its history: The Flamingo is the oldest resort on the Strip still in operation today. It was opened by mobster Bugsy Siegel and his partners amid ongoing construction with just 77 rooms. The resort was named for Siegel’s girlfriend Virginia Hill, who had long skinny legs. After Siegel was shot in Beverly Hills in 1947, the Flamingo changed ownership several times. In addition to Albert Parvin and Kirk Kerkorian, Hilton Hotel Corporation operated it for many years as the Flamingo Hilton. Today, Caesars Entertainment Corporation owns the Flamingo, which features world-class entertainers Donny and Marie, a wildlife habitat, a 15-acre pool complex, the Caribbean-themed Margaritaville Casino and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville restaurant. It was recently announced that Olivia Newton-John will begin a residency there this summer.
Number of rooms: 3,626.
Don’t miss: On the grounds, between the pool and wedding chapel, there is a memorial plaque honoring Siegel that marks the site where the “original” Flamingo hotel stood from Dec. 26, 1946 – Dec. 14, 1993.
6.) Golden Nugget
Year opened: 1946.
Its history: When Golden Nugget opened, it was the largest and most luxurious casino in downtown. Guy McAfee along with investor Buck Blaine built it. In the early ’70s, budding casino mogul Steve Wynn bought an interest in the property and was soon after named its president and CEO. By 1977, he opened Golden Nugget’s first room tower. Wynn continued expanding throughout the ’80s, adding second and third room towers in 1984 and 1989, respectively. Golden Nugget was sold to MGM Mirage (now MGM Resorts International) in 2000 with Wynn’s other Las Vegas hotel properties. In 2004, Timothy Poster and Thomas Breitling bought it for $215 million. They shared their experiences as first-time casino owners running the property on the Fox reality TV show “The Casino.” Today, Golden Nugget is owned and operated by dining and hospitality leader Landry’s Inc. In fact, two of the company’s popular restaurant brands – Claim Jumper and Cadillac Tequila Cantina & Sports Bar – will open in Golden Nugget soon.
Number of rooms: 2,419.
Don’t miss: Elements of Golden Nugget’s elegant past – marble floors, crystal chandeliers and mahogany accents – can still be seen in the lobby. In keeping with its name, you can also view the “Hand of Faith,” the world’s largest golden nugget, which was found in Australia and weighs 61 pounds, 11 ounces, at the resort.
Year opened: 1955.
Its history: At nine stories, the Riviera was the first high-rise resort constructed on the Strip. It was built by a group of investors from Miami headed by Sam Cohen. The Riviera has gone through many ownership changes and expansions over the years, including the addition of three room towers (in 1975, 1977 and 1988) and championship tennis courts (in 1972). The Riviera’s main showroom has hosted many legends – like Liberace. However, the resort is probably best known for the production “Splash,” which debuted in 1985 and had a nearly 20-year run. This show took place in and near a 20,000-gallon aquarium and then later featured motorcycles zooming around in a cage known as the “Globe of Death.” Another show that has become a signature at the Riviera is the topless revue “Crazy Girls,” which debuted in 1987. There’s even a life-size bronze sculpture of the bottoms of the starring showgirls in front of the property.
Number of rooms: 2,075.
Don’t miss: The Olympic-sized swimming pool was part of the original structure. It’s now flanked on all sides by room towers but still has numerous palm trees and a lovely expanse of grass for relaxing in lounge chairs. In addition, the colorful neon signage stretching across the Riviera’s frontage is a sight to behold at night.
8.) Fremont Hotel & Casino
Year opened: 1956.
Its history: Lou Lurie and partner Ed Levinson opened this downtown resort that was designed by Wayne McAllister, who also designed El Cortez. It cost $6 million to build and initially had 155 rooms. A 14-story room tower was added in 1963. The Fremont was sold to Allen Glick’s Argent Corporation in 1974 and then to Sam Boyd in 1983. It’s still part of Boyd Gaming’s group of properties today. Many interior casino scenes from the 1996 film “Swingers” were shot at the Fremont.
Number of rooms: 447.
Don’t miss: Like the Riviera, the Fremont has an impressive façade. Its block-long pulsating neon signage certainly complements the lights at Fremont Street Experience. Also be sure to pay a visit to its casino lounge, where a teenager named Wayne Newton got his start performing with his older brother in 1959.
9.) Tropicana Las Vegas
Year opened: 1957.
Its history: When it opened, this tropical-themed resort was dubbed the “Tiffany of the Strip” because of its first-class accommodations. Designed by M. Tony Sherman, the 300-room property was built by Ben Jaffe, an executive of the Fontainebleau in Florida, at a cost of about $15 million. For entertainment, the “Folies Bergere” had been imported from Paris in 1959, and it would remain for an extraordinary 50-year run. The Tropicana expanded with a golf course and country club addition in 1961. Another wing of rooms was added in 1962 that surrounded the pool and gardens. The Tropicana changed hands several times as well as added a room tower in years that followed. Ramada Hotels bought the property in 1979 and then in 1989 created Aztar Corporation to operate its gaming resorts. In 2009, the Tropicana – which is now being marketed as “The New Tropicana Las Vegas” – was acquired after bankruptcy by the equity firm Onex Corporation and Alex Yemenidjian, who now serves as the CEO. Room renovations have taken place that have included the unveiling of the Sky Villas, Pool Villas and Presidential Loft suites. The beloved Broadway musical “Mamma Mia!” will be coming to the resort in early May, and plans are in the works to build a 275,000-square-foot shopping mall later this year.
Number of rooms: 1,502.
Don’t miss: After you walk through the Tropicana’s front doors, look up at the striking stained glass canopy over the table games. It was designed by Tony DeVroude and installed in 1979 for about $1 million. Also head out to the Tropicana’s pool, which was known for originating swim-up blackjack, because you’ll still find the game going strong in the summer months.
10.) Caesars Palace
Year opened: 1966.
Its history: Entrepreneur Jay Sarno financed and leased the land for Caesars Palace in 1962. He went about designing and building the resort utilizng classic Italian architecture based on the vision of pampering his customers like Roman emperors. The 14-story, 700-room property opened during a three-day party with each guest being welcomed by attractive Caesar and Cleopatra actors. Caesars Palace expanded much like an empire in the following decades – with several unique room towers: the Centurion, Roman, Fantasy (now called Forum), Palace, Augustus and Octavius. The Centurion Tower was renovated and relaunched as the world’s first Nobu Hotel in early 2013. Caesars Palace, which is now owned by Caesars Entertainment Corporation, has always been at the forefront of entertainment. Its original Circus Maximus Showroom was graced by an array of legendary performers. In 2003, the 4,296-seat Colosseum, opened. It was built for Celine Dion, who headlines there today with other acclaimed performers including Shania Twain and Elton John.
Number of rooms: 3,960.
Don’t miss: The fountains in front of Caesars Palace, which were built in the early ’60s, are a must-see. Evel Knievel attempted to jump them with his motorcycle in 1967, but that stunt resulted in a bone-shattering crash. In 1989, however, his son Robby Knievel successfully jumped over the fountains.