Downtown’s El Cortez is put on the National Register of Historic Places

El Cortez Hotel & Casino, located in downtown Las Vegas, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Feb. 13, 2013.

Made up of buildings, sites, structures and objects in the U.S. that are worthy of preservation, the National Register of Historic Places includes more than 88,000 listings.

El Cortez exterior at night

El Cortez, as it appears today. (Photo courtesy of El Cortez Hotel & Casino)

“We are thrilled to become one of the beloved properties across the nation recognized on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places,” said Alex Epstein, executive vice president of El Cortez Hotel & Casino. “Our hotel represents not only the treasured memories of our city’s history but also embraces the future of downtown.”

As the city’s oldest continuously operating casino, it seems only natural that El Cortez be on the country’s official list of notable places. When it opened at 600 Fremont St. in 1941, the resort was an instant success – being the biggest and trendiest hotel in Las Vegas at that time and for at least a decade to come.

John Kell Houssels had formed a partnership in order to build El Cortez that included renowned Los Angeles architect Marion Hicks and businessman John Grayson. Costing $245,000 and featuring a Spanish ranch theme, the resort debuted with a casino, a restaurant, a café, a floor show and 59 rooms (that are now known as the “vintage rooms”).

El Cortez through the years

Images showing El Cortez in 1953 (top) and more recently in 2008. (Photos courtesy of the Las Vegas News Bureau)

Over the past 70-odd years, El Cortez has had a handful of owners and changed greatly with the times. For a short period, in the mid ’40s, the resort was in the possession of a group of men (that included Bugsy Seigel) with ties to organized crime. Legendary gaming visionary Jackie Gaughan bought El Cortez in 1963. He owned the property for more than four decades and added a 15-story tower to it.

In 2008, ownership of El Cortez transferred to IKE Gaming, which is comprised of Gaughan’s deep-rooted colleagues, including the Epstein family and Mike Nolan. During the past five years, more than $28 million has been spent renovating the resort. In 2009 the contemporary, South Beach-themed El Cortez Cabana Suites were unveiled across the street. El Cortez hosted an innovative Design-A-Suite competition to give new life to its collection of standard 650-square-foot suites. Plus, the resort’s central bar, built in 1982, was recently remodeled by the internationally acclaimed Friedmutter Group and relaunched as the elegant Parlour Bar.

Amid all of these additions and renovations, however, the exterior of the El Cortez  still retains its initial appearance. In fact, in late 2011, the resort received its first repainting in about 30 years – and the fresh coat is reminiscent to what the color had been on the original building.


I’m a Las Vegas native. By profession, I write at Mostly about the city’s hotels, but on other topics – gaming and transportation – too. I really love staying at hotels. And the ones here are among the biggest and best in the world. Some key things I’ve learned: Resort fees are inescapable (frustrating but true), a friendly attitude at the front desk may score you a great view and over-the-top room amenities – bath butlers, Japanese tea service, menus with “intimate” items – do exist. What else should you know about me? Well, I’m comfortable at a blackjack table. And I like eating late-night pancakes in hotel coffee shops. A lot. Follow Renee on Google+.