Flashback Friday: Braving the economic crisis of 1955

On May 23, 1955, the $3.5 million Dunes Hotel & Casino opened to fanfare and Hollywood star Vera-Ellen performing.  By 1956, the hotel, suffering financial issues, partially closed – the victim of a variety of challenges including a worldwide economic slump. It would re-open several months later, to begin the slow climb back to success.

Dunes under constructionOn Jan. 20, 2009, the U.S. National Debt was 73 percent of the GDP (gross domestic product), the last time the rate was so high was in 1955. In March, the Consumer Price Index dropped 0.4 percent, the first decline since August of 1955. In Sin City, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority reported that 15.2 million less tourists came to Las Vegas between January and May compared to the same period in 2008. Occupancy is at 82.8 percent and the average daily room rate has dropped 27 percent to $97.23.

The parallels between the economic downturn for Las Vegas in 1955 and 2009 prompt today’s Flashback Friday photo. The picture features the Dunes hotel under construction in 1954. The Flamingo, which opened in 1946, is located to the left of the Dunes’ construction.

Throughout the 1950s the Dunes struggled to become a successful hotel trying a number of marketing and management changes. The most memorable being the opening of a new show. On Jan. 10, 1957, “Minsky’s Follies” opened at the Dunes. It was Las Vegas’ first topless show. The show was a success with 16,000 attending it in the first week. It would run for six years at the Dunes before moving to a number of different Las Vegas hotels over the next decade.

By the 1960s, the Dunes and Vegas were over the economic hurdles of the 1950s recession. In 1961, the Dunes began construction on an expansion featuring at 24-story tower. The hotel would go through ownership changes, further expansions and more until Jan. 26, 1993 when it closed to make room for the Bellagio.


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