The Birth of the El Rancho Vegas
Legend has it that Tommy Hull was driving through the Las Vegas desert on the old Highway 91 when his car broke down near San Francisco Avenue. While Hull waited to be rescued by a tow truck, he counted the cars that came past, and realised that there was great potential for a hotel and pool in the small dusty town of Las Vegas that would cater to weary travellers. This is just a legend however. What really happened was that Tommy Hull was friends with a man called Big Jim Cashman. Cashman owned a string of hotels in California called El Rancho and convinced Hull that they should build one in Las Vegas.
The El Rancho Vegas is Born
Opening its doors on April 3rd, 1941, the El Rancho Vegas was like nothing that Las Vegas had ever seen before. The buildings were done in a ranch style, with a main casino, a dining room, a show room and a lounge. The rooms themselves were a totally new kind where people could drive to their actual rooms and bungalows themselves amidst a lush green landscape laid out around a sparking pool. The sparkling pool was bordered by a terrace that served drinks. The idea was that the El Rancho Vegas would look like an oasis in the middle of the Nevada desert, and tired and thirsty travellers would be drawn like moths to a flame.
The front of the white building was topped with a huge neon windmill that could be seen for miles, and became one of the most famous ever Vegas landmarks. The resort boasted two restaurants and a cocktail lounge as well as The Opera House dining room and showroom. The grand opening gala was attended by most of Las Vegas. At the time Highway 91 was only a rough potholed track, but even so the glitz and glamour of the gala attracted a huge number of people. Garwood Van’s orchestra was hired for four weeks for the opening and ended up staying for over a year at the El Rancho Vegas.
War broke out in 1941, and the El Rancho Vegas was used as a housing space for troops. 60 additional unites were built to accommodate the men and were never empty. The famous Clarke Gable stayed at El Rancho Vegas after hearing news that his wife’s plane had crashed in the area. When reports finally came through that no one on board had survived, he and his friend Spencer Tracey drank well into the night at the bar. The El Rancho Vegas was so successful in Las Vegas, creating new ideas like the Chuck Wagon Buffet, and a totally self contained hotel and casino, that it inspired the opening of a number of other hotels and casinos on the strip. The resort changed hands a few times during this period.
On June 7th 1960 a fire broke out at the back of the Opera House. The fire quickly spread to main building, and despite 30 000 gallons of water, it engulfed the entire hotel in less than an hour. Things were never the same after that. The El Rancho Vegas became a small motel operation serving only to create nostalgia in old timers. The remaining buildings and bungalows simply baked in the desert sun. Some bungalows were removed and taken to the Old Vegas theme park which is now a housing development. They have since been removed. In 1978 the last remnants of the grand old resort were demolished.