It’s a rarity for Sin City — a historic hotel that hasn’t fallen victim to the wrecking ball and had its marquee consigned to the Vegas Neon Museum with the other steel, glass and gas dinosaurs.
The Westgate Las Vegas Resort and Casino is still alive and thriving after 50 years. In July, the legendary lodge marked half a century of hosting high rollers and celebrity guests, family vacations and global gatherings.
Opened in 1969 as the International Hotel, it was the tallest building and largest hotel in Las Vegas at that time. Even more than sheer size, the property turned the global resort industry on its head with a number of revolutionary features.
As the name suggests, the hotel offered a tour of the world: themed rooms with Spanish, Italian, and French decor and restaurants with global cuisine. The architecture was also radical, a Y-shape that allowed for great views.
But it really upped the ante on entertainment. It was the first Las Vegas hotel to offer Broadway musicals and legitimate theater -- paving the way for the flamboyant productions that Vegas is known for. Many think of it as the house that Elvis built, and in a way it was.
Presley debuted on July 31st -- the first of 636 sold-out shows over seven years.
Liberace and Wayne Newton, two of the most popular entertainers in Las Vegas history, also headlined. Barry Manilow opened 2005, a tradition that continues with his current residency show, “The Hits Come Home.”
But one of the most amazing things about the hotel is the loyalty and longevity of those who work there. Angel Lopez Rosas has been at the property since day one, starting at International Theater and now at the Westgate Cabaret.
“The most amazing thing for me is all of the headliners I’ve seen over the years,” said Lopez. “All of the biggest names. If they came to Las Vegas, they performed right here. There was nothing like it.”
“My fondest memories in this hotel were the years when Elvis performed here,” recalled Dominic Parisi, a 47-year veteran and author of the autobiography My Vegas Life. “The energy was unlike I’ve ever seen in this town.”
Ken Ratigan, another old-timer, worked his way up from an entry-level position in 1976 to the hotel’s current executive director of catering and banquets. “Back when we started, the casinos ruled,” he said. “Now we are a convention hotel that has a casino.”
Still one of the world’s 30 largest hotels, the Westgate Las Vegas features 2,956 guest rooms, 95,000-square foot casino, the world’s largest race and sports book, and its own monorail station for gliding over to the nearby Strip.
When Westgate Resorts assumed ownership in 2014, they began an expansion and a $250-million renovation, while maintaining the classic look.
The 30th floor now features three immense sky villas with butler service.
Guests can splash in four different pools, pamper at the Serenity Spa, try 13 restaurants, tee off at the adjacent Las Vegas Country Club, tie the knot at the chapel, learn how to do magic or even get a tattoo -- all without ever leaving the Westgate. The resort offers a classic “only in Vegas” experience in an even more classic environment.
-Joe Yogerst, Custom Publishing Writer