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Caesars Palace: 50 years of Roman dominance in Las Vegas

Caesars Palace
For five decades, Caesars Palace has hosted some of the best-known people in America, from the late Muhammad Ali (pictured here before a 1973 fight) to crooner Frank Sinatra to President Obama.
(Tony King / Las Vegas News Bureau)

Caesars Palace was the first true themed resort along the Las Vegas Strip. The hotel-casino opened 50 years ago this summer and retains its elegance and preeminence as the city’s grande dame of resorts.

Project manager Jerry Wald, from left, hotel President Nate Jacobson and Caesars founder Jay Sarno stand on April 9, 1965, beside the concrete and timbers that would become the legendary Caesars Palace.
Project manager Jerry Wald, from left, hotel President Nate Jacobson and Caesars founder Jay Sarno stand on April 9, 1965, beside the concrete and timbers that would become the legendary Caesars Palace.
(Las Vegas News Bureau )

As it approaches its 50th on Aug. 5, Caesars now hosts Las Vegas visitors in its nearly 4,000 guest rooms as well as celebrities and high rollers in its more than 600 suites and villas.

A summer of celebrations launches June 17 with a free, self-guided historic walking tour and photo exhibit. Along the trail, guests will discover the spot where Evel Knievel took his famous fall and where movies such as “The Hangover” were filmed.

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Then-and-now photo displays will feature famous moments in entertainment and sports. A tour brochure will be available at various places throughout the hotel, including the concierge and front desks.

A number of special events are being organized for the golden anniversary weekend, Aug. 5-6.

An employee of the new hotel-casino poses by the marquee on July 22, 1966, two weeks before the grand opening.
An employee of the new hotel-casino poses by the marquee on July 22, 1966, two weeks before the grand opening.
(Las Vegas News Bureau )

Tiny by today’s Vegas standards, Caesars Palace was the brainchild of hotel developer and operator Jay Sarno. Construction on the 14-story, 680-room resort began on Feb. 2, 1965. The Roman-themed hotel opened 18 months later.

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A popular singer in the mid-1960s, Andy Williams was the headliner for opening night at Caesars. Roughly 1,400 guests were invited to the gala.
A popular singer in the mid-1960s, Andy Williams was the headliner for opening night at Caesars. Roughly 1,400 guests were invited to the gala.
(Las Vegas News Bureau )

For 1960s guests, the hotel rooms were stunning. In addition to colorful shag carpeting and floor-to-ceiling windows, some rooms featured round beds and whirlpool tubs.

The fountains that greeted the first guests to Caesars Palace in 1966 still remain amid statuary along Las Vegas Boulevard.
The fountains that greeted the first guests to Caesars Palace in 1966 still remain amid statuary along Las Vegas Boulevard.
(Las Vegas News Bureau )

Andy Williams, who performed in the 1,200-seat Circus Maximus theater on opening night, was the first of dozens of A-list performers to grace the stage.

Over the decades, the list of headliners included Tony Bennett, Jerry Lewis, Liberace and Diana Ross. The showroom closed in 2000 and eventually was replaced by The Colosseum, which was purpose-built to host Celine Dion.

In 1966, guests could turn in off Las Vegas Boulevard and park just steps from the front door. The front entrance is now is used for valet parking.
In 1966, guests could turn in off Las Vegas Boulevard and park just steps from the front door. The front entrance is now is used for valet parking.
(Las Vegas News Bureau )

As the Strip’s premiere resort for many years, Caesars drew not only top-name headliners, but other forms of entertainment too. On Dec. 31, 1967, as thousands of visitors looked on, daredevil motorcyclist Evel Knievel jumped over the resort’s fountains.

Daredevil Evel Knievel successfully cleared the Caesars fountains but then was seriously injured when he crash-landed. He spent New Year’s Eve 1967 in a Las Vegas hospital.
Daredevil Evel Knievel successfully cleared the Caesars fountains but then was seriously injured when he crash-landed. He spent New Year’s Eve 1967 in a Las Vegas hospital.
(Jerry Abbott / Las Vegas News Bureau )
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While the stuntman successfully cleared the fountains, he misjudged his landing and crashed. As he tumbled across the unforgiving concrete, Knievel suffered a crushed pelvis and femur, along with fractures of both ankles, a hip and a wrist. He lived to ride again.

Sammy Davis Jr. brought his humor and music to the Circus Maximus stage on Nov. 2, 1981.
Sammy Davis Jr. brought his humor and music to the Circus Maximus stage on Nov. 2, 1981.
(Las Vegas News Bureau )

Performing wasn’t nearly as risky for those who entertained indoors.

Caesars was one of the regular hangouts for members of the famous Rat Pack, which featured Joey Bishop, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Dean Martin and, of course, Frank Sinatra

As Caesars’ popularity grew, so, too, did the resort.

The 14-story Centurion Tower  now home to Nobu, a hotel within a hotel  redefined the Las Vegas skyline when it opened in August 1970, adding 200 rooms to the resort.

One word on the marquee, “Sinatra,” said it all prior to a November 1968 performance by Ol’ Blue Eyes.
One word on the marquee, “Sinatra,” said it all prior to a November 1968 performance by Ol’ Blue Eyes.
(Las Vegas News Bureau )

Another tower, this one 16 stories tall, was added in 1974, and the 23-story Fantasy Tower (now known as the Forum Tower) opened in 1979. Additional towers were added in 1997 (Palace), 2005 (Augustus) and 2012 (Octavius).

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In the early 1970s, the appearance of Caesars Palace changed dramatically with the addition of the 14-story Centurion Tower, the first of five towers to be built at the resort.
In the early 1970s, the appearance of Caesars Palace changed dramatically with the addition of the 14-story Centurion Tower, the first of five towers to be built at the resort.
(Las Vegas News Bureau )

Before larger venues such as MGM’s Grand Garden Arena were built, Caesars Palace had a reputation for hosting many of the city’s biggest sporting events, from Muhammad Ali’s boxing match against Joe Bugner in 1973 (Ali won with a unanimous decision after 12 rounds) to big-name tennis tournaments.

In 1982, the grounds were transformed into a racetrack for the Caesars Palace Grand Prix.

Visitors through the years have been greeted by a replica of the statue “Winged Victory of Samothrace.” The original is displayed at the Louvre in Paris.
Visitors through the years have been greeted by a replica of the statue “Winged Victory of Samothrace.” The original is displayed at the Louvre in Paris.
(Erik Kabik )
Tennis pro Jimmy Connors gets ready to return a shot during the 1983 Alan King Tennis Classic at Caesars. Connors went on to win the tournament for the fourth time.
Tennis pro Jimmy Connors gets ready to return a shot during the 1983 Alan King Tennis Classic at Caesars. Connors went on to win the tournament for the fourth time.
(Don English / Las Vegas News Bureau )

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