Caesars Palace: 50 years of Roman dominance in Las Vegas
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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