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El Cortez in Las Vegas turns 75. (Makes 50-year-old Caesars seem young)

El Cortez in Las Vegas turns 75. (Makes 50-year-old Caesars seem young)
Except for the addition of a cellphone tower, the exterior of the El Cortez, with its old-style signage, looks much like it did 75 years ago. The downtown Las Vegas hotel helped put the “sin” in Sin City when mobsters purchased it in 1945. (El Cortez)

It's party time for yet another long-standing Las Vegas hotel. Following Caesars Palace's 50th anniversary this summer, the El Cortez is marking an even-bigger milestone – 75 years – this week.

Built for just $245,000, the El Cortez filled a full city block when it opened on Nov. 7, 1941. Four years later, the Mob sank its claws into the property when Bugsy Siegel and three other gangsters bought it. The hotel-casino has been family-owned since 1963, and its newest addition remembers the past with a 24/7 restaurant named Siegel's 1941.

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The hotel, which has about 350 rooms, held an anniversary party with cake and Champagne on Nov. 1.

Located just a block east of Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Las Vegas, the El Cortez has welcomed guests for 75 years. The hotel-casino's exterior has changed little over the decades.
Located just a block east of Las Vegas Boulevard in downtown Las Vegas, the El Cortez has welcomed guests for 75 years. The hotel-casino's exterior has changed little over the decades. (1953 photo [left] from Las Vegas News Bureau; 2016 photo from El Cortez)

The front of the hotel — in the now-booming Fremont East Entertainment District — has changed little over the years, Indoors, though, it's a mix of old and new. Slot machines still accept coins, and the second-floor "vintage" rooms, which overlook Fremont Street, look much the same as they did in the '40s, but with modern amenities. The hotel's relatively new Cabana Suites offer modern rooms in a boutique setting.

Seen here in 1946, the year it opened, the Flamingo was one of the first hotel-casinos to open along the now world-famous Strip. Operated by mobster Bugsy Siegel, it launched the day after Christmas.
Seen here in 1946, the year it opened, the Flamingo was one of the first hotel-casinos to open along the now world-famous Strip. Operated by mobster Bugsy Siegel, it launched the day after Christmas. (Las Vegas News Bureau)

The Mob extended its reach on Dec. 26, 1946, when Siegel opened the Flamingo, a sprawling, 40-acre resort along what's now the Strip. It cost $6 million to build.

The Flamingo’s original pool, pictured in 1952, was modest by today’s standards. It has been replaced by a large complex that includes a much larger pool and the resort’s Wildlife Habitat.
The Flamingo’s original pool, pictured in 1952, was modest by today’s standards. It has been replaced by a large complex that includes a much larger pool and the resort’s Wildlife Habitat. (Las Vegas News Bureau)

The original low-rise hotel with its pink façade is long gone. The modern-day tower is wrapped with giant photos of headliners Donny and Marie Osmond.

A building wrap on the Flamingo’s hotel tower, which faces the Strip, features the resort’s longtime headliners.
A building wrap on the Flamingo’s hotel tower, which faces the Strip, features the resort’s longtime headliners. (Sam Morris/Las Vegas News Bureau)

Out back, two large pools, including one for adults only, are found not far from the resort's Wildlife Habitat. Its critters include, of course, pink flamingos, Chilean ones, to be specific.

Bugsy Siegel, the mobster who opened the Flamingo in 1946, is remembered at a memorial in a tranquil garden setting behind the Flamingo. He was murdered less than six months later – in June, 1947 – in what was believed to be a mob hit. No one was ever charged with the crime.
Bugsy Siegel, the mobster who opened the Flamingo in 1946, is remembered at a memorial in a tranquil garden setting behind the Flamingo. He was murdered less than six months later – in June, 1947 – in what was believed to be a mob hit. No one was ever charged with the crime. (Glenn Pinkerton/Las Vegas News Bureau)

In a quiet garden many visitors overlook, there's a memorial to Siegel on the site of the original hotel, which became known as the "Bugsy Building." The marker points out the building included a secret escape route built specifically for Siegel. It housed a ladder hidden in a closet that led to an underground garage, where a getaway car awaited.

The elaborate plans were for naught. Less than six months after the Flamingo's gala opening, Siegel was gunned down in Beverly Hills. No one was ever charged with the murder.

In 1960, cars flowed along Fremont Street, now a pedestrian mall in downtown Las Vegas. At the time, parking at the Fremont Hotel cost 25 cents an hour, and James Stewart was starring in “The Mountain Road” at the hotel’s movie theater.
In 1960, cars flowed along Fremont Street, now a pedestrian mall in downtown Las Vegas. At the time, parking at the Fremont Hotel cost 25 cents an hour, and James Stewart was starring in “The Mountain Road” at the hotel’s movie theater. (Las Vegas News Bureau)

A reported $6 million was also spent on the Fremont Hotel, marking its 60th anniversary this year. When it opened along Fremont Street in 1956, the high-rise became Nevada's tallest building.

The Fremont, marking its 60th anniversary this year, is one of a handful of downtown hotels with “aloha,” since they are frequented by visitors from Hawaii.
The Fremont, marking its 60th anniversary this year, is one of a handful of downtown hotels with “aloha,” since they are frequented by visitors from Hawaii. (Brian Jones/Las Vegas News Bureau)

Now beside the canopy of the Fremont Street Experience, the hotel is one of a few downtown properties that cater to visitors from Hawaii. So many Hawaiians visit Las Vegas that they refer to as "the ninth island."

Fireworks explode above Caesars Palace on August 5, 2016, as part of a weekend full of celebrations to mark the iconic resort’s 50th anniversary. The resort opened on August 5, 1966.
Fireworks explode above Caesars Palace on August 5, 2016, as part of a weekend full of celebrations to mark the iconic resort’s 50th anniversary. The resort opened on August 5, 1966. (Erik Kabik)

Probably Nevada's best-known hotel, Caesars Palace is the youngest of the hotels observing anniversaries this year. Caesars turned 50 this summer, having welcomed its first guests on Aug. 5, 1966.

Tony Bennett (left) and Howie Mandel stand beside a giant cake during a gala dinner marking Caesars Palace’s 50th birthday in August.
Tony Bennett (left) and Howie Mandel stand beside a giant cake during a gala dinner marking Caesars Palace’s 50th birthday in August. (Getty Images)

The popular resort celebrated with two nights of star-studded festivities. A Saturday evening gala on Aug. 6 featured Tony Bennett, Wayne Newton, Donny and Marie Osmond, the Righteous Brothers and others.

Caesars visitors can take a self-guided walking tour, during which various historic events, such as Evel Knievel's failed attempt to jump the hotel's fountains, are remembered.

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