El Rancho Vegas
On April 3rd 1941, the El Rancho Vegas opened on Highway 91, (opposite today’s Sahara Hotel and Casino) on what was to become the Las Vegas Strip; the first large successful hotel and casino operation outside of downtown Las Vegas.
The El Rancho Vegas was also the first true ‘resort’, built in an Old West style on 66 acres with originally 65 rooms located in cottages spread across the property. It included a casino as well as entertainment, swimming pool, horseback riding and a number of dining options, including its immensely popular all-you-can-eat buffet, called the Chuck Wagon. It also offered a branded cruiser on Lake Mead for those wanting to escape the desert.
The resort opened with the Round-up Room – a restaurant with a small dance floor, but with demand high for more entertainment it was renovated in 1947 to become the Opera House with a full-sized stage. It was here that many A-listers performed, such as Sammy Davis Jr. with the Marson Trio, Eartha Kitt, Dean Martin, Lena Horne, and Sophie Tucker to name just a few. This was also where the famous photo of the Dice Girls was taken – part of the Moro-Landis dance group who were regular features there.
Visitors to Las Vegas could see the El Rancho’s iconic 50ft neon tower from miles away as they travelled from California, invited in by the slogan “Stop at the Sign of the Windmill”. While the El Rancho changed hands a number of times, it was only when a devastating fire ravaged the resort in 1960 that it had to close.
NOTE: The El Rancho Vegas is not to be confused with the much later El Rancho Hotel and Casino which was located on the other side of Las Vegas Blvd and named in its honor in 1982 (having previously been the Thunderbird and Silverbird).