Though Las Vegas is little more than 75 years old, the gambling and entertainment mecca has a rich, if sometimes unsavory, history – as any viewer of Bugsy, The Godfather or Casinoknows all too well.
The same could be said for many of the city's hotels and casinos, most of which, unfortunately, have not survived to the present day. While nearly all of the original Las Vegas landmarks have gone (literally) the way of the pyramids, one legendary resort continues to attract the gamblers, dreamers and celebrities that give Sin City its unique allure: the Las Vegas Hilton.
Situated adjacent to the Convention Center, the Hilton began life 35 years ago as the International. Built for $60 million by famed businessman Kirk Kerkorian, the 30-story, 1519-room International was the largest resort in the world when it opened in 1969 – a distinction that helped attract some of the era's most popular entertainers.
At the hotel's opening ceremony, Barbra Streisand, in her Las Vegas debut, was the featured performer. A month later, 2,200 fans crowded into the International's 1,600-person capacity theater to see Elvis Presley make his nowfamous Las Vegas comeback.
Even though Kerkorian later sold the hotel to Hilton – using the proceeds to build an even larger property, the MGM Grand – the renamed Las Vegas Hilton continued to attract a cadre of quintessential Las Vegas entertainers. In 1993, Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton, was the final performer in the Hilton's storied showroom – it was converted at a cost of $12 million into the permanent home of Andrew Lloyd Webber's roller-skating extravaganza Starlight Express.
Despite the roster of celebrities, the Hilton's luster waned in the 1990s as glitzier casinos took up residence up and down the Strip. In an effort to attract new visitors, the hotel embarked on a number of new additions such as the exclusive “Sky Villa” suites, which encompass over 12,000 square feet, a pool and 8 1/2 baths and are only available to guests who gamble at least $1 million. Other added features were aimed at a slightly more down-market demographic – a $70 million attraction entitled “Star Trek: The Experience,” for example, offers “Trekkie”-themed weddings with such accoutrements as a ceremony on the bridge of the USS Enterprise and Klingon witnesses.
Darker, more serious, incidents have also occurred within the Hilton's walls. In 1981, a fire killed eight people. Ten years later, the hotel hosted the infamous US Navy Tailhook Association convention, in which allegations of sexual harassment and drunkenness led to charges against several of the topranking officers in attendance.
Hoping to restore the Hiltonto its glory days, Colony Capital purchased the property two years ago for $280 million. In addition to extensive renovations, the Los Angeles-based private equity real estate firm also recently recruited a new headliner: Barry Manilow, the crooner of such pop hits as “Mandy” and “Copacabana”. Barry's opening night earlier this year was attended by such wellknown celebrities as Elton John, the members of Aerosmith and Cher. There are signs, however, that the Hiltonstill has a way to go – also in the crowd that night was Steve Guttenberg, the star of the first four Police Academymovies.