Tallulah Bankhead and Jack Entratter bury the time capsule (1953)
Oh, how Las Vegans loved their hotels! Other cities had their sandy beaches and historical museums and monuments, but we had palaces out in the desert with casinos and show rooms. We took pride in those palaces. Along with Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, we showed them off to relatives who thought there was nothing in Vegas to brag about.

At the beginning of the fifties, there were only four hotels on the Strip, but in the next ten years there were eight more, each more luxurious than the last. The Sands stood out from all the rest. In December of l953, they buried a twelve foot rocket-shaped time-capsule at the Sands to commemorate the hotel's first birthday. It had my name in it. Along with all the names of the Las Vegas High class of l953. Jack Entratter, Sands impresario, included his daughter Caryl and her LVHS classmates in the capsule, along with Ray Bolger's dancing shoes, a wax impression of Jimmy Durante's nose, an autographed headshot of Tallulah Bankhead, Bing Crosby's pipe, Sugar Ray Robinson's boxing gloves, and a transcript of Louella Parson interviewing Sinatra on her radio show.  The Sands wasn't the only hotel with a time capsule, but none of the others were quite as apropos. The Sands was short for "the sands of time," which conjures up Peter O'Toole riding a camel in the midst of a vast, eternal desert in "Lawrence of Arabia."  I fantasized that in a couple hundred years someone from the future would unearth our time capsule and marvel at its contents. They'd see our names and wonder who we were and why we were in there. The Sands would still be there, glamorous and relevant as ever.  As long as there was a Las Vegas Strip, there would be a Sands Hotel.

I loved the Flamingo, not only because my Uncle Bugsy had built it, but because it has the world's coolest swimming pool. Referred to as a "scalloped" swimming pool because of its sunken curves, each one filled with a smooth marble surface, l liked to slide on them in between swims. I also liked the palm trees, and the olive trees on the grounds, unique only to the fabulous Flamingo.

The El Rancho was nice, if you liked the old west, as was the equally rustic Last Frontier. I preferred the Thunderbird. It was homey. With lots of Navajo rugs and paintings, and a small casino where guys I remembered from high school were dealing cards or commanding the blackjack tables. They tended to give a girls the once over as if they were headless bodies. The intimate Thunderbird showroom hosted such popular show biz personalities as the Mills Bros., Rosemary Clooney, the McGuire Sisters, The Ink Spots. They even featured the folkies who made "Goodnight Irene," a hit, The Weavers. On the way home from the show, as I gushed about Pete Seeger and Ronnie Gilbert, my mother exclaimed: "They're goddamn Commies! Even the woman!"

In l950, the Desert Inn became the fifth hotel to adorn the LA highway. If I had to describe the DI in a word, it would be "inviting." Not that it wasn't glamorous, but the DI felt like somebody's luxurious, western style home, not a hotel. That somebody was Wilbur Clark, who ran the show at the hotel and, according to my father, was a  "front" for a bunch of mobster/investors who didn't dare show their faces in Vegas, or anywhere. Everybody, especially celebrities, loved Wilbur's place. Steve Diamond, whose father was part-owner of the Silver Slipper across the street, told us a story about Howard Hughes. It seems Hughes stayed at the DI in the 60s, much to the chagrin of the management. (He hated gambling.) Annoyed by the Slipper's sign, a neon shoe that tilted back and forth all night as he tried to sleep, Hughes demanded the manager turn off the sign. The manager refused. So Hughes bought the place, and when the management at the DI finally asked him to find another hotel, he bought the DI as well.

My "fondest" memory of the DI was when I was fifteen and saw beautiful Linda Soskin and her friends in their bathing suits sipping lemonades at the pool. Linda called a waiter and signed for the drinks. Not only could she invite friends to swim, as if the pool were hers, but she didn't even have to pay for drinks! I, on the other hand, had to pretend to be a hotel guest just to dip one toe into that pool!

The Sahara opened in l952. My relatives from Cincinnati stayed there whenever they came to town.  My dad used to take me there for birthdays when I was in my early teens. They had heavenly frozen éclairs. The Sahara was a classy place, but less "inviting" than the DI, and less homey than the Thunderbird. I loved the huge coffee shop, with the best ice cream sundaes in town. In the mid to late fifties, the Sahara became known for its lounge acts, Don Rickles, Louis Prima and Keely Smith among them. I once won a talent contest in Phoenix and one of my prizes was a weekend for two at the Sahara. I never took advantage.

In December of l952, the Sands, "A Place in the Sun," became the seventh luxury hotel on the Strip. Before the Sands, there was a classy restaurant, La Rue, where my parents took me for special occasions, and where I learned to make salad dressing from a nice waiter who made our salad by our table. The Sands became the "in" place in Las Vegas. Everybody cool hung out there: Sinatra and the "Rat Pack," Ella, Danny Thomas, Red Skelton. I once stood next to Kim Novak in the ladies room as she applied lipstick.

Even after other hotels sprung up on the Strip, the Sands retained its reputation as coolest of them all.

In l955, the nine story Riviera opened. My high school boyfriend got a job there as an elevator operator. His dad, who knew his way around the gambling world, told him to stay away from the mobsters. "Don't ever let them know your name." One of the big bosses noticed my boyfriend in the elevator and started asking him questions. Mayer quit the next day! I didn't like the Riviera, even though they had great shows. It was too tall.

After the Riviera came a bunch of insignificant hotels: the Hacienda, best known for its "all you can eat" brunch; the Dunes, where an exciting young choreographer put together fabulous lounge shows. One in particular has a permanent place in my memory. It was Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. While the narrator related an x-rated version of Snow White, the dwarves lined up on the stage wearing pillow case costumes that transform your whole body into a giant face. I'd seen them many times before at Vegas High assemblies, but these were different. The eyes were breasts. At first, I couldn't figure out what the mouths were. Then, Oh my god!

The Tropicana was my favorite hotel, all by itself, way out past the Flamingo. It had a beautiful pineapple sculpture in front that set the tone for the tropical theme. More than any of the other hotels, the Trop exuded glamour, elegance, sophistication, class. I saw one of my favorite shows of all time at the Trop starring Carol Channing. She did a brilliantly funny parody of Marlena Dietrich singing "Falling in Love Again." Dietrich, who was performing at another hotel, sued! She lost.

Then there was the Stardust. People even complained about it when it was going up. Garish, vulgar, crass. An embarrassment! More rooms than any place else on the Strip, the biggest parking lot in town, and the Lido de Paris, with women in g-strings, painted gold, coming out of the ceiling chained to columns and hanging above the tables during the show.

The oldest hotel on the Strip, the El Rancho Vegas, burned down in the nineties and was never rebuilt. Nobody cared about history. It was an omen. In l993 they blew up the Dunes. Big deal. It wasn't one of my favorites. When the Stardust suffered the same fate, I said "good riddance." Nor did I mourn for the Hacienda and the Aladdin.  But I was shocked and saddened to learn about the Desert Inn and the Sahara.      

And then they blew up the Sands. My first response was "How could they?" It was gone, obliterated, as if it never existed, to make way for the Venetian. Out with the old, in with the new.

There's not much worth keeping in Las Vegas. Nothing is real. But the Sands was an exception. It defined a whole era. All of the brilliant performers that graced its stages are gone, too. Were they still here, they would be as appalled at the Sands' demise as I. I never found out what happened to the time capsule. I read somewhere that it's under the Venetian. Another source has it buried in land fill out in North Las Vegas, like a piece of junk.  

8/9/2021 05:14:29 am

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