Rare Photos of Old Las Vegas That Show The True Sin City
Las Vegas is one of the most famous cities in the world, but that wasn’t always so. In the ’50s and ’60s, the dusty desert town was slowly morphing into a center of luxury and glamour. Legends like Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack roamed the town on a daily basis. The 24/7 casinos, glamorous showgirls, and bright lights were so alluring that everyone wanted to find a way to Viva Las Vegas too! From its quaint beginnings to today, Las Vegas has unapologetically earned its nickname as Sin City. Read on for a glimpse at what Vegas was really like in its golden years.
1. Poolside at El Rancho
Let’s start by taking a trip back to Las Vegas in the 1940s. It was fast becoming a playground of the rich and famous, as well as anyone who wanted to have some fun. Pictured here are some bathing beauties taking a dip in the swimming pool at El Rancho hotel.
The picture was taken during the summer of 1942. Though the world was at war, these bathers and their fellow vacationers seem to have other things on their minds (and on their heads). There’s a good reason why it’s called a vacation!
2. Down in the Sands
In the 1950s, Las Vegas definitely hit its stride. Pictured here is a glitzy dance show at the Sands Hotel in December 1952. The hotel played host to some of the biggest performers of the time, including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Dean Martin.
The city was transforming into a true entertainment destination in its own rite, where people could catch the hottest shows and hottest people of the era. It showed no sign of stopping! It would also become an important place for pop culture, as you’re about to see.
3. Sultan of Swoon
Before Britney Spears and Celine Dion ever hit the Vegas strip, Las Vegas shows were dominated by male crooners like Frank Sinatra and others from the Rat Pack. They created that allure that made the dusty little city into an entertainment destination.
Pictured here in a photo from 1955 taken at the Dunes Hotel, the Sultan of Swoon is surrounded by a harem of Vegas beauties. In Las Vegas, anything can happen and it makes sense that this was the city where Sinatra did it his way!
4. What’s So Funny, Sammy?
It looks like the mega-talented singer-actor-dancer Sammy Davis Jr. was having the laugh of a lifetime while dining in Vegas. That’s what all those Las Vegas shows will do to you and he was the star of so many back in the days when the Rat Pack ruled the roost.
Among the favorite Las Vegas restaurants and bars of the Rat Pack were the Golden Steer restaurant, Casbar Lounge at the Sahara Hotel, Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and Atomic Liquors, the city’s oldest bar. Some of these spots are still open to this day.
5. The Bluebell Girls
Here are the Bluebell Girls in action in one of their larger-than-life Vegas shows. These beauties came all the way from the Lido Nightclub in Paris to dazzle patrons at the Stardust Resort and Casino with their ethereal beauty. Their shows mesmerized audiences and proved that it was well worth the journey to Las Vegas.
The dancers performed on platforms suspended from the ceiling of the Stardust Hotel, pictured here in 1958, giving the onlookers the illusions that they weren’t watching mere mortals perform, but rather, some rare, dazzling flying creatures.
6. Gambling with an Elephant
Like any typical casino, the Dunes hosted plenty of classic Las Vegas shows, including ones featuring an elephant by the name of Tanya. In between performances, Tanya would sometimes gamble with the customers, as was the case in this photo from 1966.
Today, however, things are a bit different. Las Vegas revelers shouldn’t expect the chance to gamble with an elephant anymore. As outrageous as Sin City is, there are plenty of other ways to have fun nowadays that don’t involve exotic animals.
7. Frank Sinatra and the Folies Bergere Showgirls
The man in the middle is Frank Sinatra, the quintessential American crooner and the world’s first pop star. It only makes sense that he starred in his very own Las Vegas shows! In this picture, Sinatra is surrounded by the famous Copa Girls.
He was performing at one of the legendary Las Vegas resorts, the Sands. The year was 1963. It was 10 years after he first began his regular performance schedule at the resort and boy did his shows ever put Las Vegas on the map!
8. The Glamorous Gabor Sisters
From Elvis Presley to Liberace, Las Vegas has been the stomping ground for some of the most talented and famous performers in the world. But don’t forget: Sin City wasn’t just for men, it was for women too. Meet the famous and glamorous Gabor sisters, pictured here at the Last Frontier Hotel in 1955
They were a trio of beautiful actresses and socialites that originally hailed from Hungary but made names for themselves in Hollywood. Zsa Zsa is on the left, Magda is in the middle, and Eva is on the right.
9. The King and His Subjects
Every king has his loyal subjects and here, Elvis Presley (aka The King), spends some time with his fans at the Sahara Hotel and signs autographs. He might have had a whirlwind schedule both on and off the Las Vegas strip but he still knew to take out some time to please the fans.
Stealing the spotlight from The King is a woman who might be a fellow performer in a show at one of the many Las Vegas hotels of the time. Either way, everyone seemed more than happy to be in such close proximity to Elvis himself.
10. The Copa Room
These are the Copa Girls, the showgirls who performed in the Copa Room, which was the nightclub of the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. It was the ultimate show for those who wanted a night full of every kind of entertainment possible!
Besides these beauties, many other people of note performed at the famed Copa Room, including Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Edith Piaf, and Frank Sinatra, and others from the Rat Pack.
11. The Sexy French Female
Imagine walking down Fremont Street and spotting one of the most beautiful women in the world. That was exactly the scene when smoldering screen siren Brigitte Bardot was spotted there with her new husband, wealthy and hip German industrialist Gunther Sachs Von Opel, in 1966.
The two flew to Las Vegas and exchanged their vows in a surprise ceremony, definitely proving that Vegas is the place for quick, down-to-earth nuptials. Born in 1934, Brigitte Bardot starred in around 26 movies from the 1950s until the 1970s and was also an accomplished singer.
12. A Dip in the Pool and Some Gambling
Question: Why should you have to leave the swimming pool to gamble? Answer: You shouldn’t have to! They had it all figured out at the Sands Hotel in 1954 and gave meaning to the phrase “fun in the sun”.
Here, we see gamblers placing their bets in the water. For those who won big, it must have been quite the bother trying to keep their loot dry. But who cares? Vacation is the time to make a real splash!
13. A Night of Follies
What would a visit to Las Vegas be without a good show? After a balmy day of free-flowing drinks, scrumptious buffets and plenty of gambling, catching one of those famous Las Vegas shows like this one was the perfect way to relax.
Pictured here are the showgirls of the Folies Bergére at the Tropicana casino and hotel in the 1960s. They set the gold standard for the extravagent and over-the-top Vegas shows we’ve come to know and love.
14. Ride in Style
If you’ve got to get around, you might as well ride in style! The guests of the Sands Hotel not only had a special shuttle to take them around, but they had some especially stylish drivers as well. This beats an Uber any day!
From its opening in 1956 until it was demolished in 1996, The Sands Hotel and Casino was the epicenter of the Las Vegas scene. The people in the photo might appear quite straight-laced, but they were about to be in for the experience of a lifetime!
15. Rat Pack in Action
To this very day, the Rat Pack emobdies true Vegas cool, the kind that oozed from the city throughout the late ’50s and early ’60s. Pictured here from left to right are Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Joey Bishop.
It’s hard to imagine being able to get so close to such iconic superstars, but alas, it was a different era. And what an era it was! Just look at the glowing smiles on those glamorous faces. It was definitely a good evening.
16. Hello, El Morocco!
Nowadays, the idea of a fast and cheap Vegas wedding is a well-known thing, but back in the 1940s, it was something new and exciting. The celebrities pictured here definitely wanted to take part in the excitement bubbling up in this once-sleepy city.
Shown here is the wedding of screen siren Betty Grable and bandleader Harry James on July 14, 1943. If huge stars were coming to Vegas, that could only be a good sign of things to come.
17. The Queen of Rock and Roll
We’ve heard some about Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, but here’s the Queen of Rock and Roll, Lillian Briggs. She hit it big in the early ’50s as one of the first female rock stars and blew the crowds away when she did shows in Las Vegas.
Her debut single, “I Want You To Be My Baby” was a smash hit, selling one million copies. Throughout the 1950s, Briggs performed in Las Vegas where she was extremely popular as well. In this rare photo from 1958, she seen giving a fierce performance at the Sands Hotel.
18. Backstage with the Bluebell Girls
This picture was taken in 1958. It gives the viewer a rare backstage glimpse of one of the Bluebell Girls. This particular performer was getting ready to give one of those signature Las Vegas shows, in this case at the Stardust Hotel.
Before performing for hundreds of guests, this Bluebell entertainer was shown making some last-second adjustments and modifications to her outfit. In a matter of minutes, she would appear before a crowded audience and give them the show of a lifetime with her fellow showgirls.
19. Salon to the Stars
If you were going to dine, drink and gamble with the best of the best in old Las Vegas, you would have needed a stunning hairdo to match. Below is an ad from the ’70s for one such place, the Morocco Beauty Salon at the El Morocco motel.
The motel also hosted popular restaurant Jack Denison’s Copper Cart as well as its own branch of the Bank of Las Vegas. Of course, the bank was eventually turned into a casino. The site hosted a well-received Korean restaurant in the 1990s, then gift shops and internet cafes before eventually closing. The building was demolished in 2008.
20. All the Greats At A Single Table
Pictured below is the definition of the cool table—including the original Rat Pack. One infamous night in 1955, some of the greats of Hollywood and Las Vegas were seated together at a single table at the Sands Hotel to enjoy a meal. All the others were left to just watch in awe.
On the left side of the photo, we see actor Humphrey Bogart, producer Sid Luft, actress Lauren Bacall, actress Judy Garland, and Jack Entratter (manager of the Sands hotel). On the right side of the table is Hollywood restauranteur Mike Romanoff (who’s face is mostly hidden), singer Frank Sinatra, Gloria Romanoff, actor David Niven and Hjördis Niven.
21. Evel Knievel
Before the boys of Jackass began filming all of their wild stunts for MTV, Evel Knievel was the ultimate daredevil. Pictured here in 1967, Knievel tried to jump over the fountains at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.
The jump was around 141 feet and Knievel didn’t make it. Knievel crashed and wound up in a coma for 28 days. But so what? The failed stunt and resulting coma made Knievel more famous than ever. And isn’t fame what everyone lives for?
22. The Change Girl
Looking for change? The “Change Girls” at Las Vegas casinos had everything you were looking for! Her uniform made it clear that she was the go-to person when someone ran out of coins and had the feeling they were about to win big at a particular slot machine.
In this image, the woman looks pensive and almost melancholy. It couldn’t have been an easy job to stand around all day, surrounded by the bright lights and weary people gambling their hard-earned money away.
23. Vegas Vic
See that guy in the upper left corner? You’ve probably seen this large neon cowboy many times in movies and on TV. His name is Vegas Vic and he was part of the sign for the the Pioneer Club, a casino and cocktail bar on the Las Vegas strip that opened in 1942.
Vegas Vic first came into being when he was designed as the Pioneer’s mascot in 1947. The famous neon sign changed the Las Vegas landscape forever when it was erected in 1951 and has stayed there to this day, even though the casino closed in 1995. He was restored in 1998 after the area became a covered pedestrian walkway.
24. Chic, Pose, and Poise
Noel Coward was as Oscar-Wilde-esque playwright and performer. According to Time magazine, Coward exuded an exceptional “sense of personal style, a combination of cheek and chic, pose, and poise”. Coward’s love for the flamboyant and the theatrical inevitably took him to Las Vegas.
In Vegas, crowds delighted in the performances he put on at Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn. Pictured here in 1955 is Coward posing in front of the hotel marquee bearing his name. It was likely promoting his cabaret show that was incredibly popular in the post-war years.
25. Talented Buddies
This image depicts a rare encounter between two of the world’s biggest performers of its time: Elvis Presley and Liberace. From 1969 to 1976, Elvis played 636 sold out shows at Las Vegas hotels. Meanwhile, Liberace maintained a steady presence on the Las Vegas strip from the ’50s to the ’70s.
Supposedly this picture was taken in 1955 when Liberace checked in to see exactly what the King of Rock and Roll was up to at the Frontier Hotel. Earlier, Presley had stopped by to take in a Liberace performance at the Riviera Hotel.
26. Elvis in Action
This photo captures Elvis Presley in action. Here he’s seen performing at the Las Vegas International Hotel. The month was August and the year was 1969. The Las Vegas International Hotel booked Presley for four weeks for the sum of approximately half million dollars.
After a mind-blowing debut, the hotel decided to sign Elvis Presley to a five-year performance contract, paying $1 million per year. That would be the equivalent of around $6.5 million in today’s dollars and a total of over $32 million in five years!
27. Audrey Hepburn Hangs Out with Her Friends
Audrey Hepburn dazzled viewers on the big screen and then her famous friends dazzled her in Las Vegas. This intimate photo shows Hepburn hanging out with some of her talented pals in Las Vegas in 1956.
On the right, is Hepburn’s husband Mel Ferrer. Between the two is Mike Romanoff, the renowned Hollywood restaurateur, and on the top right, Frank Sinatra, the icon we all know and love. One can only imagine what they were talking about that night!
28. Las Vegas Love
Not everyone who gets married in Las Vegas is spontaneous. In fact, some very level-headed people have chosen to tie the knot in Sin City, including the famously sensible actors Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. They look so in love!
Here they are pictured on their wedding day on January 29, 1958. The couple stayed together for more than 50 years until Newman died in 2008. They definitely bucked the Hollywood and Vegas divorce trend!
29. Losing Ten Grand
The man in the white suit and dark tie is Jake Freedman in th 1950s. Freedman owned the Sands Club, whose biggest rival at the time was the Dunes. Eager to find out more about his competition, he headed over to the Dunes.
He is pictured here taking a chance at the craps table in 1955. The women around him must not have been Lady Luck because before his night was over, he had lost $10,000, which would be the equivalent of $92,000 today.
Look at these people playing the slot machines in the 1950s. It seems like it must have been a lucky night, but don’t forget: even the most experienced gamblers can easily lose large sums of money. Just ask Jake Freedman!
Pictured here is a show girl named Kim Smith trying her luck at a Las Vegas casino in 1954. Judging by the smile on her face, she was definitely having fun. Let’s hope she took home more money than she arrived with.
31. Vegas in the ’50s
This is the main strip of Las Vegas in the 1950s. Pictured here is the Golden Nugget, the Lucky Strike Club, and the infamously-named Hotel Apache. The view is of Fremont Street, which to this day epitomizes the glitz of the Golden Age of Vegas.
If people in the 1950s thought these lights were bright and dazzling, they’d probably be blown away by the lights that shine in Las Vegas today…but also by the changes. For example, this particular street has since been enclosed and made into a pedestrian area.
32. The Desert Inn
The Desert Inn first opened in 1950 in Paradise, Nevada, around the same time the unincorporated town was founded. One year later, in 1951, Frank Sinatra began to perform there, giving the hotel and casino some much needed visibility.
The Desert Inn managed to stay in business for almost five full decades. For many years, a later addition to the complex held the title as the tallest building on the Las Vegas strip. But the new millennium was not kind to the Desert Inn. In 2000, the Desert Inn was demolished.
33. Bugsy Siegel’s Hotel
No, this is not a movie set created for a picture-perfect movie about Las Vegas. This is an actual picture of the original entrance to the Flamingo Hotel, as shown on one of the hotel’s postcards. It was the first luxury hotel on the strip when it opened in 1946
The Flamingo Hotel was financed by world-famous mobster Bugsy Siegel and his associates, who pretended to be businessmen. They managed to buy a two-thirds stake in the hotel from the original owner. Rumor has it that the hotel was named after Siegel’s girlfriend, Virginia Hill, whose long and skinny legs lead to the nickname “Flamingo”.
34. Biggest Swimming Pool
When the Stardust resort flung open its doors in 1958, it could proudly declare that it aimed to become a true center of entertainment that eventually all hotels in the area aspired to be. Not only did it have a hotel, the resort also housed a casino and what was once the largest swimming pool in all of Las Vegas.
It hosted the Lido de Paris show as well as Sigfried & Roy. For a little while, John Factor, a famous gangster also known as John the Barber, owned the joint and later, Howard Hughes tried to buy it for $30 million in 1966. Sadly, it was demolished in 2007, along with accompanying fireworks.
35. Cleaning Up After the Gamblers
Those poker and blackjack tables don’t clean themselves. As ravenous and wild as some gamblers may seem, they still have some standards. The gentleman in this photo from 1955 shows how they kept the casinos looking great.
This man was just one of the many people behind the scenes who made the city and its famous hotels and casinos run. It was probably a tiring job since many of the Las Vegas casinos were open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
36. Groundbreaking For Its Time
The Hotel Apache was first built in 1932, when Herbert Hoover was president and the Great Depression was, well, depressing everybody. As America was reeling, the Hotel Apache was creating a one-of-a-kind experience for all visitors to the Las Vegas strip in the early days.
Not only did Hotel Apache feature stained-glass windows, it was also the first hotel in Las Vegas to have an elevator. The building’s exterior still exists, but is currently hidden behind the large wrap-around turquoise sign for Binion’s hotel and casino.
37. Howdy Podner
Anyone who visited the Pioneer Club was greeted by this cigarette-smoking cowboy named Vegas Vic. The sign was legendary and still around to this day, even though the Pioneer Club is not. It was known as Howdy Podner (because that’s how he would say “partner”).
The Pioneer Club was quite an epic place to be as well. Whether you wanted to gamble at three in the afternoon or three in the morning, the club was there for you. At the Pioneer Club, gambling was available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
38. Las Vegas, Aerial Style
This is an aerial picture of Las Vegas. It was taken in 1964, when Las Vegas was more calm than chaos, more potential than pandemonium. It still had plenty of action but was not yet the true Sin City that people the world over encounter today.
From this aerial view, the onlooker can see what Las Vegas was about to become. The viewer gets the feeling that the city is gaining steam and that the resort industry is definitely a lucrative feature of the town. How right they were!
39. Small Town Vegas
Where are all of the towering casinos? The big, bright lights? The streets filled with gamblers, tourists, and just plain old pleasure-seekers? As hard as it is to believe, this was Las Vegas in 1905 and pictured is one of the city’s most famous streets, Fremont Street.
It doesn’t really look much like the epicenter of bawdiness. It looks more like the charming main street in any small town in America. Soon, however, this relatively quiet town would transform into the capital of illicitness.
40. Peaceful and Serene Vegas
This is an image of bathing beauties in the 1920s ready to take a dip in the pool at Ladd’s Resort, one of the first vacation resorts in Las Vegas. It would still be another 25 years or so until the city’s first luxury resort would open.
Far from the packed swimming pools at today’s Las Vegas hotels, filled with drinks, music, and people capturing the shenanigans on their smartphones, the atmosphere of this sleepy resort was peaceful and serene. Ladd’s even provided a live orchestra alongside the pool for music! Vegas sure seemed demure but things were about to change.
41. Elvis in Practice
Elvis Presley’s shows were spectacular and one-of-a-kind, but it’s not like Elvis just rolled out of bed and onto the stage. The greatness of Elvis’ shows came from loads of practice and here is a glimpse into one of those grueling sessions.
This image shows Presley practicing with his band in July of 1970 during the first year of his five-year performance contract at the Las Vegas International Hotel. It was definitely not an easy work schedule, even for him.
42. Land for Sale
This photo from the 1950s depicts a plot of barren land for sale. For a cool, $3-million, someone could buy this area and turn it into a big time casino…and that was exactly what saavy developers did!
For many now, it’s hard to fathom that an area that’s so extremely developed was once as empty and deserted as a sleepy town ind the middle of nowhere. But, once upon a time, Las Vegas, too, was relatively small.
43. The Godfather Hotel
This is a sign declaring the arrival of the Tropicana Hotel, which would become one of the most famous hotels in Las Vegas and remains so to this day. This photo was taken in 1955, two years before the hotel finally opened its doors in April 1957.
The hotel was the brainchild of hotelier Ben Jaffe, who aimed to construct the best hotel in Vegas. The hotel was featured in The Godfather, The Godfather: Part Two, and the Elvis Presley movie Viva Las Vegas.
45. Vegas Before Vegas
Las Vegas in 1906 (when this picture taken) was far cry from Las Vegas in 1956, and certainly nothing like Las Vegas in the 21st century!
Here, Las Vegas is a just a small town in the Wild West. You won’t find any gambling here (at least, not the casino kind). But you will find a place to do laundry and a drug store.
46. Catch Ya Later, Landmark Tower
In 1960, Kansas City builder Frank Carroll bought the land that would become home to the Landmark Tower. Carroll had hopes of building the largest structure in Las Vegas, but money and construction troubles got in his way. Nine years later, after Howard Hughes bought the building, the Landmark Tower finally opened.
The Landmark contained 400 slot machines and 476 rooms. It claimed it was the largest building in Las Vegas, but it wasn’t. That honor went to the Las Vegas International Hotel. But the Landmark had many other honors, including appearing in Martin Scorsese’s Las Vegas mafia film, Casino. In 2003, the Landmark Hotel was demolished.
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