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. 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 in the middle, Magda is on the right, and Eva is on the left.
3. Brigitte Bardot
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.
4. 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 1970s. They set the gold standard for the extravagent and over-the-top Vegas shows we’ve come to know and love.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Backstage with the Dancers
This picture was taken in 1958. It gives the viewer a rare backstage glimpse of one of the dancers alongside actress Kitty Dolan. This particular performer was getting ready to give one of those signature Las Vegas shows, in this case at the Tropicana Hotel.
Before performing for hundreds of guests, this 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.
9. 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?
10. Vegas Vic
See that guy in the center? 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.
11. 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.
12. 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!
13. 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!
14. 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.
15. 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.
16. 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”.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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.
20. Las Vegas, Aerial Style
This is an aerial picture of Las Vegas. It was taken in 1968, 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!
21. 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.
22. 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.
23. 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.
24. 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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