MGM/Mirage buys old El Rancho Vegas site

It was announced yesterday in the Las Vegas Review Journal that the MGM/Mirage has purchased the vacant property across the street from the Sahara Hotel.  What's the big deal?

Well, the MGM/Mirage is building the huge CityCenter complex on the South Strip.  By buying this long vacant property, it will give the MGM/Mirage 100 contiguous acres of land from Circus Circus to Sahara Avenue.

MGM acquired Circus Circus in a deal done in 2005.  Plans include the elimination of the RV Park and the original motel style rooms. Speculation is that they would use this property along with the newly acquired property to do a similar CityCenter project on the North end of the Strip.

The vacant land that they recently purchased from the Bennett family, the former owners of the Sahara Hotel, is one of the most hallowed pieces of property on the Las Vegas Strip.  It was here back in 1939 that hotelier Tommy Hull had architect Wayne McAllister design a new hotel for him:  The El Rancho Vegas.   Hull, good friends with local businessman and civic booster extraordinare, "Big" Jim Cashman had wanted to build a hotel in Las Vegas for some time.  Cashman had been trying to get his friend to build it downtown on Fremont Street.  But when the time came to purchase land, Hull opted for the cheaper land prices just over the county line.

The El Rancho opened in 1940 overlooking the old LA Highway. The Mary Kaye Trio introduced the lounge act there.  The Chuckwagon which became the Buffet was introduced there.  For twenty years it was home to the Red Hot Mama herself, Sophie Tucker, Lili St. Cyr, Jimmy Durante, Joe E. Brown and Harry James and his Orchestra.  In fact, Harry James and his Orchestra which included his wife, Betty Grable as the singer, had just finished their act one evening in 1960 when Ms. Grable noticed that something appeared to be on fire.

A fire had started in the kitichen and quickly consumed the main buildings.  Fire trucks responded and everyone was trying to help put out the fire.  Red Skelton was on the scene filming the efforts, reporters and photographers such as Ken Jones and Bo Boisvert were there documenting the loss.  When the fire was finally extinquished, the main buildings had been gutted.  The bungalows that were separate from the main buildings were spared.  Then owner Beldon Katelman promised to re-open the popular hotel.

Instead, the property sat dormant.  In the late-1960s, Howard Hughes bought the property.  For years, you could still see the aging, deserted bungalows baking in the desert sun and follow the circular drives around the deserted property.  Early one morning in 1974, I think it was, flatbed trucks hauled the remaining bungalows off the property and the last remnants of the El Rancho Vegas were lost to history.

For almost forty seven years, the property has stood there bedeviling locals and tourists alike trying to figure out why no one has developed it.  Now, it looks like those days, too, are about to pass into history.

 Read more about the purchase here: