Behind the Desert Inn

[VR Morph by Howard Goldbaum]

In the 1950s, when the Desert Inn was the most elegant establishment on the Las Vegas Strip, the view to the north and east was largely barren. In the 1920s, the grassy area and trees along what is now Paradise Road had been the site of Rockwell Field, the first Las Vegas airfield with regular passenger service, and the first golf course in the area. Promoter Joe Smoot had built a racetrack on 480 acres behind the Thunderbird Hotel, but it quickly closed.

Others found uses for the land. Several hotels opened on Paradise Road, most notably the Las Vegas Hilton, the hotel at the far left in the current picture, which Kirk Kerkorian opened as The International in 1969. Just south of the Hilton is the Las Vegas Convention Center, built in 1959.

At the bottom of the photo, the Desert Inn pool was a favorite spot not only for tourists but also for some locals. Today, most hotel pools are far more elaborate, with more nearby changing rooms than at the Desert Inn, and with spas and other services. Nor are cars usually visible around them; today circular drives to the backs of resorts are likelier to lead to parking garages.

The Wynn Las Vegas Resort and Casino opened in April 2005, fifty-five years after the Desert Inn debuted. Wilbur Clark started the building of the Desert Inn but ran short of funds, and it was completed by a group headed by Moe Dalitz, who went on to become the most influential casino owner and executive of the 1950s, starting with the three-hundred-room, $6.5-million Desert Inn.

Steve Wynn, already known as the Strip's most important and influential operator of the 1980s and 1990s, bought the Desert Inn late in 2000 and imploded it to make room for his new $2.7-billion resort with more than 2,700 guest rooms. As soon as it opened, he immediately started work on an expansion. As this multimedia demonstration shows, Las Vegas has grown dramatically.

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