Castaways Hotel

The Castaways Hotel opened on the west side of the Las Vegas Strip across from the Sands Hotel in 1963, became one of the casinos billionaire Howard Hughes bought in the late 1960s and survived into the 1980s, when it was demolished to make way for Steve Wynn's The Mirage in 1989.

The Castaways was built on the spot once occupied by the Red Rooster, a nightclub that opened in 1931. Motorists coming from California and Utah frequented the Red Rooster, one of the first clubs outside of downtown Las Vegas on Highway 91. The club, which added gaming in the early 1930s, had a succession of new owners into the early 1950s. Though the club had no hotel rooms, lodging was available at the San Souci, a small auto court, or motel, built next to it in the 1940s.

In the late 1950s, the building formerly known as the Red Rooster was razed, and the new owners began constructing a new hotel-casino, which would take its name from the auto court. The builder was George Mitzell, who had owned the San Souci. Mitzell and crew built a small casino, hotel and 400-seat showroom. When the hotel debuted in 1957, aging pop singer Rudy Vallee headlined. The San Souci hotel briefly became a popular place for eating out and watching lounge acts and floorshows, mostly involving headliners of less stature than major Strip hotels like the Sands. But within a year, the owners, citing debts, filed for bankruptcy. In the early 1960s, without enough cash to offer gambling to its guests, the San Souci operated as a hotel without a casino.

In 1963, new owners bought the hotel, refurbished it to include a small casino, and renamed it the Castaways. The new resort, headed by chief investor Ike LaRue, had a distinctive neon sign that looked like a large bird spreading its wings. It also included a Pacific Island Tiki-themed showroom and a bar with a fish tank in which a woman swam to entertain patrons.

The Castaways' mainly middlebrow entertainment in its lounges and showroom brought in the spectators, but not enough gamblers. Cash flow problems continued in the casino, and the Castaways, like its predecessor, closed its casino within only a year. The casino would open and close repeatedly into the mid-1960s. But even without gaming, the Castaways kept going thanks to its still-popular inexpensive shows and restaurants. One of the shows was a sexually suggestive revue, Bottoms Up, which included young comedian and future television star Redd Foxx.

By the late 1960s, the Castaways, which opened with about 100 hotel rooms, had 250 rooms in several ordinary looking, two-story buildings. Yet the hotel hosted one of the Strip's biggest tourist attractions. Outside the hotel, Castaways managers bought and assembled a sixty-year-old scale replica of an East Indian temple, made of elaborately carved teakwood, for visitors to walk through. But the Castaways became more famous than ever when Howard Hughes bought it during his Strip casino buying spree that began with the Desert Inn in 1967 and continued until 1969. Summa Corporation, the company's corporate name, continued to operate the Castaways after Hughes' death in 1976 under general manager Bill Friedman, now a well-known casino consultant and author.

The Castaways, although not among the fanciest resorts on the Strip, managed to stay afloat all the way to 1987. Steve Wynn bought the Castaways that year from the Hughes company, ordered it closed and torn down, and announced plans for a new kind of resort for the property. Two years later on the site, he opened The Mirage, a 3,044-room hotel-casino considered the beginning of the "megaresort age" on the Strip that followed into the 1990s and 2000s. In 1993, Wynn put up a second megaresort on the former Castaways property, Treasure Island.

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