The Golden Age Of Las Vegas

The Golden Age Of Las Vegas

Oct 30, 2020Osh Ratnam

Did you know that Las Vegas means "The Meadows" in Spanish? Maybe you did, but do you know why it was named that? 1829 was the year that the first non-native American expedition found the valley, full of wild grasses and streams, hence the name! From its idyllic beginnings, Vegas has evolved into the opposite of natural serenity. The 50s and 60s were the years when Las Vegas truly started becoming Sin City.

Drive-In Weddings

One of the reasons Las Vegas became such a hotspot for tourists was the ease with which people could get married and divorced. Don't think this is just a new phenomenon, this photo from 1963 shows an ad advertising The Little Chapel of the Flowers in Las Vegas. Though it only cost $15 back then, the regrets must be the same as now. 

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Performers At The Dunes

Many people actually do go to Vegas just to see the shows. A booming gambling and hotel industry meant that there were always people in the city and it became a natural place to start hosting shows. Here we have some showgirls performing onstage in front of a captivated audience at the Dunes Casino in 1955.

It's a Bird, It's a Plane!

The swimsuits might be different but people still enjoyed the pool back in 1955. These two lovely young women probably don't even realize that a man is doing an incredible high dive behind them as they enjoy themselves by the pool at a Las Vegas holiday resort.

Ranchinnnnnnnn!

This picture was taken in 1952  and shows one of the many businesses that sprung up in Vegas in the 50s. At this point, even diners had started enhancing their income with various gambling-related games. This large neon arrow sign outside the 'Ranchinn' restaurant, bar, casino, and coffee shop would have been fairly typical in the city at the time.  

Everyone Needed to Run a Casino

Running a casino is no easy task. It requires teamwork and collaboration between a huge variety of different people. This photo was taken at the Desert Inn and shows all the materials and employees it took to run the casino every night gathered in the gambling room. 

Chorus Girls at the Slots

Being a chorus girl in Vegas in the 50s was some of the most fun a woman could have! Here we have Las Vegas Chorus Girl's Kim Smith and her roommate trying their luck at the slot machines in 1954. People seemed to dress up a lot better to go to the casino in the old days. 

The Rat Pack

The famous entertainers and members of the Rat Pack, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop could be found regularly in Vegas. Both to play at shows as well as just to have a good time. Here they're posing for a portrait outside The Sands Hotel and casino in 1962.

Fremont Street

Named after John C. Frémont whose writing brought pioneers to the Las Vegas meadow in the 1800s, this is a photo of Fremont street, one of the main streets in Vegas. By 1961 the street was completely lit at night with neon gambling signs, blurring the difference between night and day. 

Actresses at the Roulette Table

Vegas was a place for the rich and famous to relax and play as well. Here we have, actresses Jayne Mansfield (born Vera Jayne Palmer), singer and actress Rita Moreno, and Gloria Paul playing with fate at the roulette table in the Dunes casino in 1955.

The Las Vegas Strip in 1953

A daytime view of the famous Fremont Street near the intersection of South 2nd taken in July 1953. Some of the most well-known casinos and hotels of the time are in the photo, including the Golden Nugget Gambling Hall and the Hotel Apache.

Pool Gambling

Nothing gets in the way of gambling in Las Vegas, not even water. Gambling in swimming pools caught on early in Sin City, but that's no surprise really. The people that go to Vegas to gamble don't want to stop for anything, and we're sure the hotels don't complain about the additional income.

The Bluebell Girls

The famous Bluebell Girls dance troupe may have started out in Paris, but by 1958 they were a hit and had various shows around the world, including Las Vegas. Here they are performing at the Stardust Hotel suspended on platforms above the audience

Jackpot!

A great example of Vegas theatre, here we have showgirls dancing in a Jackpot'show at a casino in 1955. The dancers in the background would typically adorn their heads with lucky symbols like horseshoes, wishbones, shamrocks, and number sevens. 

Blackjack

Blackjack has been a popular game since its invention and is now the most widely played casino banking game in the world. This photo shows a group of very serious-looking gentlemen trying to beat the dealer in a Las Vegas Club. You have to remember though, the house always wins. 

Moulin Rouge

Like the Bluebell Girls, another French import to Las Vegas was the nightclub Moulin Rouge. The originator of the cancan dance, by 1954 the club had made its way to Vegas. This is a photo of the dancers performing on stage at Moulin Rouge, which has remained a very popular show till today. 

To the Moon

The Stardust Resort and Casino opened in 1958 and operated for 48 years before shutting down in 2006. This photo was taken during the launch of the resort and shows some women sitting and posing on a rocket with smoke billowing out. They didn't live in the time of rampant selfies, but a good photo op has always been hard to resist. 

Rosemary Clooney

Las Vegas was home to many Entertainers and all the big names performed there at some point or the other. Here we have jazz singer Rosemary Clooney performing at Wilbur Clark's Desert Inn Hotel and Casino in the late 1950s. Of her many hits, you might be familiar with this one -  Mambo Italiano. 

Peggy Lee

The 1950s was an amazing time for jazz, and the new style of music was taking the country by storm. Peggy Lee has now spent over six decades entertaining and working with music. Here she is as a young woman performing in the late 1950s. 

Ensemble

Here we have singer Bobby Darin, comedian George Burns and the singing group the Chordettes, consisting of Jinny Osborn, Nancy Overton, Lynn Evans, Carol Bushman, performing on stage together at the Sahara Hotel and Casino during the late 1950s 

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra was one of the biggest stars of his time. After early success, his career took a downward turn and he found his way to Las Vegas where he became one of its best-known residency performers as part of the Rat Pack. His fame in Vegas helped his career and he came back to both music and acting, winning several awards after his Vegas days. 

The Montmartre Motel

This photo shows the outside of the Montmartre Motel in 1960. The hotel was right next to the Moulin Rouge nightclub and carried on the French influence with both its name and decor. It wasn't just fancy hotels in Vegas, after all, the average person needs a place to stay too when they want to go gambling. 

Grace Hayes

Literally standing on a soap box, here we have vaudeville and nightclub singer Grace Hayes as she campaigns for the office of Constable in Las Vegas. One of her promises if she was elected constable was to hold benefit shows for people she may have to evict as part of her job. 

Donald Campbell

In November 1955, British engineer and driver Donald Campbell set a new world speed record on water when his hydroplane Bluebird K7 reached a speed of 216.20 mph on Lake Mead. Here he is photographed with his chief engineer and mechanic Leo Villa as they admire the trophy given to Campbell by the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce in February 1956.

Do You Win the Babies?

Ronnie and Donnie Richey were twin baby brothers who are photographed here plopped in a big trophy that went to the winner of the Unlimited Hydroplane Race at the Fifth Annual Lake Regatta Winners Cup in 19500. The winner got the cup, but the boys thankfully went back to their parents.

Watusi Dance 

The Watusi was a dance craze that dominated the early 1960s. The Orlons released the original in 1962 and several other popular artists of the time released their own spin on the song. Here we have feathered chorus girls performing the dance on stage at the Moulin Rouge. 

Kitty Dolan

Actress and model Kitty Dolan had a few hits in the 1950s, most notably performing with Elvis on several occasions. Here she is as she relaxes in a pool in 1958 at the height of her fame in Las Vegas. She acted in the show "How to Marry a Millionaire" and appeared on "The Tonight Show". 

Elizabeth Taylor And Eddie Fisher

Vegas wasn't just a place for people to accidentally get married after a night of too much fun. A-list celebrities had their wedding there too. This photo was taken at the wedding of British-American actress Elizabeth Taylor and singer and entertainer Eddie Fisher on 12th May 1959.

Balancing Act

The Stardust Resort and Casino was home to the famous Lido Nightclub. Here we have a performer doing a mesmerizing balancing act involving a pivot table, a long sword, a dagger, and three glasses on a tray. There were all kinds of acts you could see in Vegas!

The Joy of Gambling

Even back in 1942 during WW II people were having fun in Vegas. Surprisingly, a casino floor was a very safe place for women since there was always security around. Her we see a young woman giddy with happiness as she wins at slots in a Fremont street Casino surrounded by men. 

Post Office

Everything was crowded in Vegas, even the post office. Though it's surprising that no gambling is on display, that may be because this was in 1942. These long lines would form at the Las Vegas post office as workers collected their pay. The city was prosperous, but nowhere near the glory it would see in the next few decades. 

Las Vegas Army Airfield

Vegas wasn't just home to casinos and hotels, the Las Vegas Army Airfield was established in 1941.  Here we have some soldiers walking down the central path of the military base in 1942. The base is now called Nellis Air Force Base and is home to the United States Air Force Thunderbirds aerobatic team.

Harry James and Betty Grable

Another famous couple who decided to get married In Vegas, here we have American bandleader Harry James and film star Betty Grable at their wedding on the 14th of July, 1943. Harry James was a talented musician but never achieved the fame of his wife, who was one of the most popular actresses of the 1920s and 1930s.

Broken Dreams

If you go to Vegas today most of the machines and gambling happen electronically or with prepaid cards. Gone are the days of putting coins into slots. Here we have a photo of coin wrappers littering the floor at a gambling hall. Hopefully, at least someone went back home a winner. 

Dean Martin

Another one of Las Vegas's most famous entertainers, Dean Martin was "The King of Cool" and a founding member of the Rat Pack. We may remember him now mostly as a singer, but he was a talented actor and comedian as well. Here he is as he performs onstage during the late 1950s.

Pearl Bailey

Singer Pearl Bailey started in Vaudeville and went on to Broadway, eventually winning a Tony and a daytime Emmy. Here she is as she performs with her husband, jazz drummer Louie Bellson, and his Orchestra at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino during the late 1950s.

Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme

Singers Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme performed on stage as a duo for over 50 years. The couple started singing together on 'Tonight Starring Steve Allen' in 1954 and kept their act going till 2009. Here they are on stage in the late 1950s establishing themselves in Las Vegas.

Lucky Horse

If a horseshoe can bring you luck then surely an entire horse is luckier right? We're not sure exactly how they managed to get an entire horse into a casino, but the horse looks like he knows what he's doing. The question is, is the horse actually betting, or is it there just for good luck?

Denise Darcel

Denise Darcel won the title of "The Most Beautiful Girl in France" after World War II while performing as a cabaret singer. She was spotted by Hollywood and by 1952 she was an American citizen and appeared in several Hollywood movies, Here she is entertaining at a show at the Sands Hotel.

Bert Lahr

Bert Lahr was an actor, vaudevillian, and comedian, best remembered for his role as the coward lion in the 1939 'Wizard of Oz'. He has an incredibly quick wit and was well known on Broadway. Here he is pulling faces as he tosses dice at the table in a casino in Las Vegas.

Bingo

Bingo might seem like a boring game to a lot of young people now, but it was incredibly popular in the 50s among all age groups. This is a photo from the stage during a game of bingo in a packed room at the Showboat casino in 1955. Bingo is still a fairly popular game in Vegas, but it's usually the older ones who play. 

Vegas has certainly been through a lot over the decades and it's definitely still a very popular destination, but its Golden Age was truly special. All the biggest performers in the work wanted to be in Vegas. It was the playground of the rich and famous. The Rat Pack performed there, movie stars got married there, it was the place to be. 

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