El Rancho Las Vegas

Former President of the Iowa College of Agriculture Leigh Hunt made his fortune as the Publisher of the Seattle Post and Intelligence newspapers. He went on to form the first western company to gain a mining concession in Korea. Hunt's diversity took him next to Africa, where he improved irrigation systems of the Sudan working with a London syndicate. While there, he introduced the profitable cultivation of long-staple cotton.

Hunt and his wife Jesse moved to Las Vegas in 1924 seeking a healthful climate and a vision to build a grand tourist hotel. He purchased tracts of desert land south of town. Hunt died in 1933, too early to see his dream fulfilled.

In 1938, Thomas E. Hull, a hotelier who had built and managed eight hotels including Hollywood-Roosevelt, Hollywood Plaza, Mayfair, Fresno's Hotel California, Sacramento's Hotel Senator, El Rancho Sacramento and El Rancho Fresno in California, had envisioned the complex when his car broke down in front of a vacant lot right next to the Las Vegas city limits. While sitting on the side of the road in the scorching sun watching the traffic go by, he said "What I wouldn't give to jump into a pool!"

When Hull returned to Los Angeles, he attended a board meeting and announced, "Gentlemen, I want to build a resort hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada." One of the attendees responded, "Tommy, you've lost your mind. Who would ever build a resort hotel in that hot desert?" Hull simply stated, "That's just it. We'll put a swimming pool with real cool looking water right in front of them and it's just got to stop traffic."

Later a survey he commissioned revealed that a good many people on that parched road would be willing to give a whole lot to jump into a pool.

Hull stated that he had purchased the first 57 acres for $100 an acre. The old lady he bought the land from asked "Son, what are you going to do with this Godforsaken land?" "I thought maybe I'd build a sort of motel." Hull responded. "Oh, don't go and do that son, we got one of them already." replied the lady.

Tommy Hull

Hull's dream wasn't a casino resort. His dream was a resort that would be a comfort to people who were traveling the hot journey from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. As he stated, the key attraction was the swimming pool built only a few feet from the highway. The adding of a casino was an afterthought.

Hull selected Los Angeles architect Wayne McAllister who had designed the other El Ranchos. McAllister had no formal training but his Spanish-style buildings were rich & varied, comparable to the work of the elite Los Angeles historic architects Gordon Kaufmann, Roland Coate and Wallace Neff.

The resort was to have a pyramid-topped tower marking the arches of the entry porch. A total of 80 rooms would angle out in a V on the south side, an irregular collection of tiled-roof wings on the north side containing a restaurant, lounge, and lobby.

During WWII, when the gunnery school was established in Vegas by the Army, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation lent Hull enough money to build the bungalows. Even with half the projected $500,000 budget, Hull and McAllister couldn't get enough financing. Hull then decided to build a scaled-down version molded from his other El Rancho motels, financed by Texas connections and supported politically by local businessmen, headed by car dealer James Cashman.

Building of the resort was performed by Midstatl Construction Company of Fresno, California under the personal supervision of John Winblad. The exterior of the fireplaces of the dining room and casino were made of hand-chiseled stone by Midstatl.


The Home Lumber Company provided more than 2,000 sacks of cement to the construction company.

Hull's personal assistant Eunice H. Lewis personally supervised the entire decoration and furnishing of the hotel. The resident manager was Morgan S. Tyler.

Eunice H. Lewis

The El Rancho was placed outside city limits, neither city nor county, marked by San Francisco Street. It introduced a major element to the development of the Las Vegas style - the theme resort.

El Rancho Linen Postcard Linen postcard 2 Rancho grounds

El Rancho

On April 3, 1941, the $425,000, western themed El Rancho Vegas opened on 66 acres, as the first hotel casino resort on Highway 91, on what would become the most glamorous roadway in the world - the Las Vegas Strip. (Later, Hull would buy additional land for a total of 160 acres.)

Looking north
Many thanks to Tommy Hull's grandson Tim for sending me this scan.

El Rancho was the original "come as you are" resort. On opening night, guests arrived in formal evening wear, crisply pressed suits and tuxedos, and lavish gowns. Two hours later Hull arrived sporting blue jeans, boots, and classic shirt, walking in with a Western gait. He then stated "Howdy podners, come as you are", thus stating the fact that this was a place of leisure and relaxation.

Opening night

First picture - right is Tommy Hull, middle is Secretary of LV Chamber of Commerce Robert B. Griffith
2nd picture prominent locals Mr. & Mrs. A.C. Grant & Mr. & Mrs. Lloyd S. Payne

Hull at Opening
Tommy Hull in the middle. Scan donated by Tim Hull from Cyril Wengert collection - UNLV

For travelers driving north towards town, the first glimpse of El Rancho was of the gas station, included to encourage people to stop. Beyond that was the hotel's simple sign, lifted on stone pillars.

Sign across the street from entrance

A white western-styled wooden fence was added which ran alongside the highway; the pool was visible behind a wooden trellis, palms, and shrubs. The grounds featured a waterfall running over native rock.

El Rancho
Pool Area


Look Straight

A sprawling wagon-train ring of one story Yosemite style cabins housed 63 rooms. It was rustic & friendly, sort of a dude ranch, complete with riding stables. Named the "Village", El Rancho catered to families.

Bungalows building

Each cottage could be reached by driving through carefully paved and lighted streets, and had its own well-tended lawn, a shaded porch, and all the comforts of home. McAllister designed well-equipped kitchens and every possible combination of living-dining-bedroom suites. The windows of the main resort were draped with natural cowhide. One specialty of the El Rancho was their extra length wool blankets found on the foot of each bed. El Rancho maintained its own laundry facilities on the premises and a staff of 15 worked to iron shirts with a promise to have them back to the guest within six hours.

"A sprawling group of hacienda-like cottages built around a central cafe, night club and casino. Instead of hiding its glittering swimming pool in some patio, they stuck it in their show window, smack on Route 91. . . . The Rancho somehow has managed to make the riveter, the carpenter and the truck driver at home in overalls in the same rooms with men and women in smart sports clothes, with an eloping Lana Turner posing for news photographs . . . . No resort is likely to succeed in Vegas that doesn't accomplish this democracy." - Saturday Evening Post

Ten gardeners worked the year round keeping up the grounds. El Rancho used as much as 10 million gallons of water a month in the dry summer periods.


A neon-lit windmill sat atop the casino for all to see.

El Rancho at Night

"Stop at the Sign of the Windmill" was the slogan. The windmill, as well as the tower, was installed by the Nevada Electric Company of Las Vegas, who also did the electrical work and wiring for the entire hotel. The tower was utilized to house various electrical apparatus and air conditioning units. The air conditioning units consisted of huge ice machines installed by Refrigerating Equipment & Supply Company of San Bernardino, California. This system had a capacity of 60 tons of refrigeration per day and a circulation of 22,000 cubic feet per minute of filtered air properly humidified or evaporated as occasions demanded. Heat was provided by gas-fired heaters.

The El Rancho provided badminton courts, dinner dancing, and an outdoor barbecue serving the terrace.

El Rancho's offered their "Chuck Wagon Buffet" sitting 250 people, and was the largest in town. It boasted no charge for coffee, and breakfast was on the house from 4:15 to 6:30am. Stainless steel and neon were mixed with wood paneling and romantic western murals to create the Western aura.

Buffet Servers at Buffet Buffet Line

The rambling roofline made it easy to remodel the resort.


Later, 47 more rooms were added and the Round-Up Room, which originally offered fine food and dancing, was enlarged to become a showroom.

Roundup Room

Spindle legs on the craps tables and heavy wood trusses ornamented with Native American design motifs were used in the casino.


The El Rancho had its own cruiser which was located on Lake Mead that guests could charter for fishing or boating.


Although the El Rancho was not astonishing compared with resorts in Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, or Phoenix, Las Vegans were amazed that something so lavish and far from downtown could succeed.

One of her shows during this time was a lively production show starring Frank Fay and the El Rancho Starlets, a chorus line of scantily clad dancers from California, backed by Garwood Van Orchestra.

On January 16, 1942, the El Rancho became a place of mourning for Clark Gable and his long-time friend Spencer Tracy. One of Howard Hughes' TWA planes carrying Gable's wife, Carole Lombard, left the small Las Vegas Airport with 15 United States Army pilots to campaign for savings bonds. The plane crashed into Mt. Potosi killing all aboard. Gable was in Los Angeles when he heard the news, and he and Tracy went to Las Vegas to claim her body. It is rumored that Gable spent the entire time at the El Rancho pacing his room.

Unfortunately, managerial problems plagued the resort, resulting in a constant turnover of staff. Personality conflicts and administrative squabbles vanquished 13 managers in the first three years alone.

During this same year, Hull sold the complex to Joe Drown, and the complex changed hands several more times after that including that of Joe Kind who would later open the Card Parlor on the Strip.

On December 27, 1942, Hotel Last Frontier hosted a charity rodeo benefitting the USO. El Rancho sponsored the bronc riding event.

In 1943, El Rancho formed the Pool & Patio Club. For $5.00 per month all members were allowed unlimited access to the pool and patio facilities.

In 1945, future Desert Inn owner Wilbur Clark bought into the resort including leasing the casino for 10% net profit.

Harry Richman

One of the stars to entertain during 1944 was Harry Richman. Richman raised thousands of dollars through war bond sales for the U.S. effort in WWII. It was also noted that The Will Mastin Trio starring Sammy Davis, Jr., began playing in Vegas at the resort during this year.

On November 10, 1945, Wilbur Clark, who was listed as one-fourth owner, filed a petition in the District Court to put the resort into receivorship. Clark charged his partners Joseph and Walter Guzzardi with misappropriation of funds, lack of accounting of funds, and considerable violations of the OPA regulations. Appointed receiver for the hotel was Harry Miller, former Las Vegas Police Chief, and now a hotelman in Southern Nevada town, with bond set at $10,000 by Judge George E. Marshall.

Apparently the Guzzardis filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court against Clark because on November 27, 1945, Clark made a motion that the Guzzardis were residents of Nevada and therefore, this did not fall under federal jurisdication. Clark's attorneys stated that the action should be dismissed because it was filed in the wrong court. The Guzzardis, who stated Clark owed them money under the obligations of a contract, listed their homes as Bellaire, and Encino, CA. Clark's attorneys introduced into evidence Nevada liquor and cafe licenses stating the Guzzardis were permanent residents of Las Vegas, NV. Guzzardis' attorney stated those were used for the El Rancho and since they were officers of the resort, they didn't have to be residents.


During this time, El Rancho boasted 70 slot machines, 2 roulette tables, several 21 tables and two craps tables.

Will  Mastin Trio

On January 8, 1946, John A. Palush confessed to a burglary that the police knew nothing about. While being arrested for another crime, Palush confessed that he robbed a guest's room at the El Rancho taking all of the jewelry. He gave the police the jewels but since there was no crime in their books, they gave the jewels to the El Rancho management to locate the owner.

In 1946, the Director of Entertainment was Herb McDonald who instituted the Strip's first $1.00 buffet at the resort.

On January 17, 1946, it as reported that litigation involving the resort appeared to be near the end under a deal when Los Angeles hotelier Joe Drown bought the property while Los Angeles Real Estate broker/operator of the Nevada Biltmore, G.E. Kinsey, continued negotiations to buy into the property as well. To speed the ending of the federal receivership and other litigation hanging over the property, Kinsey planned to withdraw from any further negotiations so as to permit Drown, a former owner of the El Rancho, to become the owner again. Kinsey's deal included a one year option to buy the resort from Drown after all litigation ended. Kinsey would've paid $1,500,000 for this deal. James Bradshaw, federal receiver for the property, asked Judge Roger Foley to end the receivership. Drown appointed George Adamson as Assistant Manager, while Bradshaw continued with the resort until all litigation had ended.

On January 22, 1946, Federal Judge Roger Foley declared a judgement in the amount of $11,800 against Wilbur Clark, Clayton Smith, and Jack Walsh for OPA pricing overcharges in operation of the resort. The judgement was a result of a stipulation for compromise in an action by R.W. Blakely, OPA attorney for Nevada. The resort was charged with violating price regulations between July 2, 1944 and September 17, 1944. The original suit asked for a penalty of $50 in 933 separate overcharges, which would have resulted in a fine of $46,650 if the penalties were enforced.

On May 17, 1946, actress Geraldine Noonan married Los Angeles attorney/theater owner Seymour Jack Chotiner at the resort.

On September 13, 1946, Wilbur Clark and G.E. Kinsey was served with a lawsuit for $1,455,000 in connection with the sale of the resort by Walter Guzzardi and his son Joseph. It was stated that Clark and Kinsey was blue-printing with a major motion picture company to build a massive sound stage in the heart of the city. The plans called for a stage proper, enclosed in sound-proof glass so that spectators could watch the actual production from a series of tiers that will line the structure's interior. The plaintiffs stated that the bought 90% of the stock of three corporations that owned the El Rancho and leased its casino to Clark for 10% of the earnings. The complaint stated that Clark never paid his cut and then entered into an agreement Kinsey which forced the Guzzardis to sell their interest in the property, valued at $1,500,000 for $5,000. The complaint stated this was accomplished by Clark filing a "frivilous" suit which enabled his alleged friend District Judge George E. Marshall to appoint a receiver which in turned allowed Joe W. Drown, owner of the mortage on the property to demand immediately payment on the balance of $530,000.

While Drown pressed for payment, Clark attempted to rebuy their stock. Instead they sold it to Drown for $5,000 and received an additional $140,000 in settlement of their claim against Clark. Attorney Ray Sandler agreed to advance the money to pay off Down in the event Clark had been able to rebuy the stock. Sandler said he believed the Guzzardis invested between $60,000 and $70,000 in the venture.

In 1947, El Rancho built a float to participate in the Helldorado Parade.

Helldorado Float

Gambling Horse

Also during this year a gambling horse was hired by the El Rancho. Lucky Silver would push a chip onto a number with his nose. Although he was billed as "the only gambling horse in the world", he lost this particular play.

El Rancho El Rancho

When the Flamingo opened five years later, 1946/1947, with its modern décor, the influence was immediately felt. Katleman began redecorating El Rancho's western interior in a more sophisticated French Provincial style. The Round-up Room became the Opera House, which was designed by Thomas Douglas, and the casino was a surprising blend of modern and antique air. Katleman also added 220 rooms, later adding mansard roofs to the low shingled slopes.

Opera House Lounge Stage Door Steak House Nell's Lounge Chuck Wagon Buffet Guest Room
All donated by Dan Kubota

Cabs in front

"My Father, Theodore 'Ted' R. Dexter, has a story about the El Rancho. They were doing some renovations there and a sandstone fence had been torn down. The stone was just dumped in a pile on the property. My Father asked the contractor what the plans for the stone was. He said it would just be hauled away. My Father asked if he could have it and the contractor said sure. So he hauled the sandstone home.

When he retired and moved to California, he moved that sandstone with him. He later put a two story addition onto my sister's home in Twin Peaks, California (San Bernardino Mountains close to Lake Arrowhead). As part of this addition he used that sandstone to build a double fireplace. One downstairs and one upstairs. So the sandstone was put to good use.

Dexter using Rancho sandstoneDexter after building

He told me that he also gave some of the El Rancho sandstone to a friend Ivan Jackson who had a cabin up on Mt. Charleston at Deer Creek. He faced the inside of his fireplace with some of it. The cabin is still standing, but empty and wide open. It is owned by the Forest Service now - I think - and if left the way it is will probably just slide down the hill some winter." - Beverly Phillips, June 2003

The Stage Door Steakhouse was open 24 hours. The shopping center consisted of gift and apparel shops, a beauty salon, health club, barber shop, drugs and sundries store. Outside activities included all year swimming, horseback riding and golfing.

Each bedroom and cottage had its own individual scheme. A real stage was built and a wonderful 1890 atmosphere was attained with the use of old fashioned candelabra lighting.

The Entertainment that appeared at the El Rancho in the 1940s included Earnie Baron, South American dance team The Robertos, Sonyar Yarr, Woody Wilson, Nick Stuart and his Orchestra, The Radio Aces, Paula Drake, and world famous clown Grok.

Dice girls
El Rancho Dice Girls 1948/1949


In 1948, El Rancho announced that the new managers were Tutor Scherrer, Farmer Page, Guy McAfee, Jake Katleman, and Leon Kind. The Hotel Manager was Bernard H. Van Der Steen.

Silver Dollar

In the late 1940's Allan Lasky stayed at the resort with his family. His parents had gone to the gift shop and bought him this wonderful souvenir of a 1923 Silver Dollar with the El Rancho's logo.

Pearl Bailey Lewis/Katleman/St. Cyr/Roosevelt
Hull/Katleman/Gabor Maitre d' Arturo/Katleman/Lewis
Winchell Hope dinner Helen Greco Jones/Katleman/Jones/Katleman
Gen. Manager Virgil C. Murphy in back, In Front Frank F. Watts hotel controller 1954-1970

In February of 1949, El Rancho announced that she was planning on remodeling, renovating, and expanding to the tune of $1 million.

In 1950, Herb McDonald was listed as the entertainment and publicity director.

On July 10, 1950, it was announced by resort President L.B. "Tutor" Scherer that more than a quarter of million dollars in new construction and remodeling of the El Rancho would start soon. Scherer stated that the expansion would include enlarging and redecorating the hotel lobby, enlarging hotel bungalows, and installing a new power substation. It was also stated that the hotel's entertainment budget will be increased to provide a greater galaxy of stage shows.

El Rancho Vegas

El Rancho w/fence

In July of 2003, Stan Irwin told me that when the El Rancho was built it didn't have a fence surrounding the property, then a western themed fence was added. The formal fence wasn't built until 1950. The reason for this fence was because of Stan. He was doing a great business at the Club Bingo and everyone wanted to see the shows. People who were at the El Rancho would cross over the property to catch his shows. The El Rancho was not too happy that the people were leaving them and to make it harder for them to cross the property, they built the fence as a barrier. People would then have to walk around the property to get to the Club Bingo and they were hoping in that case, they would stay at the El Rancho instead of walking the extra distance. ------ By the way, it didn't work.

Motor Trend

In March of 1950, El Rancho made the cover of Motor Trend.

On June 1950, it was reported that the principal owner of the El Rancho and part owner of the Pioneer Club, 51 year old Jake Katleman, died at the Queen of Angels Hospital from injuries sustained the week before in an automobile accident. He was survived by his wife Liberty. The funeral would take place at a Hollywood, CA cemetary. It was stated that Katleman was flown to Los Angeles shortly after the accident. In his most spectacular Southern California venture, Katleman chartered a special train to take a group of movie actors to Reno in 1931 to celebrate July 4th. When prohibition agents raided the train in Glendale, CA, Katleman was alone and the train's gambling car was empty. All agents could do was fine him $500.

"My mother's first husband was Jake Katleman and he bought the El Rancho. Her name was Liberty Lukis, then Katleman, and now Liberty Josephs. Beldon Katleman was Jake's nephew and he inherited the El Rancho when Jake died in a car accident in 1950, two months before my sister Jennifer was born. Jake left my mom a portion of stock in the hotel but not the voting rights. My father, Red Josephs and Al Clemens attempted to gain controlling interest for my mom but failed." - Adele Josephs, 1999

On September 8, 1950, Nevada Tax Commission granted partnership interest in the resort to Jack Vertlieb.

In November of 1950 the "Kefauver Committee" took place in Reno. Named after Democratic Senator Estes Kefauver, he stated of his "Committee": The Committee's main purpose was "not to pass judgement on the law (making gambling legal) but we have information that certain operations here are controlled by men who have illegal operations in other parts of the country." Other members of the Committee included New Hampshire Republican Senator Tobey and Wisconsin Republican Wiley. Tobey said any evidence the Committee gets will be turned over to the justice department "so they can put these birds in jail where they belong."

For the hearing, Flamingo operator Moe Sedway left his sick bed in a Los Angeles hospital. Others included Emilio Georgetti of the Westerner Club; Sam Stearns, a partner in the Santa Anita Turf Club; Joe Contrato, a new partner in the El Rancho. Even though the hearings wer hushed, it was learned that the first witness was William Moore, a member of the Nevada Tax Commission and Executive Director of the Hotel Last Frontier. It was noted that others subpoenaed under their titles included Guy McAfee, owner of the Golden Nugget; R.J. Katleborn, a Los Angeles businessman; Reno Police Chief L.R. Greeson; Nevada Lt. Gov. Cliff Jones; Ray Warrn, investigator for the Nevada Tax Commission, Wilbur Clark, owner of the Desert Inn; Gus Greenbaum of the Flamingo; E.A. Cahlan, Managing Director of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, and George E. Franklin, Jr., Chairman of the Board of Clark County Commissioners.

In 1950, Round-Up Room showcased Anthony; Allen & Hodges; Berry Brothers; Joey Bishop; Henry Busse; Cover Girls; Carlton Hayes Orchestra; Al Jahns & Orchestra; Beatrice Kay; Guy Landis/Jimmy DeStafano; Tito Guizar; The Dunhills; Gordon McRae; Patti Moore/Ben Lasey; George Moro Dancers/Colores Frazzini; Betty Reilly; Reggie Rymal; Sensationals; Harvey Stone; Sterling Young Orchestra; and Kay Thompson.

The Round-Up Room showcaesd Billy Daniels/Lita Baron; Katherine Dunham & her dancers/singers/musicians; The Dunhills; The El Rancho Girls/Buster Burnell; Lena Horne; Sam Melchionne Trio; Ted Rio Rito & his Orchestra; Ray Middleton; and Rudy Vallee.

Billy Daniels

Katherine Dunham Sign w/phone number

In 1951, El Rancho's telephone number was 1300.

Ray Middleton

In July of 1951, Ray Middleton took some time off from appearing with Mary Martin in South Pacific to make his stage debut at the El Rancho. Here he is relaxing by the pool.

Radio Commentate Fulton Lewis, Jr. (seated center) confers with his Secretary Miss Chapman, Ed Fon Toble, Sr. (seated right), Vern Willis, Mr. & Mrs. Arnold, and Ed Jansen

Barbara Nichols

In August of 1951, it was announced that Buster Burnell dancer Barbara Nichols joined Jerry Lester's TV comedy show, Broadway Open House. She was to play the character Agathon.

In August of 1951, it was noted that people stop by daily to see the progress of the alterations being made. It was stated that it was remarkable to see how the hotel consistently adopted a new look every 24 hours due to the work of Plumleigh and his construction crew.

In September of 1951, House of Enchantment announced that it was opening a store at the El Rancho. They invited the public for free drinks and a preview of their unusual gifts, lamps, and decorative accessories.

Also in September of 1951, Lili St. Cyr thought it was a joke when she was served with a complaint by District Attorney Roger Foley for putting on an "indecent performance." The complaint stated Lili Orsini (apparently her real name) Foley was in the audience of her show at the El Rancho and her show was deemed indecent. The El Rancho posted her $1,000 bail and obtained attorney Art Ham, Jr. to represent her in this case.

On October 31, 1951, Marion Davies, long-time friend of William Randolph Hearst married Merchant Marine Captain Horace G. Brown at the resort. The couple flew to Vegas in the morning, and were married by Justice of the Peace James Downs. The wedding occurred just after Davies and the Hearst Corporation announced in New York that they had reached an amicable settlement. Davies stated "Just call me a dollar a year man. I'll still have control over the editorial policy and entertainment pages."

On December 7, 1951, St. Cyr appeared in court with her attorney Jerry Geisler for the September, 1951 complaint filed against her. She promptly demonstrated her bubble bath dance fully clothed with Geisler playing the part of her maid, a performance that drew howls from spectators and jurors, and a smile from the judge. Geisler introduced into evidence a huge bath towel as the one used by St. Cyr in her act. Geisler measured it showing the judge and jury it was 62 inches wide. After a two hour and 48 minute deliberation, the jury found St. Cyr innocent of lewd exposure. [You go girl!]

In 1951, El Rancho showcased Lili St. Cyr; Vic Damone; The Dunhills; El Rancho Dancing Girls/Buster Burnell; Beatrice Kay; Buddy Lester; Ray Middleton; Ted Fio Rito Orchestra; Jon & Sondra Steele; Alice Tyrrell/Dick Winslow. The Roundup Room showcased Guy Landis; Jimmy De Stefano; Fio Rito Paul Gardos; Chuey Miranda (they would alternate rambling around the various tables between shows).

In January of 1952, Joe Orloff, M.L. Josephs, and Martin A. Clemons filed suit in Federal Court asking a receivership for the resort listed at $5,000,000 who charged management of the resort failed to cut stockholders in on its rich profits. The three stated they purchased $98,368.86 worth of stock from Jake Katleman. They said since obtaining 495 shares, they had been unsuccessful in attempts to see the books of the casino or to get a share of the estimated $350,000 monthly profit. The complaint charged that the present majority stockholders, Beldon Katleman, Leonard Marxen, Carl Cohen, and Virgil Murphy made at least $500,000 profit from the gambling in recent months. Federal Judge Ben Harrison issued an order to the El Rancho to show cause why a temporary injunction should be granted.

In February of 1952, the Senate Crime Investigating Committee subpoenaed dealer John Alexander "Jack" Waer. Waer stated that he frequented a San Fernando, CA, gambling spot alleged to have been operated by gambler Micky Cohen in 1946-1947.

In the spring of 1952 Joe E. Lewis and Ted Fio Rito met in the casino. Ted asked Joe to lend him $600. The comedian gave the band leader one of his magnificent shrugs and said, "Ted, I won't lend you the money but I'll win it for you in a jiffy." Hours later, Lewis wearly dragged his feet away from the dice table and handed Ted the $600. "Gee that's great," Ted said "How muich did you win?" "Win?" Lewis screamed, "I lost $20,000."

In April of 1952, it was noted that Judge A.S. Henderson set aside the sale of nearly 500 shares of stock in the resort to Joe Orloff, Martin Clements, and M.L. Josephs. The judge previously approved the sale but hotel operators refused to recognize the three men as stock holders. The judge then decided they hadn't been given proper notice. The proprietor claimed that their concern, El Rancho, had an agreement to exercise the first option on purchase of stock. It was stated that if Judge Henderson's ruling was set aside, the would be upheld on possible appeal, a petition in Federal Court by the three prospective stock buyers seeking appointment of a receiver, will automatically be cancelled. The stock sold to the three men would revert to Jake Katleman's estate.

Joy Walker

El Rancho dancer Joy Walker appeared on the cover the June of 1952 magazine as she appeared in the yearly Helldorado parade.

It was noted that when you couldn't find El Rancho boat captain George Bondley, look up because when he wasn't taking patrons around Lake Mead, he was piloting his plane all over Vegas.

On June 19, 1952, the resort dispute was resolved. Judge Henderson awarded Orloff, Clements, and Josephs a decree of compromise. It was noted that this compromise was made after a long battle between the hotel's operators and Jake Katleman's widow Liberty, over disposition of 495 shares of stock after Jake's death. The three men were ordered repaid the sum of $96,368.86 for the shares. This case was touched off by the purchase of the stock by the three men which brought litigation in both the federal and district courts when the hotel operators refused to recognize the stock transfer, and the three sought to throw the hotel in receivership but were unable to find a federal judge to issue the order. The hotel corporation had the sale set aside by Judge Henderson on the grounds that an agreement had existed with Katleman, giving partners in the hotel first refusal of any stock sale. The hotel operators alleged no such opportunity had been given them before the estate disposed of the shares and the sale was set aside. Henderson then approved the sale of the 495 shares to the only bidder, Jake's nephew Beldon Katleman.

10th Anniversary

In June of 1952, El Rancho's Chief Deputy Cliff Cross celebrated his 10th anniversary at the resort with Bonnie Sibler, Assistant Maitre d' Hotel in charge of the Steak House Restaurant, and Mickey Hollihan, a popular dealer.

In August of 1952, "Nugget Nell" was removed to make room for a small stage. Katleman was looking for a new place for her.

On June 28, 1952, a petition was filed in the district court objecting to the June 19, 1952 ruling. The petition, filed by Liberty Katleman. Liberty stated that she dismised the law firm of Jones, Weiner & Jones after they handled the stock sale. She claimed that the firm took the position adverse to her interests and added that her lawyer, Abe Richman was in Europe on vacation and she was without funds to hire other legal counsel. Liberty further stated that El Rancho failed to furnish a profit and loss statement. She claimed that the 495 shares have a value of $250,000. Permission was also requested to borrow $50,000, part of which would be used to pay a $37,000 overdraft to the First National Bank.

On July 17, 1952 Co-administrators of the estate of Jake Katleman were ordered to proceed with the sale of the 495 share of stock in the resort to Beldon Katleman despite bitter objections by Liberty. The Judge, in ruling that the sale should be made, pointed out that the estate was in financial distress and could not pay its obligation without risking funds. He explained in referring to Liberty's claim that the stock was worth more than the bid, such assets are worth only the price it would bring in public sale, pointing out that in a previous sale, held illegal by the court, the single offer was less than that of Beldon. The judge noted "peculiar" the fact that Orloff, Joseph and Clements, purchasers of the stock in the first sale, had failed to bid at the second sale. He pointed out that the estate could be settled in about seven months, by completing the transaction as proposed. By his tabulations, there should be approximately $87,000 left for the widow and child. Henderson observed that holdings in gambling establishments were a hazardous investment since there was always a chance that state laws might further regulate them or outlaw them entirely.

Billy Daniels Ad

On August 16, 1952, Katleman took out an ad in the Fabulous Las Vegas regarding Billy Daniels.

During this year, Perry Di Rienzo was Manager of the El Rancho Barber Shop and Manicuring. Pattie Phillips was the manicurist. The phone number was the same as the resort.

Also during this month it was noted that a new cocktail hour was added. Popular pianist, Dick Smith, played in the Casino Cocktail Lounge daily and there will be hors d'oeuvres and music from 3 till 9; Beldon Katleman had returned from New York with a trunk full of contracts guaranteeing top flight entertainment for the next six months; RKO talents scouts spotted a newspaper photo of El Rancho employee Toni Cooper and asked her to take a screen test; Fred Levy, President of Blum's Candies spent a leisurely summer commuting between his El Rancho cottage, the Las Vegas Golf Course, and the El Rancho pool; and Kirkeby Hotel executives were at the El Rancho taking a good look at the results of decorator Tom Douglas' room redecorating job. They wanted him to do the same for their entire chain.

Sam at the piano w/Nugget Nell
Sam at the piano with Nugget Nell in background
Donated by Sam Melchionne

Nugget Nell


Beldon Katleman was a very superstitious man with an unique personality. One of the very rare single-owners of a strip hotel/casino. When I started there, Guy Landis, strolling musician and entertainment director, among other things, warned us that the mounted deerhead, Nugget Nell with the costume-jeweled necklace was his prize display. His superstition was that as long as the "she", as Beldon referred to it, was untouched mounted on that small bandstand wall, his casino table games could never be beat badly. He put it there because it had been touched and knocked down on the first wall where it was located." (Necklace can be seen if you look closely)

After a few months, my bass player, Ernie Bandics, hit his head against it knocking it down. The security guards immediately reported the incident to Beldon. We were fired on the spot only to return the next night (upon secret instructions from Guy Landis) to continue without saying a word. As Guy predicted, Beldon passed the bandstand and waved hello to us (for the first time) as though nothing had happend and we continued for two more years in the Nugget Nell Lounge. I then proceeded to teach his young son accordion lessons and sell him a 'Melchionne Accordion'." I think I did mention once before that we were fired numerous times and never lost a day of the engagement. That was Beldon."

This was at the time I met Ted Fiorito, showroom orchestra leader, who had me play accordion in his nightly dance session during one of my breaks in The Nugget Nell Lounge. We discovered that we were from the same town and neighborhood, Newark, N.J. and had attended the same Barringer H.S. - Sam Melchionne, 2002

I asked Sam about Fiorito and he provided me with the following wording from an article written about the discovery.

High School Alumni Careers' Meet on The Las Vegas Strip.

The Sam Melchionne Trio was appearing nightly at the El Rancho Vegas Hotel Casino, 1952-55 in the "Nugget Nell Lounge" while operating his Melchionne School Of Accordion. Ted Fiorita, orchestra leader in the El Rancho Vegas Opera House Showroom, composer of many hit tunes such as "Toot-Toot-Tootsie", "Charlie My Boy" and "King For A Day" conducted for the show-business greats, Sophie Tucker, Joey Lewis, Myron Cohen and many others.

Sam credits Ted with his start as a bandleader beginning as accordionist for Ted in the showroom. One night Ted asked Sam if he would like to head his own group ...... and that gave birth to The Sam Melchionne Trio, ,.... a day that began a continuous sixteen year run on The Las Vegas Strip for Sam's quartette. Ted later became God-Father to Sam's children. Both collaborated on many singing commercials. Ted, the composing, Sam the recordings.

It wasn't until the two had known each other for over a year that it was discovered they were born and raised in the same neighborhood of Newark, N.J., both graduating from the same high school. Surprised alumni, .... Ted having attended years earlier along with the ever famous composer Jerome Kern.... at Barringer High School ----

"In the days of early '50s, one had to be dressed with jacket & tie after 6:00pm to be admitted into any showroom on The Strip, or, had to be dressed respectably to be allowed in a casino. One night, late, in 1951, in walks a tall, thin man with a three-day unshaven face, short and tattered dirty jeans (in those days 'dungarees'), greasy T-shirt and sneakers with no socks. He proceeds to the dice table. The table is cordoned off to other players and spectators. The man orders chips and starts to play at the table all by himself. Meantime, 'Nugget Nell', the deer head draped with that famous jeweled necklace hanging on the rear of the 'Nugget Nell Lounge' bandstand above our group surveyed the whole thing.

I asked the security guard how was it that they allowed this 'bum' to be in the place (un)dressed like that?

He responded, 'That's Howard Hughes. He comes regularly gambling to win the whole casino from Beldon". In those days the limit was $500 at the El Rancho. Beldon Katleman would allow Howard, however, to bet any limit. (In those days, it was commonplace for casinos to make their expenses and profit for months to come off of the play of sometimes just one player. (Beldon liked that Howard picked on him so often.)

Well, if you can imagine, four stacked rows of black ($100) chips swaying at a height of two feet each above the table. And, (Howard's ego) had the dealer carefully, slowly move those swaying stacks on and off the betting places for each bet and pay-off, never toking the dealer, and plunking down more cash for fresh new stacks? We were told that it was $100,000 at a time - cash! Beldon never lost. Howard never drank the drinks sent by Beldon. We could never stop playing, (loud, as per Beldon), until he left the casino.

Later years the highway mormon-will story erupted and I recalled that night in a flash, and just wondered about the timing." - Sam Melchionne, 2001

Since Sam Melchionne was at the resort during this time, I asked him for anything unusual he witnessed:

"No black could ever enter the casino after a performance or stay in a hotel room at all. In 1951 or 1952 I was performing at the EL Rancho Vegas. One night on a break from my lounge gig..... then "The Sammy Mel Trio"..... (Melchionne name was too long for the marquis in those days).........I was walking around outside the casino between the cottages that dotted the wide-spread grass lawn....... beautiful........ and I stopped and talked with a security guard. While talking a noise about thirty feet or so away on the grass in the dark got my attention. I saw a couple in a compromising prosition on the ground, out in the open as though they were indoors. I said to the guard 'What are you going to do about them?'....... He said, 'That's why I'm here. To watch out for that guy......... It's Nat King Cole...........He can do whatever he wants...... He lives in that cottage there'." - Sam Melchionnie, 2002

Gloria De Haven

Gloria De Haven took time out from her schedule to pose poolside for the local press.

Ted Fio Rito

Maestro Ted Fio Rito made his annual hegira to New York. Mixed among business and pleasure was an invitation to attend the Johnnie Ray-Marilyn Morrison wedding reception at Gogi's La Rue. Fio Rito in the center behind the bride. To his right is Johnnie Ray. Also in the picture are the Ritz Brothers - Jimmy, Al, and Harry.

Hilton Executives

Executives of the Hilton Hotel chain visited the El Rancho studying the Las Vegas area as a possible Hilton Hotel site. From let to right are Edward J. Crowley, General Manager of Los Angeles "Town House"; Robert Woliford, Executive Vice-President of the Hilton Hotel chain; Joseph P. Binns, Vice-President and General Manager of the New York Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, and Archie E. Loveland, Director of Public Relations for the El Rancho.

On September 12, 1952, Sahati Brothers Enterprises, Inc., operator of the Stateline Country Club at Lake Tahoe filed a $20,200 bond in District Court to obtain release of 150 slot machines and $1,400 which had been attached to a lawsuit by Elranco, Inc., the firm that operated El Rancho. Elranco sued Sahati claiming that two $10,000 checks could not be honored by the bank. Attorney Joseph P. Haller turned over $20,000 in cash for a bond to release the attachment. Eddie Sahati, who wrote the checks had been convicted of a narcotics violations but released early from prison because of illness, believed to be cancer.

In November of 1952, Lenny Shafer, who was in charge of the El Rancho's Health Club rook off for New York City with the hopes of getting the famous Mac Levy Slenderizing Equipment for Vegas and the Health Club. Shafer accomplished his mission and received an exclusive franchise for all of Southern Nevada.

"We had heard a great deal about this remarkable method of reducing and, being curious by nature, we decided to take a look. We saw 'em and were amazed, watching these electrical massages in action (Lenny was the model). Words could never describe what we saw. It has to be seen, tried and you'll be convinced 100% that it's the "GREATEST!" Charming Kay Hestwood is the consultant in charge. She is thoroughly trained; 17 years with the MacLevy salons in New York City, Miss Hestwood is considered tops in her field and figure control. You are cordially invited by these two nice people to visit the Health Club and see these sensational machines in operation, which guarantees to get rid of that extra "spot or bulge." - Jack Cortez, November, 1952

In 1952, El Rancho showcased Allan & Ashton; John & June Belmont; Joey Bishop; Ben Blue - dancing comedian of stage, screen & TV/Syd Slate/Don Cornell/Carmen D'Antonio; Hoagy Carmichael; Steve Condos/Jerry Brandow; Billy Daniels; Denise Darcel; Jim Di Stephano; Underwater Ballerina Divena; El Rancho Dancers/George Moro dancers; Paul Gardos; Jack Haley/Helen O'Connell; Celeste Holme; Ina Ray Hutton; Beatrice Kay; Mary Kaye Trio; Betty & Jane Kean; Guy Landis; Joe E. Lewis/Gloria De Haven/Renee Molnar Dancers/Ted Fio Rito & His Orchestra/Austin Marck at Piano; Borrah Minevitch's Harmonica Rascals; Chuy Miranda; Jan Murray; Benny Payne; Ted Fio Rito & his Orchestra; Andy Russell/Della; Bill Skipper/Joy Walker; Bill Skipper; and Szonys.

Joe E. Lewis

Ben BlueMary Kaye TrioGeorge Moro Dancers

Former Benny Goodman Band member Johnny White was showcased at the mini-stage in the bar every day from 3:00pm to 9:00pm.

It was noted that right after her last show, Celeste Holme sped off in a plane taking her to New York so she could take over for Gertrude Lawrence in "The King and I."

Linn1Linn 2Linn 3Linn 4Linn 5Linn 6Linn 7Linn 8Linn 9Linn 10Linn 11Linn 12

Patrons fell in love with Bambi Linn/Rod Alexander while playing with Vic Damone. They demonstrated some of their dancing moves when National Magazine Photographer Ed Parham came out to take pictures of them.

On May 16, 1953, it was noted that Ray Warren, Special Investigator for the Nevada Tax Commission, resigned his position to take position in the El Rancho's Credit Department. Warren was a graduate of Las Vegas High School, and had been with the Commission since 1947.

On May 24, 1953, Lowell Edward McCurdy tried to cash a $166.51 check at the resort. The cashier didn't think he was the person stated on the check and had security hold him until Sheriffs arrived. Sheriff Glen Jones frisked McCurdy and found nine different checks on his person, each for $166.51 and $7,000 in cash. McCurdy was arrested at such time it was discovered he was wanted in seven states for forgery, armed robbery, and burglary. All ten checks were stolen from the Burroughs Adding Machine Company in Las Angeles.

On August 19, 1953, the District Attorney was presented with a complaint from Los Angeles contractor John Maher and his wife Grace stating that he was held prisoner at the El Rancho and slapped by Beldon Katleman when it was discovered his check had insufficient funds. Katleman denied the claims stating the man was only kept from driving his car at the request of his wife who feared he had been drinking too much. D.A. Roger Foley said he would have to further investigate the matter before he could make a statement.

On August 26, 1953, Maher filed a civil suit in Clark County District Court against Katleman, El Rancho, Inc., and three "Doe" special officers at the El Rancho for $172,000. D.A. Foley had informed the Court that information concerning the imprisonment of Maher will be offered to the grand jury as well. The complaint stated that Maher had been held prisoner at the resort, under armed guard, on August 6th from noon until mid-day on the 7th. It is assumed that the "Doe" defendants were Thomas Thompson, Marcus Windham, and Robert Lake, the three guards working the shift in which Maher said this incident occurred.

On December 13, 1953, Nevada Supreme Court denied a motion by the Estate of Jake Katleman to dismiss an appeal by Liberty Katleman of a Las Vegas District Court confirming sale of the El Rancho stock by First National Bank administrator. The bank moved to dismiss the appeal because Liberty and her child had accepted monthly family allowance payments of $750. The bank contended that because the widow and the child knew these payments came out of the proceeds of the stock sale, they were precluded from appealing the order confirming the sale. The court denied the motion on the grounds the family allowance payments were charged against the entire estate, not simply the stock sale.

In August of 1953 it was noted that Joe E. Lewis was finishing up his 3rd engagement at the resort. "Rumored to be Nevada's chief rival to the one-armed bandits in customer appeal, Lewis wows the audiences with such spice ditties as Mink Coats Are A-Comin, or Launcelot and McKeester."

In 1953, El Rancho showcased Ben Blue & Company; Lili St. Cyr; Vic Damone/Linn & Alexander; Billy Daniels/Benny Payne; Dottie Dee's El Rancho Dancers; Katherine Dunham & her Dancers; Bob Ellis Orchestra; Harmonica Rascals; Hildegarde; Damita Jo; Judy Johnson & her Dates; Guy Landis & Jim De Stephano; Joe E. Lewis/Estellita; Guy Lombardo; Gordon MacRae w/Sheila Stephens; Borah Minevitch's Harmonica Rascals w/Johnny Puleo; Bianchi Mosca & Company; Gregory Ratoff/Susan Znuck; Gene Summer's El Rancho Dancers; Billy Williams Quartet. The Stage Lounge showcased Matt Dennis Quartet featuring Virginia Maxey; Gardos & Miranda; Steve Gibson's Red Caps; Landie & DeStefano; Miranda & Gordos; and The Zerbys. (The Stage Lounge was also called Steak House Lounge in some magazines).

Ben Blue/Johnny PuleoLewis/Estelita

William Gargan (radio private eye Martin Kane), and his wife celebrated their belated 25th wedding anniversary at the resort. They were suppose to stay on their anniversary on January 29th but radio and TV commitments forced them to postpone their festivities until mid-February, 1953.

I do not know the year but it was before 1954, Jimmy Dorsey had played the resort and later recorded a jump tune for Decca entitled "El Rancho Vegas".

Also during this year, El Rancho stated "American's Finest Western Hotel - Completely Restyled by Tom Douglas."

In early 1954, Lili St. Cyr allowed photographs to be taken of her backstage demonstrating her show.

Cyr 1 Cyr 2 Cyr 3 Cyr 4

"Tom Douglas, who stages my act, has told me to behave on stage as if I were alone in a room and completely uninhibited. I forget that the public is there. It is as if I were being watched, unconsciously, through a window. Perhaps it is this feeling of intimacy with my audience that is responsible for the particular mood we create on stage." - Lili St. Cyr, 1954

It was reported that Tom Douglas was the interior decorator for the El Rancho when he caught her act. It was he who saw that she could be a lot sexier if she put on clothes instead of taking them off. Against a $15,000 stage set including a full-size bathrub, Lili brought the strip tease in reverse into the realm of art. Her first performance at the El Rancho set tongues wagging. It was this type of thing - imaginative planning, lavish costuming and settings, the dignity which whispered royalty had aided Lili in taking the strip from the "bumps and grinds" of burly-1 into the palaces of Vegas.

In February of 1954, it was reported through attorney William Woodburn, that Beldon Katleman would pay no more money to the former chorus girl in New York who says that Katleman was the father of her child. The statement came as a result of a paternity suit filed by 26 year old Linda Ryne who charged Katleman was the father of her son born on October 24, 1951. Katleman described this move as a "shakedown" and stated he had not yet been served. Woodburn stated that Katleman denied he was the father but had agreed to pay the mother $10,000 to avoid publicity which would result in a lawsuit that Ryne would have filed. He further stated that Ryne wanted further payments to dismiss the lawsuit in which Katleman had rejected.

Also in February of 1954, Marilyn Cantor, daughter of Eddie Cantor, opened at the El Rancho with Harry James. After the first night, Katleman said he didn't like the material and suggested she come back another time. Marilyn refused to leave and Katleman suggested that the 20 minute act be cut to 5 or 6 minutes but she wouldn't go below 10 minutes.

"I'll stay here if he cuts the act to one minute and turns the lights out on me. I'm not quitting. This is ridiculous. He is trying to ruin our act. I'm not a juggler or a magician who can just cut a few minutes out of my act, my pianist and myself do routines. We've had to cut our act down to two numbers now. They even tried to introduce me as Eddie Cantor's daughter and I never allow that." - Marilyn Cantor [She called the Variety Artists' Union to put a stop to the introduction.]

Marilyn said her mother Ida saw the show on opening night but her father hadn't seen it. Katleman said that Eddie did indeed see the show.

"Her father wanted her to work here. Then he saw the act and wanted her to cancel but she wouldn't. She is a very independent little girl." - Beldon Katleman

In April of 1954, Sands employee Nick Kelly was seen at Earthe Kitt's show and talking with her afterwards for hours. When Kitt appeared at Monte Proser's New York La Vie en Rose, Nick was host and manager and they were reminiscing of the good old days.

Also during this month Jerry Nolan was hired as assistant and secretary to Douglas and Dick Ogden in the publicity department.

In October of 1954, people were gossiping that since Lili St. Cyr and Ted Jordan were no more, who would get custody of the $11,000 diamond and pearl ensemble - earrings and a clip - give to St. Cyr by Beldon and Mildred Katleman as a wedding gift.

In December of 1954, Nell Taylor filed a $52,000 lawsuit against the resort when she alleged she was injured when she slipped and fell near the hotel pool.

Also in December of 1954, it was noted that Beldon Katleman won his portion of the false arrest suit brought by Los Angeles finance executive Charles Offer in which he was seeking $85,000. Accused also in the suit were Deputy Sheriffs Ray Travers and Dale Marcy who arrested who arrested Offer in January of 1953, that set off a chain of events leading up to the lawsuit. Offer was a guest at the El Rancho during the New Years holiday and claimed he entered into a dispute with Katleman refusing to pay the hotel bill because he thought it was padded. As Offer was at McCarren Field to leave town, he was taken into custody by the two sheriffs allegedly on the El Rancho's complaint that he still owed them money. Katleman was dismissed as there was no evidence to show that he was personally responsible for the arrest. The Sheriffs were still a party to the lawsuit.

Just a few days after Katleman's release, the complaint against the two sheriffs were dismissed when Offer's attorney stipulated to dismiss all charges and dismiss the lawsuit.

It was also noted that the Nevada Tax Commission was taken under consideration the applications of El Rancho individuals Paul Sugusa and George L. Nelson for a gambling license.

In 1954, El Rancho showcased Charlie Barnet's Band consisting of pianist Bob Harrington/bassist Ralph Penna/Barnet on tenor sax/drummer Alex Anton/Trumpeter Buddy Childers; Jack Carson; Doodles & Skeeter; Dot Dee's El Rancho Girls; El Rancho Girls; Bob Ellis Orchestra; Four Freshmen; Steve Gibson's Red Caps; Buddy Hackett; Harry James Revue; George Jessel; Eartha Kitt; Dorothy Lamour; Joe E. Lewis/Lili St. Cyr; Lenny Maxwell; Les Paul/Mary Ford; Lili St. Cyr/Jack "Baron Muhchausen" Pearl; Lucille & Eddie Roberts; Lillian Roth; Ann Southern; Sophie Tucker; and Connie Tower.

Charlie Barnet's Band Eartha Kitt

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