Monday, June 22, 2015 | 2 a.m.
Editor’s note: Billionaire philanthropist Kirk Kerkorian died last week at the age of 98. His life was full. His life was respectable. His life was well-lived.
Las Vegas benefited greatly because Kirk loved this city, its people and its attitude that allowed dreamers to build what they imagined and, then, to imagine so much more.
In short, our city was the beneficiary of all he imagined.
My father, Hank Greenspun, and Kirk were good friends, especially during the early days when the builders of this city took incredible chances, not only with their net worths as they pursued their dreams, but with their most important asset — their reputations — which, not unlike today, were fodder for anyone wishing to advance their own agendas at the expense of others.
Rather than write in glowing terms — as the life of Kirk Kerkorian certainly deserves from all who write about his passing — the Las Vegas Sun can provide a unique insight into Kirk’s life that will give everyone a glimpse into what it was really like in the earlier days when Kirk was taking the risks that made both him and this city that he loved so successful.
I am republishing three columns my father wrote in 1970 and 1971 that reflect a bit of the everyday travails Las Vegans had to endure. These involve Kirk Kerkorian’s efforts to build where and what no man had ever built before to the dismay and determined opposition of no less than Howard Hughes, and to endure the efforts of some bad actors to denigrate a man who, by nature, cherished his privacy to the point that others felt compelled to do battle for him. My dad never shrunk from such an opportunity.
The first two columns talk about the building of the MGM Hotel (now Bally’s) and the third discusses allegations of mob association that existed only in the small minds of some hoodlums and on the pages of the other newspaper in Las Vegas.
Where I Stand, Oct. 16, 1971
On Jan. 24, 1968, industrialist Howard Hughes, from his ninth-floor apartment atop the Desert Inn, announced he would build the world’s largest resort hotel in Las Vegas. It was supposed to be an addition to the Sands Hotel, 4,000 more rooms at a cost of $150 million.
In a statement handwritten by Hughes and released by his staff, the billionaire told of plans to create a complete city within itself with indoor golf courses, bowling alleys, ice-skating rinks, theaters and shops aimed at providing the most complete vacation and pleasure complex anywhere on Earth.
That statement was released to the press. What was not disclosed were other handwritten documents that did not hold out such high promise but detailed the real reason for the sudden decision to announce plans for a 4,000-room hotel.
It appears Hughes’ purpose was not to construct but to deter others who had made plans and the decision to build one of the nation’s largest hotels in Las Vegas.
It was in the closing months of 1968 that Kirk Kerkorian announced his plans to build the International Hotel on Paradise Road. A 1,500-room hotel would be larger and more luxurious than anything Mr. Hughes owned. Hughes’ staff members were instructed to use whatever means possible to deter Kirk from going ahead with his plans.
It takes years to integrate a thousand rooms into the economy, so four times as many could spell disaster for any new venture.
It did shake up Kerkorian, and I venture he spent a few sleepless nights worrying about Hughes’ new plans. I happen to have some knowledge because a few of the long nights were spent in discussion with me attempting to decide whether to go ahead with the International.
Kirk had taken me to see the proposed site of his new hotel even before he purchased it, and we discussed the advisability of constructing such a mammoth facility off the Strip, which was something of a pioneer project.
The town had been in something of a depressive period, although Caesars Palace was an instant success upon opening. I assured Kirk the town was ready for another large hotel and the industry could absorb it.
After giving such advice, I felt kind of responsible if failure should result because the initial estimate of the International was $50 million — an awful lot of money to risk in uncharted areas.
I was determined to learn Hughes’ true purposes and at that time decided that the 4,000-room hotel was never to be. I assured Kerkorian he was safe in proceeding with his plans because if competition was to result, it would not be from Hughes! In fact, my thinking at the time was that Hughes would never add a room to any of his places as he does not build, merely buys.
The rest is history. The new Sands went the way of the new $150 million Supersonic Air Terminus that Mr. Hughes proposed to build for the county and all the other grandiose schemes that made good reading but added little to the laboring force or the general economy.
Documents in Hughes’ handwriting tell the story of the attempt to discourage Kerkorian from building so Mr. Hughes could be the biggest in the field.
With Hughes, it was never a question of building, only buying so he could be the biggest in the state.
If his purpose had been carried out, there would have been no Las Vegas Hilton, which adds stature and stability to the area. There would be no new luxury hotel costing more than $75 million plus bringing a major film studio into the business.
In a way, it is fortunate the Hughes matter has come to a head so the people could know what forces make contribution to the growth of the area and what forces tend to keep it small so they could dominate it.
It is also fortunate the new state administration has taken the stand it has, because this new growth will help dilute the hold of one group, which controls one-sixth of the state’s economy.
It means if Hughes’ people go through with the threat made by one man of closing down because of personal pique, whim and caprice, the impact won’t be so great.
The fact that MGM is involved adds lustre to our image because this is the movie industry’s first venture into our area. MGM brings some of the glamour and romance associated with the industry.
In our discussions prior to adoption of the idea by the MGM board of directors, I could see visions of new industries and increased stature for our area.
Giant film lots like in the old days are not needed anymore because the expenditures are too great and the techniques have improved.
A few sound studios and lots of sunshine, which Las Vegas has to offer, could be the start of a movie industry here.
At least this was the discussion among the new chairman of the board, the president of MGM and this humble consultant without portfolio and for free, prior to the decision to locate the world’s largest luxury hotel here.
It updates by a few years prior discussions with Kirk Kerkorian, following the funeral of Nick the Greek, when we drove around looking for sites for the International Hotel, now the Las Vegas Hilton.
The new resort will be built on 42 acres and is a big thing for MGM.
It is of even greater significance for Las Vegas and the people who come to visit and to work here.
Brian Greenspun is owner, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.
Brian Greenspun is owner, publisher and editor of the Las Vegas Sun.