John Cook / Las Vegas News Bureau
Monday, May 2, 2016 | 6 p.m.
The oldest resort still in operation today on the Las Vegas Strip is set to get a $100-million-plus makeover in time to celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2021. I’ve learned exclusively that work on the top-to-bottom renovation of the Flamingo starts in December, and architects have begun work on drawings, with designs already submitted.
I am reliably told that the Flamingo will be a modernized, state-of-the-art version of the original classic, which opened Dec. 26, 1946, at a cost of $6 million financed by Chicago mobster Bugsy Siegel and his partners. In June 1947, Bugsy was shot to death at his home in Beverly Hills, Calif., and there is a memorial to him on the 40-acre Flamingo grounds.
It is said that the pink flamingos that strolled the gardens were his tribute to his long-legged girlfriend Virginia Hill. Organized crime-king Lucky Luciano wrote in his memoir that Bugsy viewed the flamingos as good luck. It also is said that Bugsy had a secret ladder in his presidential suite to an underground garage where he kept a limousine waiting.
The first remodeling of the Flamingo in 1953 cost $1 million. Its four hotel towers were built and expanded from 1967 to 1995. The Hilton Corp. bought the resort in 1972 from billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, who had acquired it in 1967.
In 1998, Hilton’s gaming properties were spun off as Park Place Entertainment, later renamed Caesars Entertainment. In 2005, Harrah’s Entertainment purchased Caesars Entertainment, and the Flamingo became part of Harrah’s, which changed its name to Caesars Entertainment Corp. in 2010.
The Art Deco South Beach look will be reimagined and aimed at Millennials. Nightlife czar Victor Drai will create a new nightclub specifically for the re-themed yesteryear hotel.
Expect to see memorabilia and photographs of the Frank Sinatra days and The Rat Pack adventures. Sammy Davis Jr. was just one of the entertainers along with Danny Thomas, Tony Martin, Polly Bergen, Betty Hutton, Spike Jones, Sophie Tucker and Pearl Bailey.
I also am told that celebrity chef restaurants will be added along with an expanded entrance from the Strip. All 3,626 rooms will be modernized. The hotel will not close during the five-year, floor-by-floor renovation.
The project, which will be overseen by Eileen Moore, regional president of the Flamingo, Cromwell and The Linq, was being kept under wraps until the 50th anniversary celebrations of Caesars Palace concluded this fall. Full details of the makeover will be officially revealed then.
Caesars Entertainment owns the Flamingo, which is home to Donny & Marie Osmond, Olivia Newton-John, “X Burlesque,” Jeff Civillico and Piff the Magic Dragon. The Flamingo is not part of the current Caesars bankruptcy action being resolved in a Chicago courtroom under a federal judge’s administration.
Opening-night guests 70 years ago included Lana Turner, Judy Garland, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Cesar Romero, George Raft and George Jessel for the entertainment by bandleader Xavier Cugat. The hotel was featured in 1964’s “Viva Las Vegas,” 1960’s “Ocean’s 11” with Frank Dean Martin and Peter Lawford and 1991’s “Bugsy” starring Warren Beatty.
The debut solo album of The Killers frontman Brandon Flowers, “Flamingo,” is named after the casino.
CONGRATULATIONS! To Zowie Bowie singer Chris Phillips, who I will introduce tonight at a Sun City Anthem fundraiser. Best Agency President Ken Henderson just landed him a seven-month engagement playing on the open-patio rooftop venue at Downtown Grand.
Chris starts May 13 with concerts from 9 p.m. to midnight.
‘ZARKANA’ ENDS: As planned, sadly, Cirque du Soleil’s “Zarkana” ended Saturday after 2,053 performances for its 77 performers, four of whom never missed a show. The production played 381 dates in Madrid, Moscow and New York before moving to Aria at CityCenter for its 1,672 shows here. It took 65 trucks to move the sets, wardrobe and costumes cross-country.
Cirque officials say they are trying to relocate as many of the artists as possible to other productions. The lavish theater will be demolished to make way for an additional four stories and 200,000 square feet of convention floors, with meeting space enclosed behind glass walls, bringing Aria’s total exposition availability to more than 500,000 square feet.
‘REAL WORLD’ SUITE: Marketing execs have come up with a unique prize for Gold Spike guests, an opportunity to win a weekend stay for the ultimate party with seven people in the Season 31 MTV “Real World” seventh-floor downtown penthouse suite with seven beds, three bedrooms, three rooftop patios, pool table and other games.
STAR TURNOUT FOR LIONEL, ELTON: Las Vegas really plays host to the biggest stars who in turn play host. Lionel Richie’s new residency show “All The Hits” at Axis at Planet Hollywood was a celebrity hotspot over the weekend with Tyra Banks, Hoda Kotb, Leeza Gibbons and Maggie Q, who all went backstage.
On Sunday, it was daughter Nicole Richie with Good Charlotte brothers Joel Madden and Benji Madden with actress wife Cameron Diaz. Nicole and Joel brought daughter Harlow and son Sparrow. The group dined at Strip House post-show.
Over at Sir Elton John’s “The Million Dollar Piano” at the Colosseum in Caesars Palace, Metallica lead guitarist and songwriter Kirk Hammett joined Elton onstage from the audience to perform a duet on “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting.” It was the singer-songwriter’s closing night of his current run.
Also at Elton, celebrity chef Giada de Laurentiis with her new TV producer boyfriend. He filmed her dancing along to the show and posted the mini-video on social media. Elton has set dates to return in October and February.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.