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Front entrance of Thunderbird Hotel, 1950s

The Thunderbird, with its striking deco Indian thunderbird sign, opened with Nat King Cole headlining on September 2, 1948. The resort was the brainchild of Lt. Govenor of Nevada Cliff Jones and developer/contractor Marion Hicks.


Hicks, who also built the El Cortez in downtown Las Vegas, designed the Thunderbird as the first hotel/casino on the Strip to feature a porte-cochere. It was also the only Stip resort to house a bowling alley. Along with the Royal Nevada and the Moulin Rouge, the Thunderbird was a casualty of 1955 when its gaming license was suspended for suspected mob ties.The resort went through several owners and name changes: the Thunderbird, Silverbird (1977-1981) and finally the El Rancho Casino (1982-1992), before it was finally put to rest in 1992 and imploded in 2000.


Although it didn't have the star attraction of the Sands or Sahara, the Thunderbird did bring to Las Vegas its first (abbreviated) Broadway show, The Flower Drum Song, in 1961.

Thunderbird Hotel tower, early 1970s
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