1946, attorney Cliff Jones, and Los Angeles developer and Nevada
gambling pioneer, Marion Hicks, invested $2 million in a 111,000 Sq.
foot new complex across from the El Rancho from Guy McAfee and his
It was not until October of 1947, when building
restrictions were met sufficiently, to allow construction to start.
On September 2, 1948, the Thunderbird opened. Hicks had
the distinction of being the only man in town who had built two
resort hotels. His original venture, El Cortez, opened in 1941.
The Thunderbird's name was derived from an ancient Navajo
legend - "The Sacred Bearer of Happiness Unlimited".
The walls were concrete block with the ubiquitous weeping
mortar. The cocktail lounge displayed murals of cowboys, chuck
wagons, and saguaro cactus. The Navajo-style Pow Wow
dining/showroom, had a small stage and heavy wood trusses over the
white tablecloth covered tables. The use of native stone connected
The Thunderbird to the region.
The room wing imitated the Flamingo's, with a central
three-story section raised above the two-story wings. In front of
the main wing was the pool with a high dive, palms, and lawn. This
pool was billed as the largest pool in Nevada with it containing
360,000 gallons of water.
It was the first Strip hotel covered with a porte cochere.
On top of the desert tower lookout was the Thunderbird, its talons
gripped onto the tower roof. Another neon mate was perched on the
In 1950, the Thunderbird had a total of 206 rooms and an
annex. It then added a six unit bungalow and the Casino Bar.
In 1952, Thunderbird was overbooked so the owners built
the 110 room Algiers on the property to accommodate the overflow.
Guests of The Algiers were given the same perks and benefits as if
they were staying at the Thunderbird.
In 1954, the 450 to 500 seat Terrace Room was added. It
was equipped to show movies and had a public address system. A dance
floor was also installed for social functions. Its ceiling domes
were lit enhancing the flame-colored ceiling and its pompeliano had
In 1955, the Thunderbird lifted the roadside bird higher
into the air on a pylon rising out of a new porte cochere. She also
expanded her casino out toward the road, framing its new second
floor with a rectangular box. A new porte cochere and a taller sign
pole with three pennant signboards attached were added.
In 1955, The Thunderbird was closed down for a short time
by the Tax Commission after articles appearing in the Las Vegas Sun
alleged that Meyer Lansky and other underworld figures held hidden
interest in the property.
In 1964, Del Webb bought the Thunderbird, adding a new
façade south of the original entry as well as bringing the room
count to 500. The thunderbirds were replaced by an updated one
created by Ad-Art. The 700-foot sign stretched across the old room
wings south of the entry was the Strip's biggest, over three times
as long as the Stardust.
In 1966, Ken Curtis (Gunsmoke's Festus) and his bride
Torrie Connelly honeymooned at the resort.
In 1972, the Thunderbird was sold to the owners of
Caesars Palace, Clifford and Stuart Perlman. The new name was
Thunderbird, A Division of Caesars World, Inc.
The Thunderbird saw many stars/shows perform on its
stages including Rosemary Clooney, Larry Storch, Mills Brothers,
Morton Downey, Orson Bean, and Dale Robertson, Kaye Ballard, Belle
Barth, Henny Youngman, Breck Wall, The Treniers, Dorothy Shay Show,
the Donald O'Connor Revue , Mel Torme, Dick Shawn, Frank Gorshin,
Edie Adams, Jim Bailey, Marty Barris, Pete Candoli, Bobby Goldsboro,
Tony Martin, China Doll Revue, Ecstasy on Ice, and Les Foley's
Glacees, showcased All Star Ice Revue, Follies on Ice, Scandals on
Ice with George Arnold, Sketches on Ice starring Edie Adams, and
Summer Ice Revue with Sammy Shore, South Pacific, Flower Drum Song
starring Jack Soo, Latin Fire '71 with Marta Cisneros, Latin Fire
'72 starring Freddy Manjon, and Latin Fire '73 starring Manolo
The Perlmans sold the hotel in 1977 to Dune's owner Major
Auterburn Riddle who changed the name to Silverbird.
Silverbird’s restaurant Top Brass, advertised "the Major
stakes his reputation on it." Also advertised was the Mexican
restaurant La Paloma.
In 1981, veteran gambling operator Ed Torres purchased
the Silverbird, added a Spanish style mission front, and renamed it
El Rancho in 1982.
A new tower was built along with a 52 lane bowling center
with a bar and snack restaurant, and a 90,000 square foot
casino/race and sports books. The casino held seven poker tables.
The El Rancho closed in 1992. New Jersey Horseracing
Association purchased the El Rancho but they couldn't get financing.
The City ordered the Association to tear down the building. They
commenced destruction in June of 1999, but subsequently halted the
In 2000, Turnberry Associates, purchased the El Rancho
from the defunct New Jersey company.
The Thunderbird/Silverbird/El Rancho was imploded with
700 pounds of explosives in front of more than 2,000 onlookers just
after 2:30am on October 3, 2000.
During the implosion, The Algiers, which is now owned by
Hicks’ daughter Marianne Kifer, was draped in plastic, and suffered
only a sprinkling of dust. There were no guests inside because LVI
paid for all of the lodge's rooms for the night.