|3950 Las Vegas Blvd South|
|1956 - 1996|
Photo from the Mark Englebretson Collection
The eleventh resort on the Strip…"Hayseed Heaven"
In 1955 Warren "Doc" Bayley, with his wife Judy and several partners, began construction on The Lady Luck Hotel and Casino, on the Las Vegas Strip. As the project moved forward, the other partners dropped out one by one until only the Bayleys and Stanley Burke were left. The Bayleys owned a small chain of "Hacienda" hotels, with locations in Fresno, Indio and Bakersfield, California. When the other partners dropped out, leaving Doc in charge, he changed the name of The Lady Luck to Hacienda, to fit with the other hotels in his chain.
Neither the Bayleys nor Burke had any experience in running a casino; the loss of the other partners also meant that the financing was short. Bayley brought in Jake Kozloff, who'd been involved in the New Frontier and the Golden Nugget.
In June of 1956, the Hacienda opened at 3950 Las Vegas Boulevard South, with 266 rooms on 60 acres, and no casino. The Gaming Control Board, under Robbins Cahill, had repeatedly deferred issuing the license, but didn't explain why. Finally, off the record, one of the board members told Bayley that the Board considered Kozloff unsuitable, but if his name was removed from the application the license would probably be approved. Kozloff's name was removed, and the license was issued after the admonishment that the board expected the Hacienda to fail, and that the Bayleys would probably go broke trying to succeed. Bayley responded that they were going broke now, and asked that the board please give them a chance. The casino finally opened on October 12, 1956. (Note: several sources say the casino didn't open until early 1957, I elected to go with the date listed in Fuller's Index of Nevada Gaming Establishments.)
The newest resorts on the Strip; the Royal Nevada, Riviera and Dunes were all struggling. New resorts kept opening, and wanting a piece of the pie, but the pie wasn't getting any larger. What Las Vegas needed was a new market. While the other resorts touted luxury, comfort and big-name entertainment, the Hacienda went after the value-oriented customer, and families. When they opened, the Hacienda offered swimming pools, miniature golf and a go-cart track. The track was also used to host ¼ Midget National Championship races, which drew large crowds. Over the years, a 9-hole 3-par golf course, 6 lighted tennis courts, Ping-Pong tables, baby-sitting services, and eventually an RV park were added. Pets were welcome, but had to be registered upon arrival. The Hacienda was often called "Hayseed Heaven".
Doc Bayley was a promoter. One of his most successful marketing tools was the "Hacienda Holiday". For $16 the guest would get their room plus $10 in promo chips redeemable at the restaurants and bars (later that was extended to include the casino, also). Billboards advertising the special were on several Southern California Highways. In 1967 the property manager went to California to investigate expanding the number of billboards that would advertise the Hacienda Holiday package. Returning to Las Vegas, he encountered highway construction in Victorville. Every car had to stop at the construction, to be re-routed onto the "old" highway. While waiting his turn, he had a flash of inspiration…why not have someone hand out brochures right there, to cars headed in the direction of Las Vegas? He made the arrangements. Arriving back at the Hacienda, he discovered that a dozen of the brochures had already been turned in! He told Doc, who immediately arranged for two pretty girls to hand out the brochures. By September of 1968, they'd handed out over 100,000 flyers; vacationers who were using a Hacienda Holiday package occupied over 100 rooms per night!
In 1978 the Hacienda Holiday package was still being offered, though the price was up to $39.78 per person, and it was called the Hacienda Champagne Holiday. The package was for 3 days and 2 nights and included a deluxe air-conditioned room, champagne breakfast (midnight to 6:00 a.m.), champagne brunch (10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.), gourmet buffet dinner (5:00 to 10:00 p.m.), Midnight show in the Fiesta Room with one cocktail, one 3-spot keno ticket, one cocktail at Island Bar, free daily champagne party (5:00 to 6:00 p.m.), a complimentary flight bag, one bottle of Hacienda Champagne, unlimited use of the tennis courts and swimming pool, free parking, and all taxes and gratuities.
The Hacienda was nearly two miles south of the other Strip resorts, so it was the first resort encountered by the travelers from Southern California. At times this worked to their advantage. During the extra-hot summer months, many of the travelers would stop at the Hacienda for a cool drink. If they liked the Hacienda, they might not go any further. Also, since they weren't close to any of the other resorts, anyone that came in by plane or bus often didn't bother to leave the property.
Doc did his best to see that a lot of guests came in by plane. Thanks to the remote location, planes were able to land right on the Hacienda property. Doc started with one plane then added another and another. He had a DC-4, equipped with a piano bar, that ran nightly flights from Burbank. He eventually ended up with a fleet of 30 planes, flying the customers in. Reportedly, in 1962, Bayley's planes flew in 150,000 people. There were so many flights, that the Hacienda was investigated for running a commercial airline. Doc tried to convince officials otherwise, but with as many as 70 flights a week landing at the Hacienda, his arguments were futile (the Civil Aeronautics Board allowed 10 flights per month). Most of the planes had to go.
The plane, the plane!
Have you ever noticed the Hacienda plane suspended from the ceiling in the baggage claim area at McCarran airport? I have. I never realized there was a story behind it, but there is…
In October of 1958, it was announced that pilots Bob Timm (former Hacienda slot department head) and John Cook would be attempting to break the world endurance flight record, which was 50 days. It was to be a fund-raiser for the Damon Runyon cancer fund, and Doc Bayley guaranteed that the minimum donation would be $10,000. Later it was estimated that the donations would be from $150,000 to $500,000, but I never found the actual amount. Anyway, it was also, of course, a publicity stunt for the Hacienda.
The plane selected was a single-engine Cessna 172 Seahawk, which was 26'6" long. Everything was stripped from inside the plane, except the pilot seats, and then it was outfitted with a mattress and an extra 95-gallon fuel tank. The Hacienda name and logo were painted on both sides of the plane. They bought a fast pick-up truck, and assembled a ground crew. Members of the ground crew were Norbie Prada, Doyl Hickman, Roy Young and Bill Marhold.
Before the flight took place, the pilots and ground crew practiced re-fueling. The practices took place on the main road near Pahrump, which was straight and isolated. The plane would fly at an altitude of 20 feet, over the truck, while both were going about 70 miles per hour. The plane crew would drop one end of a rope to the ground crew. The ground crew would attach one end of a fuel hose to the rope, which would then be pulled up to the plane. The nozzle was inserted into the fuel tank, and then the ground crew would pump 95 gallons of fuel to fill the tank. Once perfected, it took about three minutes for the maneuver to be executed. Once the real flight began, the same rope was used to get food, water and clean clothes up to the plane. There was at least one time, during the actual flight, that the fuel truck malfunctioned. A red 1956 Thunderbird, which was used as a "crash wagon" by Alamo Airways, was brought in to save the record. The T-bird carried fuel in 5-gallon cans, which were hauled up to the plane to keep it airborne until the truck was back in service.
The actual flight began on December 4, 1958, from McCarran Field. The pilots took turns, flying in four-hour shifts. Luckily the plane was equipped with autopilot, as there was more than one time that the active pilot dozed off. One of the pilots realized they'd flown over a mountain range after he'd dozed off while on duty! The flight path went over Nevada, California and Arizona, and the flight ended on February 7, 1959, after a record setting 64 days, 22 hours, 19 minutes and 5 seconds! A record that remains unbroken to this day, except by astronauts.
Much to the disappointment of Doc Bayley, the newspapers had refused to publish anything about the flight until the plane had been aloft for 30 days. At that point they deemed it newsworthy. Also disappointing to Bayley, the newspapers figured out that it was a publicity stunt, and they refused to mention the Hacienda's name in the article. They went so far as to block out the Hacienda name that was painted on the sides of the plane! To salvage what publicity he could, Doc installed a booth near the cashier cage, where Hacienda guests could follow the progress of the flight and even talk to the record-breaking pilots.
The end of an era
Doc Bayley died on December 26, 1964, leaving his estate to his wife, Judy. Judy was urged to sell the Hacienda, as well as the shares held by the Bayleys in the New Frontier, and the El Rey Resort in Searchlight. Judy had been involved with her husband in running the Hacienda, at least during the early years, and she decided to run the resort herself. She was the first woman to run a Las Vegas Strip hotel/casino. Joan Rashbrook was her friend and assistant.
Judy quickly discovered that the Hacienda had financial problems. There was no money in the bank, bills were unpaid, and there was a large mortgage on the property. She and Joan met with the mortgage holder, who agreed to take the Frontier shares in partial payment of the debt.
Judy and Joan managed to borrow some cash from friends and relatives, and they did whatever needed to be done to keep the resort running…even bussing tables in the buffet. Their hard work paid off, and finances improved. Judy also took the time to become involved in many local charity events, including fundraisers for cancer research.
On December 31, 1971, Judy Bayley died from cancer, leaving her shares of the Hacienda to Joan Rashbrook. After running the place for over a year, Joan sold out to Allen Glick's Argent Corporation. In 1973 the Argent Corporation sold 15% of the Hacienda to Paul Lowden.
In 1977 the Gaming Control Board forced the Argent Corporation to sell all of their Nevada casino holdings, due to a massive skimming scheme that was uncovered at the Stardust. Paul and Sue Lowden bought the Hacienda. Later they would also buy the Sahara, from Del Webb.
In 1980 an 11-story tower was added, with 300 rooms. By this time the resort had ten buildings and an RV park, plus the Little Church of the West (which had been moved from the Frontier property), on 48 acres of land. Also in 1980, after the MGM fire that killed dozens of people, it was realized that the Hacienda's fire protection system was woefully inadequate. Over $250,000 was spent on new sprinkler systems, alarms, smoke detectors and PA speakers in every hotel room.
In the early 1990's Redd Foxx played at the Hacienda. The IRS claimed that Redd owed over $900,000 in unpaid taxes, and the income from the Hacienda helped keep the IRS at bay. George and I went to see Redd, and the show was a riot! At the start of the show, Redd warned that some of the audience might be offended by his humor. He said that anyone was welcome to leave at any time…this was his show, and he was going to say whatever he wanted. A few people did walk out of the show. By the end of the show, most of us that stayed were holding our sides, which hurt from laughing so hard! But, believe me, no one would have ever accused Redd Foxx of being politically correct!
A "new" magician, Lance Burton, began headlining at the Hacienda in 1991. Lance got his start with a 15-minute act as part of the Folies Bergere show at the Tropicana, then moved to the Hacienda. He played there until June of 1996, when he moved to the Monte Carlo to perform in the new Lance Burton Theatre.
In 1995 Circus Circus Enterprises, Inc. bought the Hacienda for $80 million, and they closed it on December 1, 1996. On December 2, they invited the Salvation Army and Opportunity Village to come in and remove the furnishings, which could be sold to raise funds that were needed by the charities. On December 4, the Little Church of the West was moved to a new location, 2/10 of a mile south, and to the Eastern side of the strip, where it would reopen on December 11. On the night of December 12 the Hacienda's doors were opened one more time, to a group of firefighters who used the closed and dark hotel for a mock training drill.
Then, on December 31, 1996, the Hacienda was imploded during a 90 minute live-telecast, with thousands of people attending the implosion in person. The plunger was pushed, and a huge cloud of dust rose as the building fell. At that point, most television stations cut away, to show other fireworks and New Year's Celebrations. When the dust settled, the crowd in attendance saw that much of the Southern-most part of the Hacienda Hotel was still standing! The demolition team assured the audience that it would be down by daybreak, with the help of a few ropes and a crane.
The hotel would go down…but she didn't make it easy for those who sought to destroy her! By the next morning, January 1, 1997, a stairwell, some rows of rooms and the end of the hotel building were still standing, in spite of the overnight efforts of the demo crews. By noon the frustrated crews brought in a wrecking ball, and relentlessly pounded the building with it over and over again, for an hour. Holes were knocked in the building, but she still wouldn't tumble. Finally the crew resorted to chopping at the base of the building, knocking out larger and larger chunks of the foundation. Just after 2:00 p.m., 17 hours after the initial implosion, the Hacienda finally caved in.
Part of the Hacienda still lives. The 40-foot neon sign, with the famous horse and rider, was taken to the neon boneyard and restored. It spent some time at McCarran Airport, and is now part of the neon museum at the Fremont Street Experience.
Hayseed Heaven is gone. Its site is filled by the humongous Mandalay Bay Resort, which opened on March 2, 1999. The resort was built at a cost of $950 million, and it opened with over 3300 rooms and suites.
Over $10 million was spent on ads for the new resort. Dan Ackroyd, Jim Belushi and John Goodman headlined a parade of Harleys riding through the front door. (I think that stunt sounds like something that might have happened at Hayseed Heaven!)
As the name Mandalay Bay suggests, the resort has a water theme with a 14 foot long aquarium in the lobby, which holds 12,200 gallons of salt water. The property has an 11-acre tropical water setting that includes a beach with sand and surf. The surf pool was designed to support surfing competitions.
There's a 30,000 square foot spa, which includes a 3,000 square foot fitness center. There are shops, several lounges, over a dozen restaurants, a lazy river ride, 3 pools and a jogging track.
The 135,000 square foot casino contains 122 table games, 2400 slot machines, a 300-seat race and sports book, and a high-limit room.
In the 1950's, there was nearly two miles of empty desert between the Hacienda and the Dunes. Now the same stretch of desert, between the Bellagio and Mandalay Bay, is home to the Monte Carlo, New York-New York, Excalibur and Luxor.
First published in the Casino Chip and Token News Magazine Spring 2008, Volume 21 number 1 issue.
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