Las Vegas, Nevada

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.


Photograph of the front entrance of the Thunderbird Hotel, Las Vegas, 1950s

Front entrance of Thunderbird Hotel, 1950s
Photograph of guests at the Thunderbird Hotel swimming pool, 1950s

Thunderbird Hotel swimming pool, 1950s
Color rendering, proposed Thunderbird Hotel tower, Las Vegas, early 1970s

Thunderbird Hotel tower, early 1970s
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Location of Project

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  • 1947

    Cliff Jones (Lieutenant Governor of Nevada) and Marion Hicks (developer who built the El Cortez) invest in the Thunderbird Hotel. Hicks is the general contractor.

  • 1948

    Thunderbird Hotel opens

  • 1949

    Nat King Cole performs at the Thunderbird Hotel, but has to stay in the back and is not allowed to gamble

  • 1955

    The Thunderbird Hotel's gaming license is suspended for alleged investments made by the mob

  • 1961

    Flower Drum Song opens at the Thunderbird Hotel in December, the first Broadway musical to be performed in Las Vegas

  • 1964

    The Thunderbird Hotel is purchased by the Del E. Webb Corporation and leased to Lance Corporation

  • 1967

    Del Webb forecloses on Lance Corporation

  • 1972

    The Thunderbird Hotel is purchased by Caesars World, Inc.

  • 1976

    The Thunderbird Hotel is purchased by local investors led by banker E. Parry Thomas

  • 1977

    Major Auterburn Riddle (owner of the Dunes) purchases and demolishes the Thunderbird Hotel, and builds the Silverbird. Both Martin Stern, Jr., and Homer Rissman designed towers.

  • 1981

    The Silverbird is purchased by Ed Torres

  • 1982

    The Thunderbird/Silverbird reopens as the El Rancho Hotel and Casino

  • 1992

    The El Rancho Hotel and Casino closes permanently in July

  • 2000

    The defunct El Rancho Hotel and Casino is purchased by Turnberry Associates.

  • 2000

    The Thunderbird Hotel/El Rancho Hotel and Casino is imploded

Skyline Comments
Photograph of a rendering of the International Hotel (Las Vegas), circa 1968:
This is a great image. Thanks
Photograph of men playing faro in a Fremont Street casino (Las Vegas), circa 1930:
I love this picture and the other one you have on the Faro Game. Please let me know How I...
Film transparency of the swimming pool and patio of the Thunderbird Hotel (Las Vegas), circa 1950s:
The 1950'S images are great! Do you have more like this and how can I order reproductions?