Many historians consider Mirage to be the first super-sized hotel concept in Las Vegas. The truth is that the resort now known as Westgate Las Vegas began the era more than 20 years earlier. Opened in the summer of 1969 as International Hotel, this massive structure became the largest hospitality destination in the world.
Full of superlatives and packed with luxurious amenities, the International was created with a goal of supplying top-quality accommodations and stellar entertainment with the best staff ever assembled. A dream project of billionaire Kirk Kerkorian, the 30-story structure was fast-tracked from ground-breaking to grand opening in under 17 months, an amazing feat even by today's construction standards.
Many of today's visitors still refer to Westgate as "the former Las Vegas Hilton," the name it carried from 1971 through 2012. During that time. it would become associated with Elvis Presley's landmark residency and later, Star Trek: The Experience. It was also home to dozens of legendary performers like Barbra Streisand, Liberace, Suzanne Somers, Charo, Wayne Newton, The Commodores, Sheena Easton and the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical Starlight Express.
Five years ago, the property was acquired by Westgate Resorts, and CEO David Siegel pumped millions of dollars into a massive restoration project, keeping the entire resort operating as renovations took place. The new owner refused to allow his staff to lose their jobs during the transition, protecting thousands of workers from financial hardship.
Siegel's dedication and longtime love for the property was on full display during an epic 50th anniversary celebration that took place on August 3rd. Invited guests strolled down an ornate corridor festooned with images of historic moments, pausing for photographs on the carpet before a pre-party cocktail reception.
Glass cases of memorabilia lined the perimeter of the room, recognizing noteworthy events and moments of the last five decades. Mr. Siegel joined Mayor Carolyn Goodman and President/GM Cami Christensen onstage to toast the legacy of the hotel. They also recognized the thousands of people who have contributed to its ongoing success.
Dignitaries from the worlds of entertainment and media then joined high rollers and honored staff for a spectacular meal in the main dining hall. Guests enjoyed an appetizer of lobster tail and prawns, a main course of beef wellington and champagne as performers like Frankie Scinta and Zowie Bowie provided music and laughter.
Christensen then honored longtime employees, including theater usher Angel Lopez Rosas. Mr. Rosas has been part of the service team since the hotel opened, working an estimated 12,000 shows. The party then moved to famed International Theater for a stunning performance by Elvis tribute artist Ted Torres Martin and "Sweet Inspirations," which included a performer who had shared the very same stage with Presley during his sold-out residency.
Looking forward, Westgate continues to make refinements to their offerings and amenities. New LUXE and LANAI guest rooms have come online, EDGE Steakhouse is now rated number one in the city and adjacent Fresco Italiano is about to launch an entirely new dinner menu. A solid entertainment line-up of George Wallace, illusionist Jen Kramer, the SEXXY revue and headliner Barry Manilow continues to draw audiences away from the Strip.
With top-notch service, free parking and highly competitive room rates, Westgate carries on a commitment that was made more than five decades ago. While many Vegas hotels are cutting back services and reducing their staff, Westgate's goal to treat "every guest like a high roller" continues to set them apart now and in the years to come.
Photos by Sam Novak