Howard Hughes and the Silver Slipper

Howard Hughes and the Silver Slipper

Another of Las Vegas’ most iconic signs belonged to the Silver Slipper casino. Originally opened in 1950 on the Last Frontier property, it was called the Golden Slipper because the Silver Slipper name was already taken, but shortly after they opened, the Silver Slipper folded and the name moved to its new home on the Las Vegas Strip. The Silver Slipper was never a big casino, but because of its central location on the Strip and proximity to the Last Frontier, it was very popular with families and offered the best 49-cent breakfast buffet in town.

I find it interesting from a marketing standpoint that most hotels on the Strip have used desert or pioneer themes for their casinos: Hacienda, Sands, Aladdin, Dunes, Frontier, Sahara, Desert Inn, Stardust, El Rancho Vegas and Bonanza. Several hotels even mentioned their Cuban and South Florida roots: Flamingo, Tropicana and Riviera.

Considering that Strip hotels and casinos didn’t start popping up until the late 1940s with El Rancho Vegas and Bugsy Siegel’s Flamingo, it’s interesting that they all chose to stick to a certain set of themes, but from the mob, on the other hand, are never known for their creativity or risk-taking, unless said risk-taking involves a new and improved style of murder or extortion. I guess they were less concerned about design awards and more interested in the skim.

After selling his Trans World Airways for $546,549,171, Howard Hughes came to Las Vegas with an eye on the future and a boatload of cash, but Hughes wasn’t convinced that Las Vegas was where he wanted to set up shop. After two years of bouncing back and forth between the East Coast and Las Vegas and carefully researching the financial potential of Las Vegas, Hughes decided to stay and moved into the top two floors of the Desert Inn with the determination to reshape the Las Vegas landscape. Why? Who knows, but Howard Hughes found enough intrigue to keep him an active participant in the growth of Sin City, and with a bankroll of one billion dollars, he instantly became a force. In fact, his name was so big that the Nevada Gaming Commission almost gave up when it came time to review his application to own a casino. Something that took most potential owners months and years to complete, with Howard Hughes, the ink was dry before his aides left the hearing.

So what does the Silver Slipper have to do with Howard Hughes? It seems fair to say that by the time Hughes moved to Las Vegas, his apparent bipolar behavior and his companion’s paranoia were well established. Hughes moved into the Desert Inn with the express agreement that he would stay no longer than 2 months. This arrangement was fine with the property, but the maisonettes on the upper two floors were intended for the hotel’s stable of high-ranking players who came to play during the Christmas holidays and the Hughes staff, all Mormons, non-gamblers, non-drinkers, and just they didn’t spend money at the casino or the bar. Hughes was asked to leave, and when push came to shove, Hughes wrote a check for $13.2 million, took ownership of the Desert Inn and began a spending spree unlike anything Las Vegas had ever seen.

But Hughes was not satisfied, and his neurosis and paranoia grew. Memories of McCarthy’s anti-communist hearing also begin to weigh on his psyche. This was enhanced by the fact that his suite overlooked the Silver Slipper arcade across the street, and the spinning slipper that spun on top of Streep’s marquee reflected the light into his room. Not only did this keep him awake at night, but he also realized that hidden in the top of his shoe were cameras with the sole intention of filming the Desert Inn, his apartment, and the hotel entrance, all in an attempt to chronicle his comings and goings. So incensed by the sign, Howard Hughes sent a telegram to his top assistant: “I want you to buy this place, this damn sign is driving me crazy, it goes around and around.” On April 30, 1968, Howard Hughes bought the Silver Slipper Gambling Hall for 5,360,000 million dollars and according to rumors his first order was to stop the spinning Silver Slipper and fill it with concrete. Surveillance cameras or not, Howard Hughes was finally going to get a good night’s sleep. Perhaps.

The Hughes Corporation owned the Silver Slipper until June 1988, when it was purchased by Margaret Ellardi, who owned the Frontier Hotel and Casino next door. The Silver Slipper was demolished shortly after with plans to expand Frontier, but a union strike and hard economic times put an end to that.

Today, the iconic Silver Slipper sits above Las Vegas Boulevard at the Neon Museum just north of downtown Las Vegas. The slipper is available for viewing 24/7, but the museum is open by appointment only. Visit their website for more information on their tours and costs. For anyone who enjoys the nostalgia of “Old Vegas,” a trip to the museum is well worth it.

Howard Hughes moved to Las Vegas on November 24, 1966 and died on April 5, 1976 at the age of 70. His influence on Las Vegas in the 1960s and 1970s was monumental and came at a time when mob interests were waning and corporate Wall Street interest was growing. We’ll take a look at this fascinating time in Las Vegas history in future posts.

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