The Flamingo Hotel, the first luxury resort in Las Vegas, was the brainchild of Billy Wilkerson, not Bugsy Siegel as goes the popular myth. Wilkerson and George Russell had become business associates and subsequently fast friends through the fabulous successes of Wilkerson's signature Hollywood restaurant/nightclubs, designed by George in the 1930's. These included the Cafe Trocadero, Ciro's, Vendome, Sunset House, LaRue, and L'Aiglon. Their success and that of the Hollywood Reporter, which Wilkerson had founded, had made Billy a rich man. He was a risk taker, and his daring ventures in the restaurant and publishing businesses had paid off handsomely.
But unfortunately, during this period, Billy had developed a serious gambling habit, losing over $1 million in 1941 at the tables, whereupon his friend Joe Schenck, then head of 20th Century Fox and a poker buddy, advised him that with a habit like that he needed to "own the house." Gambling had been made illegal in California in 1938, but Wilkerson saw an opportunity in Nevada, only a few hours drive or a short hop by air from L.A. He hired my father to design what would become the first luxury gambling casino and resort in Las Vegas, the Flamingo Hotel.
Online Encyclopedia Nevada has this to say about the development of the hotel:
"The opening of the Flamingo Hotel in late 1946 signaled the beginning of the modern era of Las Vegas hotel-casinos on Highway 91, later known as the Strip. The Flamingo set a new standard of luxury for hotel guests and became the first of many stylish casino resorts constructed on the Strip after World War II.
The originator of the Flamingo was William R. "Billy" Wilkerson, a former owner of six Los Angeles nightclubs including the famous Ciro's on the Sunset Strip. Wilkerson was also a heavy gambler in Las Vegas, impressed by the potential he saw in the isolated desert town. In 1945, he purchased a thirty-three acre parcel on Highway 91, determined to build a new kind of lavish casino resort.
Wilkerson hired Ciro's architect, George Vernon Russell, and Tom Douglas, a well-known Hollywood interior decorator, to design buildings including a casino, a Parisian-themed showroom, nightclub, athletic club, steam rooms, swimming pool, hotel, and a Parisian-style restaurant for European chefs, all with full interior air-conditioning. Also among the plans were retail stores carrying French-made jewelry, thirty bungalows for high-end visitors, bidets in all the bathrooms, and the first golf course associated with a casino in Las Vegas.
Wilkerson wanted to build the town's largest hotel—with 250 rooms—surpassing the 110-room El Rancho and 107-room Last Frontier. To keep the minds of customers on gambling, he directed there be no windows or clocks on the walls, and designed a floor plan that required people to walk through the casino to get to the hotel. Wilkerson, who liked exotic birds, called his Las Vegas creation the Flamingo, based on the lanky, pink flamingos he once encountered on a trip to Florida."
Wilkerson's gambling habit would eventually get the best of him. With costs wildly exceeding the original budget, he gambled his last $200,000, convinced he could double his money and complete it on time. He bet wrong, and found himself and the project in serious financial jeopardy. Siegel, who had convinced his Chicago mobster associates that this idea was a winner, would eventually commandeer the project and bring it to near ruin, long after Billy and George had left the scene. This ultimately resulted in his grizzly assassination by the mob in his Hollywood bungalow, ostensibly for skimming profits. (For more on this fascinating story, read "The Man Who Invented Vegas" written by Billy's son, Willie Wilkerson, available at Amazon books. The book explodes the popular myth that the project was Siegel's idea.)
My father often recounted the pleasant dealings he had with Siegel during the initial design stages. He recalled that Siegel was always charming, polite, paid his bills promptly, and seemed genuinely interested in learning about the design and construction process. George was only too willing to impart his knowledge. Siegel and his girlfriend, Virginia Hill, would visit George's office often, sitting on stools by the drafting table and watching with fascination as George drew up his designs.
Images of the original Flamingo Hotel and Casino