No fooling. April 1 marks the golden anniversary of the opening of a major and often troubled part of the Las Vegas Strip’s history: the Aladdin. Today it’s the site of the Planet Hollywood. Once it was the center of a lot that happened on the Strip and in Las Vegas—in good ways and bad.
It started out in 1963 as the Tally Ho. Its attraction was, strangely enough, what it lacked: gambling. The owner, Edwin Lowe, hoped to draw a different kind of clientele. Instead, he drew none and it closed.
Milton Prell came to the rescue. Prell had come to Las Vegas in 1947 to open the Club Bingo, which he and his partners then replaced on the same site with the Sahara Hotel. Prell obviously had a liking for Arabian themes. He also was apparently the first casino owner to get a loan from the Bank of Las Vegas, led by Parry Thomas and Jerry Mack. Prell emphasized entertainment, not just in the showroom, but in the lounge, where Louis Prima and Don Rickles became stars. Prell went on to open the Mint Hotel downtown, then sold his properties and retired. Or so he thought. He wanted to get back in the game, and bought the old Tally Ho property.
Prell had big plans. He named the property the Aladdin, and YESCO’s neon sign designers came up with a huge Aladdin’s lamp, costing what was then a staggering three quarters of a million dollars. Prell built the largest casino in the state. The Bagdad Theater showroom would present three different shows nightly. There was an 18-hole par 3 golf course. It also would have something new to Nevada casinos to help people move around the property: an escalator. The opening on April 1, 1966, was a success. Prell soon added more risqué entertainment, most notably Redd Foxx.
The biggest splash the Aladdin made had to do with an entertainer who never performed there. Prell was friendly with Tom Parker, and Parker’s client, Elvis Presley, who used to hang out at the Sahara. Prell set up the wedding of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, performed by Nevada Supreme Court Justice David Zenoff.
But a year after the wedding, ill health prompted Prell to sell. The new owner of the Aladdin was Parvin-Dohrmann Company. Albert Parvin had supplied carpeting to Las Vegas resorts and done interior design work, then bought some of them. His connections were fairly important—Meyer Lansky had hired him to work on a resort in Cuba, and Parvin had paid a big finder’s fee to Lansky when Parvin sold the Flamingo. The Parvin-Dorhmann Company owned the Aladdin for a few years, with Eddie Levinson as manager … and Levinson had been involved in the Sands and the Fremont, and reportedly had some connections in his own right. Finally, Parvin sold the Aladdin to two brothers from St. Louis, Peter and Sorkis Webbe.
The Webbes were of Lebanese descent. Maybe it was just a coincidence that Lebanese mobsters from Detroit became involved in the Aladdin’s ownership. But that’s what happened. We’ll continue that story next time.
Nevada Yesterdays is written by Associate Professor Michael Green of UNLV, and narrated by former Senator Richard Bryan. Supported by Nevada Humanities
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