The Sands Hotel was a historic Las Vegas Strip hotel/casino that operated from December 15, 1952 to June 30, 1996. Designed by architect Wayne McAllister, the Sands was the seventh resort that opened on the Strip.
During its heyday, the Sands was the center of entertainment and "cool" on the Strip, and hosted many famous entertainers of the day. Regulars were able to mingle with the stars in the lounge after their late-night shows. In its time, the Sands was located next door to the Desert Inn. The two adjacent properties were once owned by reclusive businessman Howard Hughes in the mid-1960s. Today, The Venetian stands where the Sands once stood.
The hotel first began as just a casino with a few hundred rooms. The hotel was designed by architect Wayne McAllister. It was founded by Jakie Freedman of Houston, Texas, grandfather of Houston socialite Carolyn Farb. In the late 1950s, Senator John F. Kennedy was occasionally a guest of Frank Sinatra at the Sands.
Arguably the hotel's biggest claim to fame was a three-week period in 1960 during the filming of Ocean's Eleven. During that time, the movie's stars Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., Joey Bishop, and Peter Lawford performed on stage together in the Copa Room. The performances were called the "Summit at the Sands" and is considered to be the birth of the Rat Pack. Sinatra would also own a stake in the Sands for a time.
In the 1950s, (limited) integration came to heavily segregated Las Vegas when the Sands allowed Nat King Cole to stay at the hotel and gamble in the casino. In the 60s, Sammy Davis, Jr. convinced the Sands to hire more African-Americans, and to allow them into the casino.
When Howard Hughes purchased the hotel in the mid-1960s, architect Martin Stern, Jr added a 500-room circular tower in 1967 and the hotel became a Vegas landmark. Kirk Kerkorian (MGM) bought the hotel in 1988, and seven months later in 1989 it was purchased by the owners of The Interface Group - Sheldon Adelson, Richard Katzeff, Ted Cutler, Irwin Chafetz, and Jordan Shapiro.
In its final years, the Sands became a shadow of its former self—a throwback to the old days, and it ultimately could not compete with the newer and more exciting megaresorts that were being built on the Strip. The decision was eventually made by its final owner, Sheldon Adelson, to shut it down and to build a brand new resort. On November 26, 1996, it was imploded and demolished much to the dismay of longtime employees and sentimentalists. The Las Vegas scenes of Con Air were filmed at the Sands prior to its demolition.
With the Sands gone, its casino chips are now valuable collector's items due to the casino's musical history, with the average $1.00 chip fetching around $30.00. Some rarer chips reach hundreds of dollars, and sometimes over $1,000.00.
The 1960 film Ocean's 11 was filmed here. Footage of the demolition also appeared in the closing credits of The Cooler. The climactic plane crash in 1997's Con Air wound up with the aircraft crashing into the soon-to-be-demolished Sands' lobby.
Dean Martin ("Live At The Sands - An Evening of Music, Laughter and Hard Liquor") Frank Sinatra (Sinatra at the Sands), Sammy Davis, Jr. (The Sounds of '66, That's All!), Tommy Sands, Nat King Cole and Count Basie (a posthumous set, also recorded during the Sinatra at the Sands stand) were among those who recorded live albums at the Sands. The albums feature credits to many of the musicians who performed on the albums and at the Copa and to band leader, producer, and musical conductor Antonio Morelli who appeared on hundreds of such albums by these artists throughout the 1950s and 60s.
Morrissey's b-side track, "At Amber" (1990) takes place at the Sands Hotel, and recounts its by-then aging and somewhat seedy atmosphere.
The greatest names in the entertainment industry graced the Copa Room Stage (the showroom at the Sands, named after the famed Copacabana Club in New York City) including Judy Garland, Lena Horne, (she was billed at the Sands as "The Satin Doll"), Jimmy Durante, Pat Cooper, Shirley MacLaine, Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Shecky Greene, Martin and Lewis, Danny Thomas, Bobby Darin, Rich Little, Louis Armstrong, Robert Merrill, Wayne Newton, Red Skelton, and along with "The Copa Girls". These were only a few of the legendary entertainers to not only perform at the Sands, but in all the showrooms along the Strip, from the late 1940s until the early 1990s. The public could sit ringside in a showroom holding no more than five hundred, paying as little as three dollars in the 1950s up to $25.50 in the early 90s. Much of the musical success of the Copa Room is credited to the room's band leader and musical conductor Antonio Morelli. Morelli not only acted as the band leader and musical conductor for the Copa Room during the Hotel's Rat Pack heyday in the 1950s and 1960s, he also played that role on hundreds of recorded albums by those same entertainers who graced the stage of the Copa including Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, and many others. Oftentimes the festivities would carry over after hours to Morrelli's home in Las Vegas, nicknamed "The Morelli House", which was eventually relocated and sanctioned an historical landmark by the State of Nevada.
The Sands is also the place where Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys performed the Rock 'n' Roll-song "Hound Dog", and they were seen by Elvis Presley. After Presley saw that performance at The Sands, he decided to record the song himself, and it became a hit for him.