Regarding "Looking for Luxe" (Weekend Escape, Nov. 5): In November, 1945, three months before Benjamin (Bugsy) Siegel strutted into Las Vegas and busied himself bedding hookers and breaking noses, my late father, Billy Wilkerson, branched out from publishing the Hollywood Reporter to break ground for the Flamingo on a site he had purchased earlier that year. He, not Bugsy, named the town's first glamorous hotel-casino, not after Virginia Hill, Siegel's girlfriend, but rather in accord with his habit of naming establishments after exotic birds, i.e. his Beverly Hills restaurant L'Aiglon.
Far from being "kick-started by Bugsy," Las Vegas' transformation from a sleepy ranch town with a handful of gaming shacks into an internationally renowned resort city actually began when my father decided to create a sophisticated gambling facility within reach of his home in Bel-Air. He had already done much to create L.A.'s image as a glamour capital with his Cafe Trocadero, Ciro's, and Restaurant LaRue. Strung along Sunset Boulevard, these fabled nightspots marked the beginning of the city's Sunset Strip.
Bugsy's only contribution to the Flamingo came in July, 1946, when he muscled Wilkerson out of his ownership of the hotel-casino, and threatened to kill him. Siegel opened the Flamingo on Dec. 26, 1946, and closed it after 30 disastrous days in which he lost more than $500,000. Sadly, someone blew the hotheaded mobster away seven months later. "Bugsy's Place," as writer Janet Eastman inaccurately calls the Flamingo, didn't miss him.
W.R. WILKERSON III
Eastman replies: Newspaper stories, books on Las Vegas, fact sheets from the Flamingo Hilton and conventional wisdom led me to believe that Siegel conceived the idea of building the Flamingo hotel and casino in Las Vegas. And that's what most everyone else believed until 1992, when W.R. Wilkerson III, who is writing a book about his father, began circulating information that his father thought up the idea first. Historians at the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society, as well as the director of the Gaming Resource Center of the University of Las Vegas, say they tend to believe NOW that it was Wilkerson's idea and at an early stage in the construction Siegel came aboard with much needed cash and finished the project. No one can say exactly how much of Wilkerson's idea was co-opted by Siegel, but the bottom line is that Bugsy had his own dreams and made his imprint on the Flamingo and the city.
"It was Bugsy who took over the building when Wilkerson ran short of funds. Bugsy finished it and opened it, so in a real sense, it was Bugsy Siegel's hotel," says Frank Wright of the Nevada State Museum and Historical Society.