Frank Sinatra and friends toast another year for the Sands Hotel during a star-studded anniversary party in 1963.
Sands President Jack Entratter poses with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Frank Sinatra, and Gary Morton (with Danny Thomas and Lucille Ball in the back) at the hotel’s 11th-anniversary fête in December 1963.
In a city that evolves as rapidly as Las Vegas, any anniversary is a milestone to be celebrated, which may explain why, when the Sands Hotel reached its 11th birthday in December 1963, all sorts of celebrity pals turned out to toast the occasion.
Only the seventh property to open on the Vegas Strip, the Sands had always reeled in talented performers—think Judy Garland, Nat King Cole, and Harry Belafonte—all taking their turns on the stage of the hotel’s famous Copa Room. The big names gave the so-called “Place in the Sun” a leg up on its competitors, quickly transforming it into Vegas’s most successful hotel operation yet and the basis for a new model of Sin City resort that embraced entertainment as its biggest draw.
“The Sands is the Vegas place to be,” wrote reporter Bill Smith in a December 1952 issue of Billboard magazine, just weeks after the hotel’s opening. “Besides its big shows topped by whatever headliners it can snag, its lush opulence has few comparisons either in town, where superlatives are common, or any place in the country, for that matter.”
The hotel’s famous anniversary weekends in particular became the stuff of show-business legend, featuring raucous events like what was possibly Vegas’s first daytime pool party, hosted by Jayne Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay in 1956, as well as nighttime performances by acts like Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra. Here, Sinatra poses at the hotel’s 11th-anniversary bash with Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Gary Morton, Danny Thomas, Lucille Ball, and Sands President Jack Entratter, who personally invited Ol’ Blue Eyes to take the stage at the glamorous Copa after his headlining contract with Wilbur Clark’s Desert Inn expired in 1953.
The trial run kicked off a 14-year relationship between the two parties, which led to the 1966 release of the singer’s first live album, Sinatra at the Sands (a second compilation, The Rat Pack: Live at the Sands, coincided with the release of Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s 11 in 2001 and showcased material Sinatra had recorded with Martin and Davis in 1963).
December 12 marks what would have been the Chairman of the Board’s 100th birthday, and though he and the Sands have since passed on (Sinatra in 1998, the Sands in 1996), the spirit of both lives on in every Vegas concert hall that welcomes a new entertainer to its stage.