The Westgate Hotel sign sure seems aesthetically out of step with the formerly glorious Las Vegas Hilton sign. What’s the deal, and will they get a new sign soon?
Sharp eye! The Westgate sign atop the former Hilton consists of the same letters that once adorned the company’s timeshare tower at Planet Hollywood. Even there—where it at least more closely matched the style and scale of the building—the sign never really impressed. Now bolted to what was once an iconic marquee, it reads like a kid’s cartoon Band-Aid slapped on the shoulder of a supermodel.
Which begs the question: Why does a 2009 sign look so out of place on what appears to be a modern hotel? Because what you remember as the Las Vegas Hilton actually began life in the 1960s as the country-club dream of real estate developer Martin Kratter. Instead of fulfilling that dream, Kratter sold the Paradise Road acreage to soon-to-be-Vegas-legend Kirk Kerkorian, who envisioned a parallel “Paradise Strip” emerging as Las Vegas visitation continued to grow.
To design what he saw as a superlative hotel and casino, Kerkorian enlisted architect Martin Stern Jr. Stern was well schooled in multiple mid-century modern aesthetics, and had successfully designed new buildings for the Flamingo, as well as the cylindrical room tower at the Sands. For Kerkorian, Stern drew up a massive, modern tri-tower that would eventually become a go-to format for Strip hotels, and next seen at The Mirage.
Opened in 1969 as the Las Vegas International Hotel, the property fulfilled Kerkorian’s intent: It was the world’s largest hotel (1,512 rooms) with the largest casino floor (30,000 square feet). With its elaborate, manicured “Tomorrowland” landscaping and massive, flag-adorned pylon signage (lost to a freak 1990s windstorm), cruising up to the International was like a visit to the United Nations, albeit with Elvis and Streisand greeting you instead of U Thant. The property promptly broke attendance records on opening, but Kerkorian unloaded it a year later to Barron Hilton. It was renamed the Las Vegas Hilton in 1971, which it remained, as a Las Vegas icon, until 2012.
Recent history hasn’t been so kind to the hotel’s name—or its sign. Given the cost of fabricating lit signage (even a tiny storefront sign can cost five figures), I’d guess this was strictly a financial decision. (Besides, if the SLS can reuse the entire Sahara, we can surely repurpose our signage!). So don’t expect the Westgate’s “out-of-step” marquee to change anytime soon—unless Kerkorian decides he’s seen enough.