LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- The MGM Grand Hotel, which opened in December 1973, was built on superlatives.
Its opening was the most lavish production in the history of spectacular Las Vegas hotel debuts. The MGM Grand was billed as the biggest, most expensive and luxurious on the famed Las Vegas strip.
And, at the time it was the largest resort hotel in the world -- surpassed later by the MGM in Reno.
It was the product of two showtime communities -- Las Vegas and Hollywood -- and the vastness of the 2,100 rooms overwhelmed visitors. The building dominated theStrip skyline.
For its first full year of operation in 1974, the hotel and casino returned the highest net profits and revenues in the 50-year history of the parent corporation, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Of the company's $28.6 million net income that year, the hotel provided $22 million. Feature films accounted for the balance.
Money was spent in a veritable frenzy of extravagance to meet the needs and fantasies of tourists and gamblers.
Furniture and fixtures for the private and public rooms cost $15 million.
The hotel featured two enormous show rooms, the Ziegfeld Room and the Celebrity Room with seating capacities of 800 and 1,200.
The biggest names in show business -- Dean Martin, Mac Davis, Donna Summer, Johnny Mathes, Rich Little, Engelburt Humperdinck, Susan Anton, Suzanne Somers -- filled both rooms night after night.
Davis was currently playing the hotel but was not staying there when the fire erupted.
The hotel boasted eight major restaurants, a 140-yard long casino, billed as the world's largest, with more games than any other. It also had a motion picture theater.
When it opened, the 50,000 square feet of gaming area contained 1,000 slot machines, 10 crap tables, 45 blackjack tables, a Keno lounge for 200 and 16 poker tables.
The hotel was a throwback to the grand hotels of Europe which catered to heads of state and the very rich in the pre-World War I era. It was vaguely connected with the old MGM movie, 'Grand Hotel,' which starred Greta Garbo, Wallace Beery, Joan Crawford and John Barrymore.
Each of the 2,100 rooms had a gold star on the door in imitation of the traditional star's dressing rooms.
The guest accommodations were more than 'rooms.' Called 'petite suites,' each had a small, semi-sitting room which gave an appearance of greater size, along with sweeping panoramic views of the desert and towerng distant mountains.
Several dozen rooms had mirrored bed chambers with huge round beds. There were half a dozen Imperial Suites with five bedrooms on the top floor -- 26 stories above the ground. Imperial Suite guests, usually high rollers, got all the free booze they could drink, of course.
Names of the public rooms were taken from old MGM film properties. The Gigi was a gourmet dining room, the steak and lobster house was Barrymores' and the Italian restaurant was Caruso's.
The Grand Hotel could seat 11,000 diners at once, including 5,000 in just one convention room. It employed more than 3,000 persons.
There were virtually dozens of sleek shops on the floors beneath the casino -- furriers, florists, jewelers, ice cream parlors and high fashion boutiques.
The Grand Hotel also set standards for taste in this resort city.
Dozens of statues were hand crafted in Italy from genuine marble. Marble and wood paneling covered walls everywhere.
But the reason for the Grand Hotel's existence was gambling and the gambler's needs were foremost.
There was a special learner's casino to teach newcomers how to play blackjack, craps and roulette.
And for the big rollers, there was the private Metro Club on the 26th floor, open to members with high credit ratings only. The minimum bet was $50.
Rich gamblers could wager against the house in plush surroundings, deep pile carpets, muted lighting, drawing room furniture, gourmet buffet and fine liquors. Of course, there was no charge in the Metro Club for refreshments.