Inside Las Vegas casino legend Jackie Gaughan’s penthouse apartment at the El Cortez

sherle-wagner-vintage-faucetnpf-2016The El Cortez is the oldest continuously operating hotel and casino in Las Vegas — it’s on the National Register of Historic Places — and up at the top: the penthouse apartment of the late Jackie Gaughan — a Las Vegas legend and owner of the El Cortez since 1963. A special “Martini Tour” of the apartment was held to cap the Nevada Preservation Foundation‘s Vintage Vegas Home Tour — and I snapped away. Note that, while the El Cortez is known for its Spanish Revival style, the Gaughans’ apartment was keeping pace with the times — built and decorated, top-of-the-line, as part of the hotel’s new 14-story tower in the 1980s. Above: A spectacular Sherle Wagner roman bathtub faucet, part of the flamboyant pink marble master bathroom.

El Cortez Jackie Gaughan 4/22/1965
El Cortez — Jackie Gaughan — 4/22/1965 — PHOTO CREDIT: Las Vegas News Bureau

Before we dive in, here’s what Nevada Preservation had to say about the El Cortez and the Gaughan apartment:

Opening their doors in 1941, the El Cortez is the oldest continuously operating hotel and casino in Las Vegas. John Kell Houssels partnered with John Grayson and Marion Hicks, a Los Angeles based architect and developer, to build and operate the El Cortez on Las Vegas’ East Freemont Street. The casino was built in the Spanish Revival style and reflects many elements of the original architecture. Nominated to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, it is only the second Las Vegas hotel and casino after Moulin Rouge [to attain that distinction].

John Davis Gaughan, Sr., better known as Jackie Gaughan, purchased the El Cortez in 1963 from the Houssels. Gaughan resided at the El Cortez from the time he purchased the hotel and casino until his death in early 2014. Gaughan was a well-known casino mogul who at one time reportedly owned more than 25% of downtown real estate. Gaughan eventually sold off his other investments, creating his legacy as owner and resident at the El Cortez.

His penthouse apartment was built … as part of the [new] Pavilion Tower. Designed by internationally known architecture firm Leo Daly with the interior done by Yates-Silverman, this apartment where Jackie and [wife] Bertie Gaughan lived feels like an entire house. Today, the Gaughan home retains most of its vintage fixtures and fittings, from the amazing tile and appliances in the kitchen to the pink marble commode and bath. The apartment is Vegas in all its splendor.

Jackie Gaughan. How important was he in Las Vegas history? Extremely important:

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-11-3Interiors from 1963 — or from the 1980s? Heidi Swank, executive director of the Nevada Preservation Foundation, said the documentation on this question is not clear… contradictory. That said: I’ll call it as mid-1980s! The Las Vegas Sun obituary also says that the tower was built in the 1980s, so I’m putting my chips on that decade.

Most of what I saw most certainly reminded me of interiors from the TV series Moonlighting. Remember that one, with Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis? All mauve and mint and brass and pink marbleDi and enormous shoulder pads and art deco on steroids. Or, on something. We watched an episode recently, on Netflix maybe — it was classic.

Entering the Gaughan penthouse


From the casino…jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-1

Take the elevator up to the penthouse…

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-5Dig the door from the foyer into the living room….

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-6… with the enormous “G” door handle. FABULOUS!

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-7The front door to the hall had starburst escutcheons — I will say these date to 1963.

A peek into the living room

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-3I don’t have many photos of the living room, because it was full of people and it was hard to get good shots. So I focused on specific features.

There was no original furniture in the apartment — all of it was removed after the Gaughans died. The space has been pretty much unused since 2014, Heidi said. The hotel is considering options — it may be that they use the space as a long-term rental for folks like movie producers who are shooting in town and need a landing pad.

It was $100 special ticket to attend the Martini Tour. Everyone there was pretty darn excited to get inside this space — a rare opportunity!jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-12-2Behind the bar: Marbled mirror tiles.

  • I follow Hoyne mirror tiles (affiliate link) on ebay — I love ’em. I have definitely seen that over the past several years, they have become more and more expensive — there’s been a revival, they are very desirable! See our story Mirror tiles from the 1970s – 13 designs (and there are more…)

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-1-2Balconies off several of the rooms enabled spectacular views to the Las Vegas strip. Viewing tip: If you are on a desktop computer, click on the photo above (and/or any photo in any story on the blog) and it should enlarge on screen to 1000 pixels wide. In this one, look toward the bottom: That’s the El Cortez sign from the back!

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-16jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-17It was still light out during our event — imagine the views at night!

The bedrooms:


circular-tray-ceilingThere were lighted tray ceilings in the bedrooms — what an effective way to bring light into a space!


1980s-kitchenjackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-8-3jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-3-3 jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-1-3jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-1-4The kitchen was classic 1980s, I thought — light wood cabinets with almost a champagne finish, countertop tiles with a Southwest feel…

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-5-3 jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-10-3jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-2-3vintage-jenn-airjackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-10-3I loved the appliances! I bet they are real electricity hogs, though — I’m thinking that in the 1980s, it was still early days in terms of figuring out how to get power PLUS energy efficiency.

The bathrooms:

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-15I saved the best for last: The bathrooms — but especially the master bathroom, which was my favorite part, all super regal, lavish with pink marble and gold-plated Sherle Wagner everywhere you looked. Above: Note the revolving toothbrush holder. I wonder if that came from Wagner or was a specialty product from Hall-Mack.

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-9Above: This is actually the other bathroom. You can see the toothbrush holder better. Also check out how there’s a mirrored medicine cabinet — sort of “hidden” by design — along the side of the vanity. Peek-a-boo, Heidi, I see you!

jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-10The shower doors in the other bathroom were etched with a design of course, of course. I think I see a nymph of some sort in that wave…

sherl-wagner-1980ssherl-wagner-swan-faucetsherl-wagner-towel-barThe Sherle Wagner swan set was fantastic!

marble-bathtubThe tub!

marble-toiletAnd oh my, the toilet — Heidi said she thought it was real marble — not some sort of faux acrylic, it was sooooo heavy.

1980s-marble-bathtubjackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-7-2jackie-gaughan-apartment-el-cortez-11-2Another favorite part of the whole scene: The etched mirror around the bathtub — including girls — faeries? — in bubbles. I was too gobsmacked by everything to note their exact species…

So what do we call this apartment? Hollywood Regency-meets-the 1980s? I know that for me, personally, it’s still hard to get my head around liking 1980s style. That said, I most certainly appreciate that this apartment was beautifully designed and decorated. And I’ll wager: We’ll see a 1980s revival of this sort yet.

Many thanks to the owners of the El Cortez for opening this space up to the Nevada Preservation Foundation. Along with The Smith Center (where registration was held and where I gave my talk) and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, The El Cortez was a sponsor of the Vintage Vegas Home Tour 2016. They also catered the event, and it was scrumptious!

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  1. Doug Ruswick says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Jackie briefly at the counter of the coffee shop just before the restaurant was remodeled about 10 years ago. He always had a pocket full of hundreds and fifties and casinos was truly his thing in life. He was a natural leader that commanded respect and always got it. R.I.P.

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