Las Vegas Sun

December 17, 2014

Study Ways To Reopen Resort

Striving to save the jobs of 400 workers at his fire-swept El Rancho Vegas and turn a devastating ruin into a workable economic operation, owner Beldon Katleman is considering plans to erect a huge air-conditioned tent on the Strip opposite his present operation and move his gambling showroom there in a carnival-type atmosphere that will enable him to keep operating.

He also reported that total of $427,000 in cash was destroyed in the spectacular blaze yesterday morning.

On hearing earlier reports that the money had not been damaged, Katleman flashed a handful of silver dollars - welded together by flames- and asked:

"Do you think paper money can do any better?"

The almost half-million dollars was in the safe locked in by cashier Ed Vandenburg who said he got out by crawling to safety on his hands and knees after he had been weakened by smoke.

He told the SUN that he closed the vault door but was too weak to lock it. Sheriff Leypoldt said the door was slightly ajar.

Almost immediately after the blaze Katleman began exploring all avenues which might lead him to re-open the casino, theatre-restaurant and cocktail lounge.

Katleman said he was "seriously considering" a suggestion he pitch a huge circus tent on the spacious El Rancho grounds to house a portion of the destroyed resort.

"We are studying the feasibility of this and other possibilities," he said.

Katleman, even as his hotel was burning to the ground and wise-acres were announcing that the "El Rancho Motel" was now open for business (none of his bungalows were touched by the fire), was determined to not only salvage his operation but was laying plans for a "bigger and better" hotel operation based on new hopes and new construction.

The El Rancho chief said he hoped for the cooperation of all authorities to enable him to get going if his tent operation plan materializes and pointed to dozens of out-of-work staffers who watched numbly as the hotel went up in flames.

Meanwhile, fireman last night were still stamping out sparks in the smoldering.

The fire spread with lightning rapidity after it was touched off in an as yet undetermined manner near the stage of the opera house and demolished casino dressing rooms, main room, restaurant and several stores in the pool area.

Four firemen were injured as they stepped on nails in the burning timber and fireman Ora Valentine received a cut hand which required four stitches. All were treated at the county hospital.

The fie started at 4:50 a.m. yesterday and was under control at 9:15 a.m. after 500,000 gallons of water were pumped on it by both count and city firefighters who used four pumpers, one tanker and an aerial ladder truck which provided a lofty perch from which water was sprayed. Forty-eight firemen and 20 deputy sheriffs were deployed around the scene of the holocaust.

Ruins following the wind-driven holocaust that sent a huge tower of flame into the Las Vegas sky causing what Katleman described as a "$2 to 4 million loss." Other estimates reached to $5 million.

Room 222 at the hotel was set up as temporary head-quarters and emergency and emergency phone lines were placed in under the supervision of telephone company representative Roy Whitney.

Katleman said "the hotel is closed and 400 people are out of jobs. My primary thought is to put my people back to work as soon as possible."

He refused to confirm reports that he was negotiating a loan to construct a new hotel, but he said he would keep "key members" of his staff on hand.

Scorched palm trees and ruined lawns testified to extreme heat and Katleman led members of his staff around the grounds during the fire in a welter of hoses and pool of water.

Shortly after 7 a.m. his wife, Millie, planed into Vegas. She rushed into the hotel and wept as she surveyed the ruins. Many members of the El Rancho staff cried as they stood numbly around on the fire-blackened walks and lawns staring at the smoke pyre.

Katleman said that the fire department was "on the ball" and pointed out that no cabins on the sprawling El Rancho grounds were damaged by the flames. Firemen wet down the closest if these and the hotel still had guest today, though many "checked out" as the fire raged, pilling their belongings into cars and fleeing.

The barber shop and beauty shop and Chuck Walters Presents clothing shop were leveled.

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