Center for Gaming Research

2011 Honoree

Martin Stern, Jr.

Martin Stern, Jr.

Biography and Project Listing


Born in 1917, Martin Stern, Jr. came to Los Angeles in the 1930s to work as a sketch artist for a Hollywood movie studio. After working for a number of noted architects, he established his own practice in the early 1950s. Much of his work, including the three Ship's coffee shops that helped to define classic "googie" architecture, was in Los Angeles. But Stern would ultimately make his biggest mark on architecture a bit further east.

Stern's first casino commission came in 1953, when he designed a low-rise room addition for the Sahara in Las Vegas. He would return to the casino several times over his career, designing its first 14-story high-rise tower in 1959, as well as the later additions of a convention facility in 1967, a 342-room hi-rise addition in 1977 and another 625-room addition in 1979.

Stern designed a highrise tower for the Sands Hotel in 1964 as part of a major expansion project completed in 1967. The original two story room buildings, designed by the original Sands architect Wayne McAllister, were moved to accommodate the expanded casino, showroom, and convention space. Stern's circular tower became an iconic part of Las Vegas until its demolition in 1996.

In 1965, Stern's first casino/hotel designed new from the ground up, the Sahara Tahoe, opened. Then-Sahara owner Del Webb was to hire Stern for several projects in addition to his work on the Las Vegas Sahara; in 1966, he added a high-rise tower and casino expansion to the company's Mint casino in downtown Las Vegas.

Stern then recieved his first commission from a man who would become one of his most frequent collaborators: Kirk Kerkorian. In 1967, Kerkorian bought a Las Vegas landmark, the Flamingo, and started work on the International, which, at 1,500 rooms, would be the world's largest hotel. Stern executed a low-rise remodel for the Flamingo, focusing on its public areas. This renovation removed the pink neon "Champange Tower," which dated to 1953, replacing with a pink plumed neon sign.

With the International, Stern built the first large-scale, integrated casino resort. The massive complex included, under one roof, the casino, convention facilities, and all guest rooms in a single high-rise tower. This was the model for the next generation of casino resorts, both in Las Vegas and elsewhere. Its y-shaped triform became a Strip staple.

The same year, he built the King's Castle in Incline Village (Lake Tahoe), which is today the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe. He also added hotel rooms to Harrah's Reno and built the first hotel tower (1973) and a subsequent expansion (1976) at Harrah's Lake Tahoe.

In Las Vegas, the MGM Grand followed in 1973, topping the International (which in 1971 became the Las Vegas Hilton) with 2,100 rooms. With it, Stern took the integrated casino resort to the next level. Following the diastrous 1980 fire, Stern would add a tower addition and work on the property's post-fire remodel.He also expanded the Hilton, designed its 600-room East Tower in 1973.He also designed, in 1976, the MGM Grand Reno, which ultimately became the Reno Hilton and then the Grand Sierra Resort.

While he was designing new resorts, Stern continued to upgrade and expand older ones; in the 1970s and 1980s, he added hotel and casino space to the Riviera, Stardust, Aladdin, Holiday Inn (now Harrah's Las Vegas), and El Rancho (formerly Thunderbird) in Las Vegas; Harvey's in Lake Tahoe; and the Riverside in Laughlin, Nevada.

When casino gambling expanded to Atlantic City, Stern was not far behind. He designed a room and casino expansion for Harrah's Marina (now Harrah's Atlantic City) and designed the Playboy (later Atlantis and Trump World's Fair/Regency) and Showboat casinos. The Showboat was the final casino that Stern designed, though he continued to work on casino expansions and was a consulting architect for Kerkorian's new MGM Grand, which opened in 1993.

Stern, along with Kerkorian, can rightly be considered the father of the modern casino resort. He was the first to combine large-scale hotels, gaming areas, and convention spaces into a single structure, and his designs paved the way for the future of casino design.

Sands tower addition

Mint hotel addition

Riviera, Monte Carlo Tower

Project Listing

This list includes Stern's new casino properties and major additions. New properties are listed in bold.

Sahara (Las Vegas) 1953, 1956 lowrise additions; 1967 1977, 1979, and 1983 tower additions

Sands (Las Vegas) tower addition, 1966

Mint (Las Vegas) tower and casino addition, 1966

Sahara Tahoe (Lake Tahoe) high-rise hotel and casino, 1965

Flamingo (Las Vegas) low-rise remodel, 1968

Harrah's Reno (Reno) casino and rooms expansion, 1968

International Hotel (Las Vegas) 1969

King's Castle (Lake Tahoe) 1969

Harrah's (Lake Tahoe) hotel construction, expansion, 1973, 1976

MGM Grand (Las Vegas) 1973, tower addition, 1981

MGM Grand (Reno) 1976, expansion, 1979

Stardust (Las Vegas) hotel and casino expansion, 1976

Riviera (Las Vegas) Monte Carlo tower, 1974; San Remo tower, 1977; casino expansion, 1981,1984

Aladdin (Las Vegas) Tower, casino expansion, 1981

Playboy (Atlantic City) 1981

El Rancho (Las Vegas) casino expansion, 1982; high-rise tower, 1983; expansion, 1987

Harrah's Marina (Atlantic City) tower, casino expansion, 1982

Riverside (Laughlin) high-rise tower, 1983

Bicycle Club (Bell Gardens, California) 1984

Harvey's (Lake Tahoe) hotel/casino addition, 1985

Caesars Tahoe (Lake Tahoe) sports book, 1985

Showboat (Atlantic City) 1985

Holiday Inn -today Harrah's- (Las Vegas) high-rise tower and casino expansion, 1988

Normandie Club (Gardena, California) major remodel, 1990

MGM Grand (Las Vegas) consultant architect, 1993

International (Las Vegas) rendering

Las Vegas Hilton, East Tower expansion

MGM Grand (Las Vegas) rendering

MGM Grand (Las Vegas) phase 2

For images of more Stern buildings, visit the Martin Stern, Jr. Gallery page

Martin Stern Jr. Career Retrospective

Index of Materials in Special Collections

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