Edward Doumani was a lawyer by training, but his love was building design and hotel development, according to his older brother Fred.
Doumani, one of Steve Wynn’s early business partners, died Sept. 28 at age 80. He will be remembered in a memorial service Oct. 22 at the Neon Museum.
That’s a fitting place for the Doumani memorial, because the museum visitor center is the former lobby of the La Concha Motel that the Doumani family removed from its Strip location and donated to the museum.
“My brother did a lot of good for Las Vegas, and he loved the city,” Fred Doumani said.
Edward Doumani relocated to Las Vegas in 1960 after graduating third in his class from University of Southern California law school and launched a career not in the law but in hotel development.
His father M.K. Doumani, an immigrant from Lebanon who came to the United State in 1901 at age 14 with less than $10, was a commercial property owner in Southern California. He acquired 5.5 acres next to the Riviera, and the father and sons built the 100-room La Concha Motel that opened in time for July 4, 1961. Three years later they built the El Morocco next door. M.K died in 1964 before the El Morocco opened.
“In those days it was hard to get a hotel room,” Fred Doumani said. “Vegas didn’t have that many rooms, but it had Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Sammy David Jr. and so many great acts that the town was always packed.”
Edward Doumani helped bring in famed African-American and California architect Paul Williams to design the La Concha and designed the El Morocco himself, his brother said. When the brothers bought the Tropicana in 1974, it was a two-story hotel, but when they sold it to Ramada five years later, they had added a 660-room tower, he said.
“He really wanted to build and he really should have gone to architectural school,” Fred Doumani said. “We used architects and draftsmen, but he worked on it and designed the high-rise at the Tropicana. He enjoyed designing and building. Even though he was a lawyer he really didn’t practice. He loved running our motels.”
Both the La Concha and El Morocco where torn down in the early 2000s, and the family ultimately sold the 5.5 acres for $180 million, Fred Doumani said. The property, owned by Triple Five Group, sits vacant today.
The Doumani brothers were investors in the Frontier, where they got to know Steve Wynn, and Wynn convinced them to join him in acquiring shares of the Golden Nugget in the early 1970s, Fred Doumani said. The brothers ended up being the second-largest shareholders and worked with Wynn on adding a hotel component to the downtown gambling hall and building the Golden Nugget Atlantic City.
“Steve Wynn became friendly with my brother and he told me one day Steve wanted to take over the Golden Nugget and wanted us to buy some shares to vote with him,” Fred Doumani said. “We did and got on the board of directors, and my brother helped with the design of (the Golden Nugget remodel).”
By partnering with Wynn, Doumani helped usher in the megaresort era, according to David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at UNLV. Doumani also was part of the transition of casino ownership from private to corporate, especially with his involvement with the Tropicana, he said. The brothers sold their interest in the Golden Nugget in the early 1980s.
When they relocated to Nevada, Las Vegas Strip land was relatively inexpensive in the early 1960s and by building motels next to the Riviera, the Doumanis helped make Las Vegas more accessible to people who didn’t want a more expensive full-hotel experience, Schwartz said.
“That was an interesting time in Las Vegas history in which land prices weren’t so high, and when you could build a hotel and have a successful operation there,” Schwartz said.
Edward Doumani served as an executive producer on behalf of his son, Lorenzo, who wrote and directed movies for the big screen and television.
Craig Vincent, a former Las Vegas resident who worked as a casting director and associate producer, said he became close with the family when he moved here from the East Coast.
“He treated you with love, respect and admiration,” Vincent said. “He was a man of his word. If he told you something, you didn’t need anything in writing.”
Doumani died after a two-year battle with ocular melanoma. His wife of more than 50 years, Eleo, died from cancer this year.
Edward Doumani is survived by their three children, Lorenzo Doumani, Dahlia Merhi and Dominique Doumani; and seven grandchildren, Sophia, Dylan and Tyler Doumani, Carina, Daniel and Kyla Merhi, and Cole Doumani.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations in Edward’s name to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.