The El Rey Club, Searchlight, NV

The El Rey Club, Searchlight, NV
The El Rey Resort & Casino, Circa 1957-1962

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stay Tuned!

I am grateful to American Restoration and The History Channel for all the attention it has brought this project.  The show has been aired several times, including today and it keeps bringing people here.

STAY TUNED!  The book should be ready for purchase by November, just in time for Christmas.  lol
Keeping fingers crossed!

The research & collecting of photos and memorabilia from the El Rey Club never stops! Please contact me at 702-465-5604 or email me at if you have stories or memorabilia to share.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Questions Answered Part 2: American Restoration

Many thanks again to those who have watched the show.  Whether it was the original airing on TV, a rerun, or from an online source, it means the world to me that you checked it out and helped spread the word.Speaking of spreading the word, I'm targeting the mighty Stephens Press, which specializes in Nevada/Las Vegas-centric books (and owns the Las Vegas Review Journal) as the best hope for the book finding a publisher.  I still have queries and proposals out all over the country, but these folks look like the likeliest of candidates.  If you wouldn't mind sending an email to them wondering why they can't find my book on their list of titles, or mention that you saw this fascinating story on This History Channel and was hoping to be able to buy the book...every little bit helps!The email for Stephens Press is

Moving on...It seems that I didn't answer quite all of the questions with my last note, or perhaps I sparked new ones.  Either way I have received quite a few others and I offer answers to those most asked questions.
  • Is Rick Nice?
I can say with all honesty that Rick, Kelly, Ron, Kowboy (yes, even Kowboy) and everyone I met at Rick's Restorations was extremely nice to me and very professional people.  The crew members working for The History Channel were also very kind and professional people.

What struck me the most was how INTO the El Rey story they all were, particularly Rick.  Everyone loved the El Rey facts I was spouting off, my personal involvement with the story, and how I came to own this sign.  It was stressed to me that it isn't often that they get to profile something on the show with more than sentimental value and love to work on something with historical significance.  Rick was quick to point out that it was something of a rare treat for them to not having to bring something back to showroom perfection.  They really enjoyed the challenge to restore something, but make it retain some of the character that comes with age.  Even though the patina of antiquity may be lost with the sanding and the painting, this particular restoration was more about bringing history back to life and everyone seemed pleased, if not honored to be a part of it. 

  • Do You Think the Price ($2500) was Fair?
At first I was a bit shocked by the price, but when I brought it in I thought it was just "wood and paint."  Of course, I'm not in Rick's line of work and I do not work with my hands (juggling not withstanding).  When he told me the price I was reminded of how many times I have quoted someone a price for my shows and then had to explain that if the customer could spin plates and eat fire they could do the work themselves.  What you didn't see (among many things) was that Rick actually quoted me two price options.  One was what you saw on TV and the other was for a less expensive route (about $1800).  Why did I choose the more expensive option?  The work being done the less expensive way simply wasn't what I wanted.  It would have made it showroom perfect, replacing the original metal with new sheet metal, newer stock wood, newer hardware and a noticeably un-weathered paint job.  It simply wouldn't have looked right nor would it have retained any of the charm of finding such a rare piece of history in that desert.  Rick and his team took an artist's approach to this restoration and I really respect that a lot.There were a LOT of man-hours put into that sign and damn near all the work was done by hand.  The paint work/lettering alone was all done by hand (as you saw on TV) and I was told just matching up the letters to the original was a REAL CHALLENGE given how faded the original was.  The sign's metal was too thin to be sand-blasted and everything was done by hand.  Finding aged redwood was neither easy nor inexpensive and the wood work/framing was done in a way to make the sign look as though the thing had been weathered and warped by desert winds and heat.  Add in the "advertising" for my book that the show brought in and I think it was money well spent.  Worth every penny! 

  • Did Rick Really Know That Much About The El Rey Club?
I cannot lay claim to any knowledge of what he did or didn't know prior to my coming in there.  His brother, Ron, knows a lot of people in Searchlight and he knew of the place.  The night before I went out to Rick's for the first time I noticed a lot of activity on my blogs.  All about the El Rey.  The activity came from a HUGE International Property Rights law firm.  The next day Rick was spouting off info and I was surprised to hear he knew so much.  However, some of what he said to me was almost word-for-word from my book.  I would imagine The History Channel prepares Rick for a lot of TV restorations and given that so much of my info is either available online or at the Copyright Office, it would neither surprise me nor bother me in the least to hear he had a little help...particularly if the help actually came from my research, albeit in a circuitous way.  :)

  • What's Standing on the Spot Today Where the El Rey Once Stood?
NOTHING!  It has been a vacant lot since 1962.  One day I hope to own it.  It's for sale right now, but I don't have a spare $300K burning a hole in my pocket.  But I can dream.  I do have plans for that spot.  Stay tuned!

  • Were There People Watching the Taping Other than TV Crew or Rick's Team?
Yes.  Rick's, much like the Silver & Gold Pawn Shop (Home to the Pawn Stars) has become something of a tourist attraction in its own right and both days I was taping there was a large crowd of people around snapping photos.  I imagine I'm in somebody's Vegas scrapbook right now.
  • I Missed the Show.  Can I See it Again?
You didn't see it the first time so technically, NO.  You can't see it "again."  lol  However they replay those shows OFTEN both on the HD channel and the regular channel.  You may wish to check the ON DEMAND menu of your cable/satellite provider.  Up until this afternoon it was available on The American restoration website, but the newest episodes are up there now.  Eventually you can get it on iTunes and I'm sure SOMEWHERE on the web you can find a stream of it.

  • Where is Rick's Restorations and Can I Visit It?
Rick's Restorations is in downtown Las Vegas and it is about a mile away from the Pawn Stars pawn shop and within walking distance of two of my FAVORITE restaurants in town (Lola's Louisiana Kitchen and Bar & Bistro).  Tours are available and it is always fun to go see the place.  Specifically, Rick's Restorations is located at...

1112 S Commerce St.
Las Vegas, NV 89102Their hours are:
Monday - Friday (9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.)
Saturday & Sunday (10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.)

They have a website: have a Facebook Page:
They also have a Fan Page on Facebook:

I highly recommend you check them out if in Vegas or simply LIKE them on Facebook.  Feel free to let them know I sent you and tell them how much you liked the work they did on my billboard.

The research & collecting of photos and memorabilia from the El Rey Club never stops! Please contact me at 702-465-5604 or email me at if you have stories or memorabilia to share.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Watch American Restoration Online!

Click here>>>Watch the episode at The History Channel's website.<<<Click here 

The research & collecting of photos and memorabilia from the El Rey Club never stops! Please contact me at 702-465-5604 or email me at if you have stories or memorabilia to share.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Questions Answered: American Restoration

Thanks to everyone for watching the show and encouraging so many others to do the same.  1.9 million people saw the show and that's a great start on my quest to find that publisher!  Please be sure to write the History Channel and tell them you'd love to see more about the El Rey Club.

Better yet, email publishing houses explaining that the El Rey Club is a story that you'd love to read.  If they know there are people willing to buy that book, somebody will be willing to publish it.

Anyway, people have been flooding my inbox with questions about the show so I thought I'd post a note and answer them here.  Some of the questions are sillier than others, but I'll try to answer them all here, starting with the two most asked questions...
  • What am I going to do with the sign?
I'm going to try and sell it on Pawn Stars.Just kidding!I'm actually putting it on eBay. (ba-dum-BUMP!)The sign will eventually be on display in my home.  I need to figure out what my living situation will be before committing such a large section of wall to it.  I will not be living in this house for a lot longer thanks to the split with April and therefore any place I go will need to be able to accommodate this treasured addition to my El Rey Club collection.

If I cannot display it wherever I live it will go on loan to local museums.

  • Where is it now and where am I going to put it?
It is in my garage right now, off the stands they made for it.  I have given serious thought to making it my headboard.

  • Am I happy with the show?
EXTREMELY!  Searchlight, The El Rey Club, & Willie Martello got the majority of the coverage in the program.  About 12-15 minutes in total and it did a great job of telling the story.  I'd have preferred more of the cool stories ABOUT the place were included so it would be a better representation of WHY the El Rey was historically significant and why I would bother researching it for the last seven years.  But there's only so much they can include in a short show and what they presented did not hurt Willie's legacy one bit.  Rather, it helped and that's what matters most.

  • Did I actually pay $2500 to have it restored/Do they make people pay?
Rick's Restorations is a business and I am a customer.  So yes, I paid for the sign to be restored.  However I did have help from friends and family.  Aside from savings thanks to my awesome job and some private gigs, generous donations came from people like Marty Martello, Matt Martello, Melia Shumaker, Patrick Bertleson, and others (apologies if I have not mentioned you here.).  My tax refund (the first I've had in years) also made a big chunk of the payment.  If I put five bucks in a slot machine and turned it into ten, it all went towards the sign.
  • Have I been contacted by any publishers or agents?
No.  I've had a few bites from my last round of query letters, but nobody has contacted me as a result of seeing the show.  Even with almost 2 million people watching the show, it seems none of those people are in publishing.  That's why I implore people to email publishers directly about wanting to read this book about the place.  If enough people are asking, "Where can I buy this book?" eventually someone will publish it.  Here's a link to my agent query letter.
  • Did I really find that billboard in the desert?
Technically, no.  A man named Mike Madden found it and contacted me.  He lives in Searchlight, found it and called right away.  He didn't even charge me for it.  So other than the cost of a tank of gas and a bottle of "thank-you beer" I didn't pay anything for the sign.  The story of how I got this thing can be found here...
  • Has Willie's family reacted to the episode?
So far I've heard from a few family members via text and phone calls and they all loved it.  Nick Martello has chimed in as well through FB.  No complaints yet, so I think it was a success with them.
  • How am I related to Willie Martello?
This is a big part of the book, but I've never really hidden the fact that in all likelihood, I'm not related at all.  Just a crazy coincidence we have the same last name.  I'd have never given a second thought to the El Rey Club had Willie Martello had a different last name.  Makes the story that much better.
  • Was that my pick-up truck?
Nope.  That belonged to my friend & neighbor Victor.
  • Were my reactions genuine or was there a script?
You saw my genuine reactions to the initial reveal, but alas, many things in reality TV are shot over and over again for coverage and such.   So there were plenty of times where I felt like I was being told to cue the spontaneous reactions.  lol There was no script and so much of what I said was mixed with what you saw on screen.  There was close to 7 1/2 hours worth of footage, reactions, and discussion between me and Rick and that's only talking about the time I was filming (over two days).  Lord knows how much they covered of the actual restoration
  • Is that really my ponytail?
This question obviously came from "new" friends and folks who have not met me nor known me since 1987.Yep.  My ponytail.  My AWESOME ponytail.  My AWESOME 25-year-old ponytail.  Based upon some of the reactions (and some of the total babes) who have contacted me personally to tell me they LOVED it, you can see why I've kept it so many years.  lol

  • Am I single?

This is no joke.  I'm not trying to be funny here.  My sister has been asked this many times now and I've seen a bizarre (but flattering) increase of private FB messages wondering this exact thing.  So I must assume I need to be on TV much more often if I'd like my social calendar to be that much more enjoyable.  lol

Yes.  Single.  Newly-single if that matters.  I have not talked much about it publicly due to special circumstances, but will once we're "officially" (legally) done.

Very flattered, but this show wasn't about seeing me on TV.  I enjoy the attention though.  Makes me blush every time a new message or a comment from friends who were "TOLD to ask me."  lol

The research & collecting of photos and memorabilia from the El Rey Club never stops! Please contact me at 702-465-5604 or email me at if you have stories or memorabilia to share.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Author Seeking Representation/Publication—The King: The Story of Willie Martello & His El Rey Club

The following is my query letter to agents and publishers.
I am hopeful that my appearance on American Restoration
will lead to the publishing of my book.

The King: The Story of Willie Martello and his El Rey Club
(creative non-fiction, approximately 80,000 words)
© Andy Martello

PH: 702-465-5604

After a horrific blaze destroyed Willie Martello’s El Rey Club in January of 1962, nearly fifty years would pass before anyone knew of how that very casino and one-time brothel would inadvertently launch the career of Francis Ford Coppola, provide a template for present-day gambling resorts, and upset the mob by luring millions of dollars away from Las Vegas and into the tiny mining town of Searchlight, Nevada.

Were it not for my chance discovery of a single photo in a Las Vegas museum, the El Rey Club would be known as little more than the seedy brothel where Senator Harry Reid learned to swim. Willie Martello was a hard-drinking gambler and cavalier womanizer of notorious charm and remarkable luck. Between 1946 and 1962, Martello’s club brought an estimated $5,000,000.00 a year into the near-ghost town of Searchlight, Nevada, by using everything from prostitutes to plane rides, passenger pigeons to wild burros, transgendered celebrities to the DeCastro Sisters. His outrageous exploits and accomplishments should place him among magnates like Howard Hughes or Steve Wynn, yet somehow, very few know his name. What little that is known, mostly excerpts from Senator Reid’s books, is rather unflattering. Referred to exclusively as a pimp or whoremonger, the unbelievable tales of Willie’s innovations and escapades are mysteriously absent. Lost for over sixty years, these vibrant stories are now brought to light.

I have been a professional comedian, writer, and entertainer for over 25 years. At present I am a columnist for the North Las Vegas Voice newspaper and a regular contributor to Strip Las Vegas magazine. As a freelance humor and opinion writer, my work has been published at several well-read online publications, including, The Riverwalk Journal, and Having only encountered three other Martellos who were not in my family, the prospect of finding a Martello who owned a casino and brothel—possibly a distant relative, transformed me into “an accidental historian.” This project began as a hobby, developed into a wildly popular section of my blog, and rapidly turned into a six-year mission to get this story told. As a result, I’m proud to say some of my research was used in the writing of Robert Graysmith’s best-seller, The Girl in Alfred Hitchcock’s Shower. Mr. Graysmith, a great fan and supporter of my work, is very eager to find my finished book on the shelves, as am I.

I offer my most sincere and heartfelt thanks for your time and your consideration. At your request I will forward an outline, table of contents, and sample chapters for your perusal. Should you require an in-depth, formal proposal, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am looking hopefully forward to the prospect of working with you in the near future.

Potentially yours,

Andy Martello

el rey club american restoration

The research & collecting of photos and memorabilia from the El Rey Club never stops! Please contact me at 702-465-5604 or email me at if you have stories or memorabilia to share.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Andy Martello & The El Rey Club on AMERICAN RESTORATION April 18th


Wednesday, Apr 18, 10/9c (7PM pst) King of Signs: TVPG

After 7 years of research, collecting, and writing, The El Rey Club will be getting national TV exposure on The History Channel. This appearance on the very popular, American Restoration, could be what FINALLY catches the eye of a prominent agent or publisher and gets my long-awaited book out into the world!

- Learn about the discovery of a vintage 1950s billboard from the long-gone casino in Searchlight, NV!

- Enjoy the story of Willie Martello's El Rey Club and how I became involved with this project!

- Marvel at the talents of Rick Dale and his crew as they literally bring a priceless piece of Nevada history back from the dead!

This is less about watching me on TV and more about getting this story told. The more people who watch this episode, the more it will be replayed and therefore, the better the chances that someone in the publishing world will see this and recognize the fascinating stories that my book has stored inside. I would not be able to buy this kind of advertising anywhere else. It means the world to me that you watch and spread the news.

Please share this event invitation, post pleas to watch the show on your social networking sites, email your friends—tell people about this! SOMEBODY out there knows SOMEBODY in the publishing world and with your help this show will lead them to my book.

American Restoration Website:

El Rey Posts at the Tales from Andy Land Blog:

El Rey Club Project Blog:

Details also at my fan page (Please LIKE)

Can't watch it LIVE? Set your DVR, download the show on iTunes, watch the episode on the American Restoration website. :)

The research & collecting of photos and memorabilia from the El Rey Club never stops! Please contact me at 702-465-5604 or email me at if you have stories or memorabilia to share.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

El Rey Club Updates: A Roll of the Dice, a Big Fan (Dancer), and a Good Sign.

I hope you will excuse this long post, but it has been far too long since I've paid any quality attention to this blog, specifically any El Rey Club updates.

Some of the reasons for not adding more to the blog has been due to me finally tackling the chore of writing the book. I actually finished the first draft roughly around October/November of 2010. Since then there have been revisions, new drafts, and the tireless task of trying to find a literary agent and/or publisher. While I can't claim to be at my wit's end regarding my hopes to sell the book, I can say that it is TOUGH getting an agent to take a look at your work. I continue to push forward, I continue to revise as new information comes about, continue to find this book a home, and continue to add to the collection of memorabilia.

The section of this blog (and my El Rey blog) dealing with my collection is sorely out of date as well. This will be rectified whenever I get my scanner back up and running and when I have the time to do all the work. That being said, let's address how exciting the end of 2011/beginning of 2012 has been regarding new El Rey items and information.

If you recall, I'm ALWAYS collecting items like dice, poker chips, advertising items and the like. Truthfully, ANYTHING that survived the years I try to get my hands on somehow and I've had tremendous luck over the years. Among the things I have been hoping to get a hold of are these rare dice, pictured on the right. I was told close to 7 years ago that these were not for sale. That was then.

Some time in 2011 I was able to secure the purchase of the single die on the lower left of the photo. The seller told me he was liquidating his collection and promised me he'd keep me posted if the others came up for sale.

Right after the ball fell and 2011 turned into 2012 I was able to purchase the others in this image at what can only be termed as "a fair price." I pride myself on buying items at a fair price whenever possible, especially in this economy. For me, if I have the money, I want the seller to know I'm honest and eager to preserve the history all while keeping him happy to let something go from his collection (it is harder to do than you think). Plus, I truly believe that for all of the times I don't haggle, even occasionally overpay for something, the karma and good faith comes back to me later on. There have been plenty of items I've received as gifts, as trades, or simply at a better price than others would have paid because of the devotion I've had to this project.

This kind of karma came around for a very special visit!

Right before the New Year began I received a phone call from Mike Madden of Searchlight, NV. He's a long-time resident of the area and his aunt owned the Kaye Motel in Searchlight. He's quite a character and a fixture in Searchlight with many friends and quite a collection of STUFF. By his own definition he is a big-time hoarder.

On the 29th of December he stumbled upon a rather fascinating item and remembered hearing about some random guy interested in all things El Rey Club. It didn't take him long at all to locate me.

He mentioned that he had quite a few copies of newspaper articles pertaining to the El Rey. He had donated the originals years earlier to the Searchlight Museum and thankfully, thought to keep copies for himself.

These articles featured some amazing things. Advertisements for the "Premier Performance" of Peggy DeCastro, stories advertising the filming of Jerry Schafer's Wide Open Spaces, a photo of the very first airplane to arrive at Willie's airport—quite a treasure trove of information that will surely add to the story, if not my workload.

Mike then mentioned he had an original photo of the one and only Sally Rand, used to promote her appearance at the El Rey. You may recall that Rand appeared at the El Rey New Year's weekend in 1960. This photo had a sticker on the back referring to her appearance at the El Rey and her willingness to sign the photo in between performances.

He told me what he had found lying in the desert a few thousand feet from where the El Rey once stood and sent me some photos from his phone. The images really did not help give a better idea of what he had found but his description, along with the promise of "new" archival footage intrigued me enough to plan a visit to Searchlight.

We met at the Searchlight Nugget Casino where he presented me with an envelope with the aforementioned newspaper articles as well as the Sally Rand photo. Needless to say I was already giddy to be holding such a piece of history. It's cool enough to have a new piece of El Rey history in my hands, but something that in all likelihood Sally Rand herself touched? Super-geek moment for me.

He told me I was free to make copies of all the articles for my own collection, which certainly made me very happy. I was afraid to ask, but I told him if he ever felt he could part with the Sally Rand photo I'd be happy to pay a fair price. He smiled and pushed the photo next to me along with all the news clippings and said, "You just take that home with you."

My mind was blown! I insisted on paying him something for the image and he just shook his head and said, that's yours now. Indeed it is! Don't believe me? Here's a photo!

Apologies for the quality of the image.
My scanner is out for the moment.
Next it was time to see what he found in the desert. He said he had found a sign, he described it as a billboard, that had some advertising for the El Rey. He described it as pretty large, but I got the impression from the photos he sent that it may have been a Chamber of Commerce sign with many of the local businesses advertised. Regardless, I thought if there were some original advertising from the place that survived after baking in the desert all these years, I would surely want it!

We drove just down the road a spell and then made a very short walk into the desert. Truthfully, it was barely off the edge of the highway. There, face up on the ground, completely invisible from the road and something you'd only find if you happened to be walking past it, was a 12-foot long by 5-foot tall, hand-painted sheet metal sign, faded and sandblasted from nearly 60 years worth of desert weather. The billboard was framed nicely in dried redwood and what remained of the ground posts stuck out from the bottom. A quick glance gives you no reason at all to think anything of it (nor will my own photographs). Closer examination and you can CLEARLY read the block letters...

Open 24 Hours Lovely Scenic Bar
Of the items I've managed to get into my collection that clearly fall into the "this just shouldn't exist anymore" category, this has to be on the very top. It once stood alongside Hwy 95 as you headed north about 1500-2000 feet away from the El Rey, most probably since the 1950s. It was likely removed to make way for the MASSIVE BIG-TIME BILLBOARD nest to the Terrible's Casino and the McDonalds in Searchlight today. If I were a betting man, I'd wager that the sign was painted by Bob Martello himself.
What's remarkable about this sign, aside from the fact that it survived in the first place, was the relatively great condition it was in. Very little rust outside from the many nails and bolts holding the sign together. Some original paint and colors are visible. There are NO bullet holes, NO graffiti, nor any of the typical damage (aside from weather wear) you'd find in a small, remote town on an ancient, forgotten road sign. Quite possibly...the find of the century for me!

Mike was describing ways to get it free from its desert home and had even taken time to cover it in plastic so no further damage would happen. We both felt that even one more desert rain could tear away all the history.

I began asking if he wanted a finder's fee or some kind of payment for this great item. Let's face it, no matter how old you are, "Finder's KEEPERS!" can always come into play, especially in a mining town. He just smiled again and said, "How are you going to get this home?"

THAT is the kind of karma I'm talking about. I've done so much research, worked so hard to learn and preserve history, and spent the kind of money on "junk" that only people with silly hobbies can justify, and when it has mattered the most, great gestures of kindness and generosity come along to offset the effort and expense. These gifts have come from Willie's family, other collectors,interview subjects, and now from a guy I'd only met an hour previously. Just like that, I had not one, but two pieces of El Rey history that simply shouldn't have survived the years. The big payment that Mike accepted? One cold bottle of beer.

While the patina that comes from antiquity is very cool, I've decided one of my goals for the year is to get the sign fully restored. If all goes well, I'll get it on American Restoration and make it so it looks the way it did along that Nevada highway and hang it on my wall. Maybe even commission a miniature version that I can bring to shows and future book signings. Who knows?

So there's more than enough El Rey update to satisfy your curious soul. I still revise and expand upon the book while waiting for a YAY or NAY from a publisher that has stressed a serious interest in the book. I know I've had some amazing luck with this silly, remarkable hobby and believe me when I say I am truly grateful. I'm choosing not to look at this recent burst of El Rey-centric fun as mere luck, but quite literally, a good "sign" that this will be a great year.

El Rey Club billboard, circa 1950s
While many of the El Rey posts have been temporarily removed from the blog to protect the upcoming book, you may still get caught up on a lot of the El Rey Club news by clicking HERE or HERE.

If YOU are a literary agent or publisher looking for a fascinating page-turner to release, or someone with information or artifacts relating to Willie Martello's El Rey Club, contact me immediately at 702-465-5604 or


The research & collecting of photos and memorabilia from the El Rey Club never stops! Please contact me at 702-465-5604 or email me at if you have stories or memorabilia to share.