Asked in May 2001 about how the 104-room Somerset House and Motel survived with 3,000-room giants on the Strip, Irwin Kishner credited his abilities as a one-man marketing department.
“Wherever I went I would distribute cards, brochures at conventions,” Kishner told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “I would make contact with other people in other cities, states, countries and say we have a place where they could take care of family, friends, customers at reasonable rates. That brought a lot of longtime customers, some who have been coming 10, 15, 20 years.”
He’d spent decades in Las Vegas honing his skills, arriving in the valley in 1960 and to work alongside his uncle as a developer.
On Monday, the longtime developer died at age 84.
The Somerset House would last until its demolition in 2010. But Kishner maintained his property along Kishner Drive, off Las Vegas Boulevard and Convention Center Drive.
In the motel’s place is an empty lot, near Kishner’s Somerset Gardens apartment complex and his Somerset shopping center, home to an Ethiopian restaurant and a dry cleaner.
The properties Kishner developed with his uncle, Herman Kishner, include the Somerset House, Nevada Square, The Monaco and Maryland Square.
He served with various Nevada philanthropic and service groups, according to his online obituary, including a role as a founding director of the Nevada Hotel &Motel Association.
A Rotary International District 5300 post on Facebook said his Las Vegas Rotary membership started in 1968.
“I’m sure Irwin is up there right now with friends who have gone before him, ready to join the Rotary Club of Heaven,” the post said. “From here on in, he’ll have perfect attendance.”
His public service inspired both his children, said daughter Joanna Kishner, a judge on Nevada’s Eighth Judicial District Court.
“My sister and I learned that community service is a first priority. You do your very best academically and in community service,” she said. “My father was a strong influence in my seeking the bench, which is a way to serve your community.”
Memorial donations, in honor of Kishner, may be made to Temple Beth Sholom, Las Vegas Paradise Rotary or Opportunity Village.
Services will be held at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at King David Memorial Chapel, 2697 E. Eldorado Lane. A gravesite burial will follow.
Kishner was bornon June 10, 1933, in Brighton Beach, New York, and received his bachelor’s and law degrees from the universities of Florida and Miami, respectively.
“I didn’t come from a rich background,” he told the Review-Journal. “I stoked furnaces in the winter. I never stopped. I was a stock boy, movie usher.”
During his interview, he touted the advantages of a non-gaming hotel.
“They’re not distracted by gaming machines, but they’re right near the heart of gaming,” he said.
“A hundred-and-four units, we don’t have a restaurant, don’t have gaming. What do we have is sleeping rooms. That’s what we got,” he continued. “We have become a tremendous reference point to people who stay here. Years ago, maybe 15 years ago, the Desert Inn would send us high rollers who didn’t want to stay on the Strip.”
He was preceded in death by his parents, Samuel and Ida Kishner, and his brother, Martin, according to his online obituary.
He is survived by his daughter Sharon Kishner and grandchildren Rachael and Risa; his daughter Judge Joanna Kishner and her husband, David Alexander, and grandchildren Josh and Jillian; and his longtime significant other, Jeanne Greenawalt.
During his 2001 interview, when asked about his thoughts on dabbling in gambling, an industry controlled by the mob of the 1960s and 1970s, Kishner said his role as an attorney and disinterest in the lifestyle of gaming moguls kept him out.
“There were money things I didn’t want to cross over,” he said. “There are too many other things attached to get into gaming.”
Contact Wade Tyler Millward at email@example.com or 702-383-4602. Follow @wademillward on Twitter.