The hotel was built by the well-known Reno father and son architects, George Ferris and Lehman Monk Ferris. The six-story Art Deco construction was, at the time, the tallest building in the city. The hotel's interior was elegantly appointed and featured the Orchid Room and a restaurant called the Tracedero Room. The hotel offered a radio in each room, a modern luxury at the time. The El Cortez was an upscale hotel, charging $6 per night, nearly three times the rate of most other hotels.
The El Cortez proved to be popular enough that several additions were made in the first few years it was open. It remained a popular destination through most of the mid-twentieth century, but by the 1960s, its heyday was long past. The hotel closed in 1972. Today, the property is a residency hotel with a number of retail establishments on the ground floor. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.