Hotel Histories

History of the Riviera

Opened: April 20, 1955


When the Riviera Hotel & Casino opened, it was the first high-rise resort with nine stories comprising of the casino, shops, and 300 deluxe rooms. An architectural departure for Las Vegas, the Riviera looked like it belonged on Miami Beach, which was the design of architect Roy France and Son who were based in Miami.

The Riviera was originally the dream of a group of Miami investors headed by Florida businessman Sam Cohen. These investors formed the Riviera Hotel Company, which in turn leased the land from the Gensbro Hotel Company.

The resort contained the Hickory Room Restaurant, Cafe Noir, Le Bistro, and the Clover Room showroom, as well as an Olympic-sized swimming pool. The casino contained 18 table games and 116 slot machines, and though modest by today's standards, it was considered the place for high-rollers.

The lavish debut of the Riviera was on April 20, 1955. The grandest opening to date, the Clover Showroom starred Liberace with actress Joan Crawford serving as official hostess. The effervescent showman was paid $50,000 a week. Liberace was playing at the New Frontier for $750 a week.

The Miami-oriented operators were unaccustomed to gaming and they ran into trouble. The hotel sustained large losses and went bankrupt in July of 1955. Gensbro Hotel Co., the Riviera's landlord, assumed control and immediately began a search for new operators.

Gensbro had arranged for Flamingo's Gus Greenbaum, Ben Goffstein, Harry S. Goldman, Ross Miller, Dave Berman, Jess Goodman, Charles Harrison, and Frank, Fred and Elias Atol, to take over. With Greenbaum taking the lead, major operational changes occurred resulting in financial stability.

In 1959, Riviera was sold to a group headed by Ed Levinson of the Fremont Hotel, and Carl Cohen and Jack Entratter of the Sands Hotel.

In October of 1959, Riviera planned to spend $3.5 million for remodelling including the addition of 114 deluxe guest rooms as well as a skyroom on the 10th floor of the hotel, in which dusk to dawn dancing was be featured.

In 1960, Riviera changed the Clover Room's name to the Versailles Theatre. The Riviera was financially afloat. Zoppi credited the highly successful Starlight Theatre for supporting the resort.

In 1965, Hotel Riviera, Inc., bought out the interest of Gensbro, Co., becoming sole owner of the hotel and its property.

In 1967, the Riviera added a 200-room wing, an elevator penthouse, a 9,000-square-foot lobby, and 10,000 square feet of office and meeting space. Dean Martin became a 10% owner with approximately 8,000 shares, and Dino's Den was named after him.

Four championship tennis courts were added near the pool in 1972, and they were later to be the site of the Dewar's Celebrity-Pro Tennis Tournament.

In February or March of 1973, Meshulam Riklis of American International Travel Services of Boston bought the Riviera for $56 million. In July of 1973, it was announced that Dean Martin was released from his contract at Riviera so he could sign a contract with the MGM Grand.

In 1975, the Riviera added its 17-story Monte Carlo tower at a cost of $20 million. It consisted of 300 rooms, 60 suites, and an elaborate penthouse, giving the resort a total of 1,000 guest rooms.

In 1977, the Riviera's San Remo tower added 200 rooms to the south side of the resort, as well as the elegant Ristorante Italiano, a 100-seat gourmet Italian restaurant.

In 1984, Riviera filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Arthur Waltzman was named president in July in an effort to get the Riviera back on her feet. Waltzman helped Riviera jump out of Chapter 11 in 1985.

On June 21, 1985, the Riviera took at bold step toward providing a new type of showroom entertainment, unveiling Splash starring Frank Gorshin. The "aquacade of music and dance" took place in and around a 20,000-gallon aquarium while featuring numerous performers and speciality acts.

Later in 1985, the Riviera introduced Norbert Aleman's "An Evening at La Cage," in the Mardi Gras Showroom, a Parisian-style revue of female impersonators and cabaret dancers. The star of the show was a 20 year old Frank Marino.

In 1987, Riviera opened its topless comedy revue Crazy Girls.

In 1988, the Riviera added the 24-story Monaco Tower costing $28 million and nearly doubling the resort's size to 2,100 rooms.

In 1990, Riviera expanded its casino to 70,000 square feet for a total of nearly 125,000 square feet out to the sidewalk, making it one of the largest casinos in the world offering reel slots and video games, table games, poker, keno, bingo, and a complete race and sports book.

On May 10, 1997, Riviera revealed the largest lifecast bronze statue in the world of Crazy Girls, created by Michael Conine, to celebrate the 10th Anniversary of the show.

In 1999 Riviera showcased her skyboxes. The boxes are 12 rooms which sit above the Royale Pavilion. These boxes are available for special concerts, including Super Bowl, and various other convention bookings. The boxes come with a private bartender, servers, and network feeds on two televisions. Ranging from 600 square feet to 1,024 square feet, skyboxes can be combined to accommodate larger gatherings. These Skyboxes have been rented for seminars, sales meeting and birthday parties.

On February 2, 2000, Splash unveiled its new show replacing the water tank with The World's Record holders of "Bela Tabak's Riders of the Thunderdome" (often referred to as the globe of death) along with a variety of amazing acts including ice skaters.

In February 2015 The Riviera was bought by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and closed May 4, 2015 at Noon. It was imploded in 2 phases. The first implosion took place at 2:35am on June 14, 2016, taking down the 24-story Monaco tower. On August 16, 2016 at 2:30am, the Monte Carlo tower along with the other remaining buildings were imploded.

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