Wearing a white tuxedo designed by Christian Dior, Liberace headlined as Joan Crawford greeted guest as the official hostess. The date was April 20th 1955 and the Las Vegas Strip was about to open its first high-rise hotel and casino. A $10 Million, 291 room, nine floor, high-rise called The Riviera.
The Riviera's lobby was covered in Italian marble. The top floor reserved for penthouses and a health club. Other floors were named after resort cities in France, such as Monaco and Cannes while the doormen wore French Foreign legion uniforms to keep up the French motive.
Just as any other Casino of that era The Riv was not without its financial issues or sketchy back room operations. Paying Liberace an unheard of $50,000 per week (probably) didn't help but failing profits and mounting debts in one way or another lead to the hiring of Gus Greenbaum only 3 months later. Other recruits included Ben Goffstein, Jess Goldman, and Charles Harrison(they enter the story later)
Greenbaum helped run the Flamingo after Bugsy Siegels death in 1947, and wanted to retire to Arizona but his Chicago associates convinced him other wise. Somehow his sister in law wound up dead in her bed helping Gus Greenbaum make his mind up to return to Vegas. He became the Managing director of the Casino and soon starting making profits, for him and his "associates". That is until his heroin, drinking and embezzling issues reached the ear of the Chicago family he was involved with. In 1958 Greenbaum somehow, also, wound up dead in his bed along with his wife, throats slashed never to be solved.
In 1959 Ben Goffstein took over as the President of the Riv. and in October of that year began renovation and expansion adding a 10th floor dancing hall called Sky Room as well as 114 more guest rooms. The initial idea was to improve the casino floor and showroom and expand the hotel but this took much longer and cost much more then they assumed and almost led to them going under again. Dessert Inn and Stardust operators(including Moe Dalitz) stepped in and offered to "help" keep The Riviera running financially as well as personnel wise. This was looked down upon by the Tax Commission, the commission which lead to the modern day Gaming Commission.
Eventually they agreed (most likely with a wink, nudge, and bribe) and the Riviera was once again making money.
Signing huge names of the day such as Shecky Greene(stolen from Last Frontier), Louis Armstrong, Tony Bennett and George Burns. The original Clover Room was renamed The Versailles Room and showcased Barbra Streisand opening for Liberace, the main headliner still.
In 1963 Ben Goffstein decided to head downtown and open a tribute to his wife and daughters and call it "Four Queens Hotel and Casino" (its still there).
Now the property changes hands once again this time to Hotel Riviera Inc with Jess Goldman taking over as President and Charles Harrison as Vice(2 of the originals coming over in the Flamingo package with Greenbaum)
Things go smoothly at the Riviera for the next few years with money flowing in from great acts and shows. One thing The Riviera did well was book great acts and performers starting when they stole Liberace from The Last Frontier then Shecky Green. Other great performers include: Burt Bacharach, Harry Belafonte, Debbie Boone, Sammy Davis Jr, Barry Manilow, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Tony Orlando, Elvis, Barbara Streisand, and The Temptations. They've welcomed a variety of acts, other then music, over the last couple decades such as Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Dina Shore, Steve Martin, Carol Channing, Charo, George Carlin, Andrew Dice Clay, Phyllis Diller, Joan Rivers, Don Rickles, Betty Grable, Bob Newhart, the list really does go on and on, it was a who's who as they say.
In 1960 Frank, Dean, Sammy and the boys worked days filming Oceans Eleven and nights they did what they did best, which was entertain in the lounges. The Riviera, itself, has made many movie cameos over the years with Casino being one of the biggest in '95, Austin Powers and Vegas Vacation in '97, Go in '99, 3000 miles to Graceland in 2001, Twenty-one in 2008 and the Hangover in 2009 to name a few.
Another great expansion in 1968 added a South Wing, 770 more rooms, and a convention center.
As the decade ended it also added Dean Martin to the Riviera. Martin wanted his own lounge to do his style of show so he came from The Sands, opened Dino's Den, then bought 10% of the Riviera. Dean started hosting Friar's Club roasts in 1970 but by 1972 had enough of the hotels ups and downs and sold his percent and moved on to the newest Big thing on the Strip, The MGM Grand.
In 1973 they were sold one more time, this time to Meshulam Riklis at a cost of $56 million.
1975 and 1977 brought expansions, the first added a $20 million tower with 300 rooms, 60 suites and penthouse, the next added another tower with 200 rooms as well as Ristorante Italiano.
In 1984 the ugly face of bankruptcy shows up once again. The market changed and was now aimed at the middle class, Adults. Cheap trips good shows and decent gambling tables were what they wanted, The Riviera figured this out and by 1985 they had life again. Starting with a production show titled SPLASH, starring Frank Gorshin. A mix of topless review, music, dance, and aqua themed performances, ice skating, juggling, and comedic acts all taking place in or around their 20,000 gallon aquarium. Splash had a decent 20 year run at the Riviera.
Two big improvements took place in 1987. "Crazy Girls" made its debut with great fan fair and drew large crowds, as did The Improv comedy club. The Riviera was doing so well they decided to expand one more time. This time a 24 story tower at a cost of $28 Million pushing the total number of rooms over 2100.
Eventually they expanding the original building as far as it could toward the Strip and ushered in a new era in the early 90's. The resort Casino had arrived in Vegas and now The Riv had one of the largest Casino floors (125,000 sq. ft.) on the Strip.
Unfortunately, with the resorts and themed Casinos hitting the Strip the Casinos of yester-year fell all around the Riviera. Now the North end of the Strip feels like its own little island surrounded by halted construction, boarded buildings and empty lots. With visitors sputtering and scarce and the economy stalled The Riviera started another downward spiral and by 2010 they were looking for a way to "reorganize" their debt once again.
On May 4th The Riviera is scheduled to close its doors, as did Stardust, Frontier, Sahara and others at that end of the Strip. A 60 year run for this one time Icon will end and expansion will begin on convention space. Yes, State of the art, high tech, ground breaking technology drawing conventioneers to this melancholy Island.
There's not many places along Las Vegas Blvd. you can visit for that "old Vegas" feel. Off Strip is looking more and more inviting to visitors with my penchant for historic Vegas.
I can enjoy the newest of the new but prefer the historic side of Las Vegas so Its not saddening just disappointing.
In keeping with their French theme, I would like to bid them Adieu,
-Au Revoir Riviera.