The Riviera Hotel has followed the same path a other hotel casinos in Las Vegas. The only slight difference is that unlike most demolitions, it’s taking two implosions to remove the iconic resort from the face of the Las Vegas Strip.
Long-time residents of Las Vegas have grown accustomed to implosions dating back to the time in the 1990s when Steve Wynn dropped the old Dunes Hotel to its knees Oct. 27, 1993. Ever the showman, Wynn’s included pyrotechnics to eliminate the Dunes while signaling the beginning of the all- new Las Vegas.
The Bellagio’s dancing waters replaced the Dunes marking the beginning of an all-new Las Vegas. In what has almost become an accepted form of change, implosions have included the erasing of the Landmark (1995), the Sands, the Castaways and the Hacienda (all in 1996), the Aladdin (1998), the El Rancho (2000), Bourbon Street (2006) and the Stardust (2007).
The Desert Inn “bought the dust” with dual implosions (1993-2001-04) making way for Wynn’s Wynn Las Vegas.
Southern Nevada’s elimination of old buildings seems to support the belief that rather than save anything in ‘Vegas, we simply blow it up. Las Vegas continues to draw record numbers of visitors each year, and one of the biggest reasons might be because many visitors enjoy seeing what has changed in the past two or three months.
So when it was announced that the 2,075 room Riviera was about to be closed and erased like an old bad habit in May of 2015, the response barely drew a whimper. The only real question was what would replace the hotel casino, which in its day attracted everyone from high school students looking for a place to swim to high-rollers, members of the Mob and entertainers.
What might have made the Riviera’s implosion different than the others was that two implosions were scheduled rather than the traditional one-and-done effort. The other is scheduled in August marking the official end to a 60-plus year existence.
The Riviera was the first high-rise to open on the Strip April 20, 1955. Actress Joan Crawford served as the official hostess for the hotel’s grand opening for the hotel, whose minority owners included singer Dean Martin along with Harpo and Gummo Marx of the Marx Brothers.
Built for about $10 million, the Riviera joined the Dunes, Royal and Hacienda as new real estate on the Strip.
The casino opened with famed pianist Liberace, who was then the highest-paid entertainer on the Las Vegas Strip making $50,000 per week. Other entertainers who performed at the Riviera in the 1950s included Milton Berle, Mickey Rooney and Shecky Green.
The 1960s featured entertainment by Louie Armstrong, Tony Bennett, George Burns, Red Buttons and Barbara Streisand while the 1970s saw Don Rickles, Dean Martin, Steve Martin, Burt Bacharach, George Carlin, Phyllis Diller, Liza Minnelli and Jimmy Walker.
Barbara Streisand made her debut at the hotel in 1970 and comedian Don Rickles left the Sahara for the Riviera a few years later.
The 1980s included Joan Rivers, David Brenner and the Village People while the 1990s saw Frank Sinatra, Drew Carey, the Beach Boys and Pauly Shore.
The Riviera also hosted various athletic events including boxing matches that included heavyweight champion Larry Holmes losing in an upset to light heavyweight champion Michael Spinks in an outdoor arena on Sept. 21, 1985. Other fights featured lightweight Julio Cesar Chavez and middleweight Marvin Hagler.
The Riviera never ran short of attention-generating public relations. Publicist and entertainer director Tony Zoppi churned out endless press releases under the theme “Copy by Zoppi.”
Before joining the Riviera, Zoppi wrote a column called “Dallas After Dark” for the Dallas Morning News. According to The Hollywood Reporter, he wrote about Dallas strip-club owner Jack Ruby, who become known for shooting Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated U.S. President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963.
Zoppi was the key behind the entertainment at the Riviera booking acts like Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Elvis Pressley. He signed Ann-Margret for her inaugural performance in 1967 and illustrated his diverse talents when he planned her wedding to 77 Sunset Strip star Roger Smith.
Zoppi even served as a groomsman during the wedding at the Riviera.
Interestingly, the land where the Riviera was built is about to become the home of the Las Vegas Convention Authority. Land in the area is also a possible site for a 65,000-seat football domed stadium that would be home for the Oakland Raiders along with the UNLV Rebels.
The possibility caught McDonald’s attention considering the past history of football in Las Vegas. McDonald remembers when the ill-fated Las Vegas Posse of the Canadian Football League was founded in 1994 before folding the same year.
“The players stayed at the Riviera and the hotel built a practice field for them behind the hotel,” recalled McDonald.
For sure, changes are continuous in Las Vegas especially with the ever-present implosions the city has experienced. +