Another Las Vegas Landmark Vanishes: Riviera Hotel & Casino Demolished

When the Riviera Hotel & Casino flung open its doors in April of 1955, flamboyant pianist Liberace was the headliner in the Clover Room, and actress Joan Crawford was the official hostess. Designed by Miami architect Roy France, the nascent nine-story hotel was by far the tallest and most lavish establishment on the Las Vegas Strip, boasting 300 deluxe rooms along with several bars and restaurants as well as an Olympic sized swimming pool. A2Z Las Vegas says the premiere opening of “The Riv” was the grandest grand opening to date. Although the property’s 18 table games and 116 “one-armed bandits” would be considered modest by today’s casino standards, The Riviera was the place for high rollers in 1955.

The Rat Pack ruled Las Vegas in the 50s and 60s [Photo by Express/Stringer/Getty Images]By the time the first craps player rolled dice at “The Riv,” Las Vegas was already a decade into its reputation as a mob-run town. Geoff Schumacher of the National Museum of Organized Crime and Law Enforcement, better known as the Las Vegas Mob Museum, noted that the hotel “always was the Chicago outfit’s crown jewel in the desert.”

The Las Vegas Review Journal announced the impending closure and deconstruction of the Riviera in May of last year. Originally slated for demolition in 2015, implosion of the Monte Carlo Tower was delayed until August, 2016, after inspectors found asbestos in the stucco exterior. The Monaco Tower fell at 2:30 a.m. on June 14, 2016.

Schumacher told reporters, “The Riviera looked like a 50s Rat Pack casino up until yesterday.”

At the north end of the Las Vegas Strip, the Riviera Hotel & Casino featured prominently as backdrop scenery for the original Oceans 11 in 1960. Starring Frank Sinatra in the title role of Danny Ocean, the crime heist movie also boasted Rat Pack members Peter Lawford as Jimmy Foster, Joey Bishop as Mushy O’Connors, Dean Martin as Sam Harmon, and Sammy Davis, Jr. as Josh Howard. The plot of the movie was loosely based on a screenplay by Harry Brown and Charles Lederer and involves the robbery of five Las Vegas properties in one night. The casinos in the film are the Riviera, the Sahara, the Desert Inn, the Sands, and the Flamingo Hotel & Casino. As of this week, the only Oceans 11 hotel left standing is the Flamingo.

Classic acts who performed at the Riviera over the decades include comedians George Burns and Bob Hope, singer Tony Bennett and de facto Rat Pack boss, Frank Sinatra. From the latter part of the 20th century until shuttering its doors for good in 2015, The Riv hosted extravagant shows such as Splash, An Evening at La Cage, and a topless revue called Crazy Girls.

In addition to Oceans 11, the Riviera Hotel & Casino can be seen in the 1971 James Bond spy thriller, Diamonds are Forever. In 1995, the Las Vegas property appeared in Martin Scorsese’s Casino starring Sharon Stone and Robert DeNiro, as well as in the tomato-worthy Kyle MacLachlan/Gina Gershon box office bomb, Showgirls. In 1997, interior scenes for Mike Myers’ Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery were filmed within the Riviera. That same year, The Riv casino was used in Vegas Vacation starring Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo. More recently, the hotel and casino appeared in The Hangover in 2009.

TV watchers may recognize the Riviera Hotel & Casino as the location of most of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling pay-per-view series in the early 1990s. A decade earlier, the final syndicated season of The Hollywood Squares was filmed on location at the Riviera.

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According to KGW Portland, Tuesday night’s implosion of the 61-year old landmark marked “the latest kiss goodbye to what’s left among the relics to Vegas’ mobster past.”

Whether the heyday of Sin City was overseen by gangland mobsters, savvy business entrepreneurs, or Sinatra and the Rat Pack may be irrelevant now. The stuff that made Las Vegas a delicious playground for adults in the mid-20th century is vanishing, and it’s not coming back.

[Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]