Riviera Shutdown Leaves Sixty-Year Legacy of Vegas History in Its Wake

Posted on: May 4, 2015, 04:39h. 

Last updated on: May 4, 2015, 04:42h.

Riviera closing Las Vegas Strip
The Riviera has officially closed its doors, and will be torn down after 60 years of operation on the Las Vegas Strip. (Image: cheapovegas.com)

The iconic Riviera Hotel and Casino closed on Monday, ending a 60-year run as a staple of the Las Vegas Strip.

The aging casino closed at noon on May 4, ending decades as one of the few remaining properties that had remained open since the days of Frank Sinatra and mob-owned resorts.

The Riviera was recently purchased by the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which plans to tear down the building and expand the existing Las Vegas Convention Center so that it will reach the Las Vegas Strip.

In recent years, the casino had suffered from a lack of walking traffic as other adjacent properties had been demolished.

The history of the Riviera is a story mostly told through the hundreds of entertainers, both major and minor, who have headlined at the casino-hotel. Some of the biggest names in Vegas have played there, as have some more enigmatic acts, particularly in the last two decades as other resorts pulled in the marquee talent.

Liberace First Headliner for Riviera

When the Riviera first opened on April 20, 1955, one of the big headlines was that the casino had snagged Liberace to be their debut headliner. Liberace was guaranteed $50,000 a week to headline at the Riviera, at that time a record for a Las Vegas performer.

Liberace would hardly be the only big name to grace the halls of the Riviera. Dean Martin acquired a 10 percent interest in the hotel and subsequently performed there, while Barbra Streisand was brought in for the first time in 1963 as an “added attraction” alongside Liberace.

For many years, the Riviera remained one of the top entertainment destinations in Las Vegas, perhaps trailing only Caesars Palace in terms of the attractions it brought in. Big names like Barry Manilow and Bill Cosby performed in the 1970s, while the 1980s brought a popular drag show known as “An Evening at La Cage.”

Several Bankruptcies During Resort’s History

Today, the Riviera may look dated, but it was once the crown jewel of the strip. When it opened, it was the first high-rise on the Las Vegas Strip, spanning nine stories high to tower over the other resorts around it.

But standing out from the crowd didn’t make the Riviera an instant success. Just three months after opening, the casino went bankrupt, and a group of former managers at the Flamingo Hotel were brought in to take over the operation of the resort.

The casino changed hands on numerous occasions in its early years, with at least one change occurring before the building was even constructed. The resort was originally the vision of Detroit mobster William Bischoff, who wanted to call it the Casa Blanca. He later left the project, after which Miami businessman Samuel Cohen took over, only to leave (at least officially) after it turned out that he was part of a gambling syndicate.

In 1973, the Riviera was sold to a Boston travel company named AITS Inc. for $60 million. Ten years later, the casino filed for bankruptcy protection again, after which the focus of the casino was altered to appeal more to mass market gamblers rather than high rollers.

There would be two more bankruptcies for the Riviera before it would close. The first, in 1991, took place because of expansions that ran well over budget; more recently, in 2010, Riviera Holdings filed for bankruptcy in order to reorganize its debt.