Sixty years ago, when the Riviera debuted on the famed Las Vegas Strip, she was the cutting edge of modern technology. Nine stories tall, the first high-rise on the Strip and a mid-century lovers dream come true. She opened on April 20, 1955 with 291 rooms, a pylon sign that "skewered the thin porte-cochere like a toothpick through a cheese canape" according to our friend Alan Hess and a second V-shaped marquee sign at the roadside entrance to the hotel.
The Treniers opened the Starlight Lounge. The lounge, just off the lobby, had a 150-foot free-form stage bar and the lighting fixtures were brass in a starburst design against a teal blue sky canopy.
Liberace and his brother George opened the main showroom with Academy Award winning actress Joan Crawford as the official hostess for the opening. She reportedly received $10,000 for four days of greeting people.
The Clover Room where Liberace performed held seating for 532 people for the dinner show and 700 for the late show. At 10,000 square feet, it was the largest showroom on the Strip.
There were stumbles almost from the beginning. The hotel, run by Miami oriented operators unaccustomed to gambling watched as the hotel slid towards bankruptcy shortly after opening. They quickly hired Gus Greenbaum, Davey Berman, Ben Goffstein and Ross Miller to take over the day to day operations. A short time later, the Riv was making a profit.
Shecky Greene headlined the Riviera lounge and, according to Riv publicist Tony Zoppi, "was single-handedly responsible for keeping the hotel in business" An up and coming singer from New York named Barbra Streisand made her Las Vegas debut at the Riv opening for Liberace in 1963.
The hotel expanded to meet the demands of the growing number of tourists and high rollers that flowed into Las Vegas for fun and excitement. After leaving the fabled Sands hotel, singer Dean Martin moved over to the Riv complete with his own place, Dino's Den.
But as the years rolled on, the Riv found it harder and harder to keep up with the changing face of the Strip.
As tourists and high rollers flocked to the newer hotels, the Riv slid further down. It soon became known as the place for conventioneers (due to its proximity of the back entrance to the Las Vegas Convention Center) and low rollers with a limited budget.
The original facade was changed years ago and over the years, a Burger King added along with the fanciful wall of glass and neon.
But no amount of cosmetics could make up for the neglect and the changing tastes.
The Riv has stood like the lady she is against the buffeting winds of change for years as she watched original hotel after original hotel fall to the wrecking ball.
And now word comes that Riv's days are coming to an end. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, in need of land for expanding the already humongous Las Vegas Convention Center, has bought the land and the hotel. . No date has been officially announced for demolition though rumors of a summer demolition are running rampant.
When she goes, she will leave the Strip with only remaining original hotel still standing, the Tropicana which has been remodeled and vastly altered over the years.
Here is hoping the Marge Williams designed marquee sign once graced the front of the hotel and was moved to the Paradise Road entrance many years ago, finds a home at the Neon Museum along with some of the fanciful neon from the glass front facade.
The owners of the Peppermill right next door recently signed a 12 year lease with the owner of the land it sits on so for now, it would seem, the Peppermill is not in the sights of the LVCVA. Here's hoping.
So here's to the Riv. In her hey-day, she was a mid-century marvel of design and home to one of the funniest men who ever worked the Strip.
Vaya con dios, Lady Riv and thanks for the memories!