Motor Court Magic: Mid-Century Architecture and the Roadside Motel


On Saturday, May 23, join the Neon Museum for “Motor Court Magic: Mid-Century Architecture and the Roadside Motel” from 6 to 8 p.m. This public discussion is in conjunction with a brand-new survey of historic downtown Las Vegas motor courts designed to inform the public and motel property owners of the economic and cultural value of their properties and signs.  The panel will also address how motor courts originated, impacted travel and eventually evolved into resort hotels. In addition, the ways in which roadside architecture helped shape the Southwest and subsequent landscape preservation strategies will be explored. 

“Motor Court Magic” will be moderated by Urban Design Coordinator and Historic Preservation Officer Courtney Mooney, City of Las Vegas, and represents a collaboration between the Neon Museum, the Historic Preservation Commission, the Nevada Preservation Foundation and the City of Las Vegas. Panelists will include Demion Clinco, President of the Tucson Hisoric Preservation Foundation Board; Jerry Stefani, roadside historian and creator of "Then and Now - Las Vegas Motels Driving Tours;" Susanna Newbury, Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Nevada, and Craig Palacios and Tina Wichmann, co-founders and principals, BUNNYFiSH studio.

"The Historic Preservation Commission is thrilled to participate in the Motor Court Magic panel discussion,” said Robert Stoldal, chairman, Historic Preservation Commission.  “One of the commission's focus has been to inventory mid-century modern buildings in Las Vegas in order to promote their preservation through events like this. These motels were so important to the growth and development of Las Vegas, setting the tone for Fremont Street and the Strip. Their preservation and activation is vital to downtown's revitalization."

Adds Michelle Larime, interim executive director, Nevada Preservation Foundation: "Nevada Preservation Foundation is extremely excited to be involved with this great outreach program. Motor court motels speak to the history of Vegas and really define our city's culture on many levels. The opportunity to preserve these buildings and integrate them into future plans for downtown Las Vegas should be an essential piece in revitalizing our community and local economy."

Saturday, May 23rd

6:00 pm

Neon Museum

Free admission

Posted on Sunday, May 17, 2015 at 9:30AM by Registered CommenterLasVegasLynn | CommentsPost a Comment

Riviera sign moved to the Neon Museum

Neon lovers everywhere should be happy to know that the  Riviera lettered sign has found a new home at the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.


“We will be receiving several signs from the Riviera (although I can’t confirm which at this juncture) and that they have been fantastic and clearly mindful of the significance of the property and caring for it,” Neon Museum Executive Director Danielle Kelly says.

Hopefully, the Marge Williams designed sign that presided over the Paradise entrance to the hotel (and at one time graced the front of the hotel) will also find a home at the Museum.

Posted on Sunday, May 17, 2015 at 9:22AM by Registered CommenterLasVegasLynn | CommentsPost a Comment

Riviera Liquidation Sale on Thursday, May 14th


You can own a piece of the Riviera Hotel. 

National Content Liquidators will begin selling off everything from gaming tables to pool furniture to industrial mixers, room decor and everything in between Thursday, May 14. The sale begins at 9:00 am. Sale hours during the week and on Saturday are 9:00am - 7:00pm and on Sunday selling hours will be 10:00am - 5:00pm.

The entrance fee the first four days of the sale will be $10. Everything is being sold as is and no lay-aways or holds for pick up or returning with more cash will be honored. Cash, Visa, Mastercard and AmEx will be taken so leave those Discover cards at home.

No food or drink will be available inside the hotel so be forewarned.

Check the weather forecast and dress accordingly as the lines will be long waiting to get in to view and purchase the treasures.

Have fun and let us know what you buy!

Here is the Facebook page for NCL as they are having issues with their website:

Posted on Sunday, May 10, 2015 at 5:05PM by Registered CommenterLasVegasLynn | CommentsPost a Comment

The Story of Classic Las Vegas screens Tonight!!!!!



                          LAS VEGAS STORIES


The Story of Classic Las Vegas makes its Clark County Library debut this Thursday at the Flamingo Library. I'll be there introducing the film (along with some special guests) and doing a Q &A. Hope you can join us!!!!




The Story of Classic Las Vegas

Thursday, May 7 at 7 p.m.


This documentary chronicles the history of Las Vegas beginning in the early 1900s and follows it through its perilous struggle to survive, using first-person narrative from the men and women who helped shape Las Vegas into its legendary status.

Producer Lynn Zook will be on hand to introduce the film and participate in a Q&A session following the screening.

DVDs of the film will be available for a special discounted price of $20.00

Clark County Library

1401 E. Flamingo Rd.


For more information, please call 702.507.3458.

Free and open to the public. 

Posted on Thursday, May 7, 2015 at 7:45AM by Registered CommenterLasVegasLynn | CommentsPost a Comment

Long Live the Riviera



She came to life in 1955 as the first high-rise hotel/casino on the Las Vegas Strip. Prior to the Riviera’s debut, Strip hotels were low-rise, garden style accommodations usually centered around the pool or the convenience of driving up and parking near your room.

The Riv was different. Rising nine floors up from the casino, nay-sayers predicted that the hotel would flop because people would never want to stay that high up above the casino.  They were quickly proven wrong. Entertainment director Maxine Lewis lured up and coming entertainer Liberace away from the Frontier with the promise of a bonanza of a paycheck, $50,000 a week for a two week stint. Naysayers again predicted financial ruin for the new hotel but again the Riv proved them wrong. Liberace wowed audiences and packed the showroom nightly during his debut at the Riv and in consequent returns.  Headliners up and down the Strip reaped the rewards as they all saw an increase in what hotels were willing to pay.

In addition to Liberace, she played home to Dean Martin (remember Dino’s Den and that wonderful neon sign) when he finally bid the Sands and the Rat Pack days behind, Debbie Reynolds and a host of entertainers during that classic era when Las Vegas was known as the Entertainment Capital of the World.

Her original mid-century modern bones tried to age as gracefully as they could. When she debuted, she was a mid-century modern dream come to life. With a price tag of $10 million, the hotel would have 291 rooms.

A block with banks of horizontal strip windows marked the center of the tower.  Wrap-around windows delineating the corners were added.  The contrasting elevator tower, with decorative gold buttons, definitely conjured up images of South Beach instead of the Southwest.  The various floors were named after French resort cities such as Cannes, Monaco and Nice.  The 9th floor was penthouse suites and housed a health club.


The pylon sign  (designed by Betty Willis) "skewered the thin porte-cochere like a toothpick through a cheese canapé" according to Alan Hess.  There was a second V-shaped marquee sign at the roadside entrance.


But from the beginning, the Riv had money problems that it never seemed to be able to outrun completely. The original Miami owners had little experience in running a casino.They quickly hired Gus Greenbaum, Ben Goffstein, Harry S. Goldman, Ross Miller (father of future governor, Bob Miller), Davey Berman, Jess Goldman, Charles Harrison and Frank, Fred and Elias Atol to take over the sinking resort and and fix the problems.  Greenbaum and Berman had been associated with the fabulous Flamingo and had been part of the group that took control of that hotel in the wake of Bugsy Siegel's murder in Beverly Hills


The new operators began to right the listing ship that had been the Riviera.  They cleaned house, stopped the pilfering and soon the hotel was making a profit. 


Liberace was still the top headliner.  Other top acts that played the Riv in the 1950s, Orson Welles and his magic act (When questioned by local columnist, Forrest Duke, if his act was a secret, Welles replied in his rich baritone "It isn't a secret but it's a mystery to me.") , Ken Murray's Blackouts with Marie Wilson, Dinah Shore and  George White's Scandals.  Elvis Presley, performing at the New Frontier, caught Liberace's act one evening.  Liberace invited Elvis on stage and the two traded places, Liberace on guitar and Elvis at Lee's grand piano.


As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s, the Riv was lucky enough to sign a powerhouse lounge comedian that many consider the reason why the Riv did so well for most of the 1960s. "Shecky Greene was almost single-handedly responsible for keeping the hotel in business." recalled Riviera publicist Tony Zoppi.  "He consistently brought the high rollers to his show and to the hotel."  Greene had been playing Las Vegas since the 1950s.  In fact, he was part of the billing, when a young Elvis Presley played the Hotel Last Frontier.  Like Liberace, he had bolted from the Frontier when the Riviera offered more money.


In 1968, in yet another round of new ownership, Ed Torres was named president of the resort.

Over the years, the Riv managed to outrun the money problems that continued to plague the hotel. There were room additions and new signage (including a new entrance sign designed by neon designer Marge Williams) but the Riv never seemed to able to recapture her previous glory days.


Shecky Greene and Ed Torres did not get along.  The animosity between the two was so intense that Greene told staffers to keep Torres out of the lounge when he was on stage. Greene got the news just before he went onstage that they were relocating the lounge and turning the current lounge into a Keno Parlor.  Greene took the stage with a pick-axe in hand and spent his show chopping the stage into souvenirs and passing them out to the audience.  The next day Ed Torres, unaware of what Greene had done the night before, called to say that they were putting the construction plans on hold. Greene's exploits at the hotel are legendary.  He was fired numerous times but the Riviera could not afford for him to stay fired as he was one of their biggest draws.  As often as they would fire him, they would hire him back.


Greene was one of the biggest draws in town.  His unpredictability, his stream of consciousness kept the audience on their toes.  They never knew what mood he would be in or what routines he would have in his act or, as was often the case, his improvisational style had many thinking he just made up as he went along.  The Riv was paying him $20,000 a week with a 26 week guarantee.  He was the late-night anchor in the lounge and it was usually Standing Room Only every night.  One night, Greene came out in a bathrobe, laid down on the floor of the stage and did his show from there.  Buddy Hackett, amazed at what he was seeing, stripped down to his boxers and joined him. 

But Greene was also a heavy drinker and a heavy gambler.  The hotel had cut off his credit in an effort to help stem his gambling losses.   One night after his act, he was headed to the Hacienda (the only place on the Strip that would still extend him credit).  He was doing speeding down Las Vegas Blvd South when he lost control of theCadillac, struck a pole in front of Caesars, flipped the car twicehit the low pony wall and landed in the fountain.  By the time the police got there, he was said to have quipped "no spray wax" before they handcuffed him and hauled him off to jail.  Sonny King made his bail.  In reality, what he said was "I guess I'm arrested.".  Once he was free on bail, he and Buddy Hackett came up with the "No Spray Wax" line and both would tell the tale using that line.

As new owners kept coming on the scene, each promised to have the perfect solution to what ailed the hotel and promised to fix it. In reality few of the fixes were ever seen through in their entirety and the perfect solutions were often nickel and dimed off the drawing boards.

As new hotels debuted up and down the Strip, the Riv refused to go quietly into history. She became the beloved home to those who traveled to Vegas on a budget and as the era of the megaresort dawned on the southern end of the Strip, budget accommodations became harder and harder to find.

The Riv embraced her niche and despite a revolving array of entertainment, the hotel was lucky enough to have Frank Marino anchoring the showroom with his An Evening at La Cage and all its descendants which helped keep the place going.

When Martin Sheen was starring on television in The West Wing he often took the cast to the Riviera at the end of each season for a celebration.

Unfortunately, as the room and sign additions made the Riv’s once elegant façade more and more unrecognizable, the hotel seemed to be on her last legs.  To its credit, those mid-century modern bones aged gracefully and you could chart the history of the hotel as you walked around the hotel both inside and out.

As the age of the megaresort continued to gather steam the reasons people come to Las Vegas began to change. It is more about the shopping, the fine dining and less about the gaming. The renaissance that was supposed to breath new life into the northern part of the Strip never seems to have advanced much beyond the Wynn and Encore. Where the Stardust once stood is still a work in progress, the same goes for where the Frontier once stood and the once mighty Sahara has been completely reborn as the SLS.

Time finally ran out for the Riviera. The Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority, faced with the dilemma of how to renovate the aging Convention Center without shutting it down and having to cancel conventions, saw the Riv and her property as a way to expand and update the Convention Center without causing major headaches and becoming a financial drain.

Once those wheels were set in motion, it was only a matter of time. Yesterday, just barely a month from her 60th anniversary, the Riviera closed for good. A large crowd turned out to say a fond good-bye to the once graceful and trendsetting hotel. Demolition will likely be quick as the LVCVA is moving forward and not in a mood to look back.

But those who knew her and loved her, we will remember her fondly.

RIP, Riviera Hotel and thanks for the memories.

Posted on Tuesday, May 5, 2015 at 6:07PM by Registered CommenterLasVegasLynn | Comments1 Comment