By Steven Luker
The Tropicana in Las Vegas is a landmark for most people and it is sadly getting torn down to be replaced by the Las Vegas Athletics stadium that will be built in its place. But let’s take a look back at some of the history of the Tropicana Las Vegas and tell you about it.
Las Vegas was in the middle of a slump. It was April 1957, and the town was still coming to terms with the opening of five major resorts two years earlier. The Dunes, Riviera, New Frontier, Royal Nevada and Moulin Rouge had all struggled through ownership changes, some slipping into bankruptcy; the latter two never recovered.
The previous year’s opening of the Hacienda had been a low-key affair with little glamor. So to open the doors of the town’s most expensive hotel yet built was going against the grain. This is some of the stuff before the Tropicana was built, some of the history of Las Vegas.
The Tropicana – Early Years
The Tropicana had been planned since 1955, and on the surface did not seem to have been hurt much by the failures of that year. It had a curious ownership structure: Miami hotelier Ben Jaffe (part owner of the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach) owned the land on which the casino would sit, but Conquistador Inc. would build and operate the resort.
It just so happened that Conquistador’s owner, “Dandy” Phil Kastel, had a long and fruitful partnership with Frank Costello, perhaps the nation’s most infamous gangster in the spring of 1957. For years, Kastel had run New Orleans’ Beverly Club (an ostensibly illegal but still operating casino) for Costello; the two also shared in a Louisiana slot machine route operation that, similarly, might have been illegal on paper but which police managed to avoid until the Kefauver Committee’s spotlight forced them into action.
It almost goes without saying that most “Miami hotel men” who came to Las Vegas in this era were more than familiar with Meyer Lansky, another famous gangland name.
Some notable movies filmed at the Tropicana: one of them is Elvis Presley film viva Las Vegas, James Bond film diamonds are forever the 1972 movie the Godfather was filmed there and part two of the Godfather as well and all sorts of other films to name a few.
Some notable people that perform at the laugh factory in general is Tim Allen, Louie Anderson, Roseanne Barr, Milton Berle, David Brenner, Nick Cannon, Drew Carey, George Carlin, Jim Carrey, Dave Chappelle, Dane Cook, Rodney Dangerfield, Ellen DeGeneres, Phyllis Diller, Jeff Dunham, Jeff Foxworthy, Redd Foxx, Eddie Griffin, Kathy Griffin, Buddy Hackett, Bob Hope, Andy Kaufman, Sam Kinison, Martin Lawrence, Jay Leno, David Letterman, George Lopez, Bill Maher, Howie Mandel, Carlos Mencia, Mo’Nique, Eddie Murphy, Richard Pryor, Paul Reiser, Chris Rock, Ray Romano, Bob Saget, Adam Sandler, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Wanda Sykes, Chris Tucker, Damon Wayans, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Flip Wilson, Robin Williams and many more.
Another thing about the Tropicana is that it is One of the grande dames of Las Vegas, the Tropicana first opened its lavish doors in 1957 and was quickly dubbed the “Tiffany of the Strip,” by the Saturday Evening Post. At the time, the $15-million, 300-room complex was top-of-the-line, with its opulent interior and 17 acres of manicured lawns and gardens complete with a 60-foot fountain spouting in the center of the Olympic-sized swimming pool.
In the early days, the hotel’s theater and restaurant drew a steady stream of celebrities and their followers. Today most of the stars have moved on to richer climes, but the hotel’s 41-year-old cabaret lives on, featuring scantily clad women strutting their stuff beneath enormous feather headdresses.
These days the hotel is beloved more for its history and bargain value than for its opulence, not surprising given its mishmash of newly renovated and decidedly worn rooms. That said, the Trop is ideal for anyone who wants to be in the middle of the action with all the trappings of the tropical – without paying top dollar.
What are your thoughts about the Tropicana tore down or do you have any memories about it let us know in the comments about them.